Eric’s Pet Plant: ‘Hally Jolivette’ Cherry (Prunus x ‘Hally Jolivette’)
As you may have noticed, we’re deep in the season for going on about the Lovliest of Trees, even though these days most flowering cherries appear to be hung with something that looks more like cotton candy than the snow that so moved Housman. Our friend Eric is not immune, and not surprisingly, he has a favorite.
‘Hally Jolivette’ Cherry (Prunus x ‘Hally Jolivette’)
By Eric Larson.
Sometimes a really nice plant comes along and you are ready to enjoy it, like being ready for your uncle’s advice or your brother-in-law’s chili. It’s always good, but there are days when it is JUST THE THING.
When I first saw a ‘Hally Jolivette’ Cherry, I was a young student – well, maybe not so young…but younger than I am now – at Longwood Gardens, and we were studying small flowering trees. By definition, these are less than forty feet tall and are recognized for their floral display, as opposed to larger trees like oaks and to smaller trees with insignificant flowers, like Japanese Maples and Hop Hornbeams.
We had seen the weeping cherries (ho hum), the flowering dogwoods (okay) and redbuds (outstanding for the most part) but when I ran up on a ‘Hally Jolivette’, I dropped my sardonic and cynical façade – for truly, underneath I am as innocent and lamb like as any goat – and truly soaked in its delicate beauty. By the way, may we all be reminded from time to time how wondrous the world of our main occupation can be, regardless of what you spend your time doing. So Hally Jolivette struck me as the revelations hit Saul on his road to Damascus.
Prunus, the Cherry genus, is the one that gives us plums, apricots, almonds, peaches and many more, both ornamental and utilitarian. Linnaeus first divided them into four genera, but subsequent observation has lumped them all into a single genus with around 430 species. DNA analysis has shown that they are monophyletic, with one common Eurasian ancestor. The genus name comes from the Latin name for the plum tree.
This particular variety is a cross between P. subhirtella and P. x yedoensis (itself a cross between P.serrulata or P.speciosa and P. subhirtella), and then the resultant variety back-crossed with P. subhirtella. This is all very complicated, but the finished product is a fine plant. Without knowing who Hally Jolivette was, I imagine her as very even of temper, fine of texture, pulchritudinous and of small stature. For that is what the tree is. Hally Jolivette grows to about fifteen or twenty feet, and then stops. The spread is equal to its height, so it is a very compact and rounded specimen (I would never say this about the inspiration for the name).*
In spring it is covered with dark pink buds, opening to light pink and white, lightly- fragrant blossoms. These stay with you for several weeks depending on weather. During the summer the medium-green rather small leaves create a dense canopy, good for a screen because the tree stays small and hence will cover the view of the neighbor’s jalopy.
In fall, the leaves turn a nice yellow, nothing spectacular, but when planted with something contrasting, like Itea ‘Henry’s Garnet,’ they can create a very nice visual effect. In winter, the fine texture of the branches makes for good snow catching, adding a subtle but not-inconsequential aspect.
Any average soil is good, so long as it’s well drained. Full sun is best for flowering and an evenly global canopy. This plant is not as susceptible as other cherries to the usual problems (fungus, insects, etc.), so is reasonably long-lived and carefree.
Per Eric: “Hally Jolivette on the side of a hill. This is admittedly not its best use. It should be close to a walkway or in a spot where it can be a focal point. This is not bad, as the contrast with the Forsythia and Daffodils is quite striking. This tree is about four feet tall, planted as a one-foot tall youngster three years ago. It grows pretty quickly, and I can see this plant topping out at around twenty feet in another five or six years, depending on rain fall and other factors.”
(Per me: This is Hally Jolivette illustrating why many forsythia lovers prefer to see this gold treasure shining all by itself. )
Note: The poem was set to music by John Duke, and has become a performance staple for singers at all levels of talent. Many of these performances may be viewed on youtube, but this one, by baritone Steve Rothstein, has the merit of being accompanied by an appealing slideshow of blossoms instead of a video of some guy – or chorus or lady in an evening dress – singing what is in the end a very simple, if (ahem) lovely song.