The sakura obsession The incredible story of the plant hunter who saved Japan's cherry blossoms

Naoko Abe

Book - 2019

"Collingwood 'Cherry' Ingram first fell in love with the sakura, or cherry tree, when he visited Japan on his honeymoon in 1907. So taken with the plant, he brought back hundreds of cuttings with him to England, where he created a garden of cherry varieties. In 1926, he learned that the Great White Cherry had become extinct in Japan. Six years later, he buried a living cutting from his own collection in a potato and repatriated it via the Trans-Siberian Express. In the years that ...followed, Ingram sent more than 100 varieties of cherry tree to new homes around the globe, from Auckland to Washington. As much a history of the cherry blossom in Japan as it is the story of one remarkable man, the narrative follows the flower from its adoption as a national symbol in 794, through its use as an emblem of imperialism in the 1930s, to the present-day worldwide obsession with forecasting the exact moment of the trees' flowering"--

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2nd Floor 580.92/Ingram Checked In
New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2019.
First United States edition
Item Description
"Translated by the author"--Dust jacket.
"This is a Borzoi book published by Alfred A. Knopf"--Title page verso.
"Originally published in Japan in different form as 'Cherry Ingram : the English saviour of Japan's cherry blossoms' by Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo, in 2016. This translation simultaneously published as '"Cherry" Ingram: the Englishman who saved Japan's blossoms' in Great Britain by Chatto & Windus, an imprint of Vintage Publishing, a division of Penguin Random House Ltd., London"--Title page verso.
Physical Description
xix, 380 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), 1 map ; 22 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 359-362) and index.
Main Author
Naoko Abe (author)
  • part 1. The birth of a dream: Family ties ; Mayfair-by-the-Sea ; Triumphs and tragedies ; Enforced seclusion ; Japan beckons ; The rising sun ; The birds and the bees ; Ingram's war ; Birth of a dream
  • part 2. Creation and collection: Twin quests ; The Dejima doctors ; Hunting plants ; Creation and collection ; The Hokusai Collection
  • part 3. Saving the sakura: Pilgrimage ; Twin pines ; Cherry Meccas ; Guardian of the cherries ; Wild-cherry hunting ; Saving the sakura ; Ingram's warning
  • part 4. Taihaku's homecoming: The restoration quest ; Taihaku's homecoming ; Gambling with success ; A fairy-tale garden ; "Obscene" kanzan ; The cherry evangelist ; Darwin versus the Church ; The sounds of war
  • part 5. Falling blossoms: Cherry blossom brothers ; Flowers of mass destruction ; Emperor worship ; The sakura ideology ; The Somei-yoshino invasion ; 100 million people, one spirit ; The cherry and the kamikaze ; Falling blossoms ; Tome's story
  • part 6. Dark shadows: Children at war ; Black Christmas ; Protecting Benenden ; Ornamental cherries ; Dark shadows ; Cherries of a "traitor" ; Britain's cherry boom ; Ingram's "royal" cherries ; The Somei-yoshino renaissance
  • part 7. Cherries of reconciliation: A garden of memories ; A peaceful death ; The Grange after Ingram ; Home and abroad ; The next generation of sakuramori
  • Cherries of reconciliation
  • Epilogue: Millennia trees ; The great wall of cherry blossoms
  • Appendices: A: Key cherry varieties and wild cherry names ; B: Cherry blossom viewing locations.
Review by Booklist Reviews

It's rare for a tree to be so closely associated with a nation's identity, but such is the case of the flowering, or ornamental, sakura, or cherry, in Japan. Emblematic of new life, inextricably linked to imperial governments, and conscripted into a jingoistic symbol of patriotism during times of war, the alluring pink-white cherry blossom may have a short life, but the species itself has a long and rich history. Intrigued by the role cherry trees play in her country's national persona, journalist Abe tells the remarkable tale of how this once-ubiquitous tree was on the verge of extinction in the 1920s. Its salvation came in the form of a member of the British gentry, one Collingwood Ingram, whose cherry-tree devotion led to the creation of a massive arboretum in Britain and an advocacy of cherry-tree culture that spread throughout the world. Combining vast historical research, perceptive cultural interpretation, and a gift for keen, biographical storytelling, Abe's study of one man's passion for a singular plant species celebrates the beneficial impact such enthusiasts can have on the world at large. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

Abe, a journalist, does a masterful job of placing the Japanese version of this text—which she wrote and translated—into an English context that readers in the West will appreciate. Her chronicle of the life of English gardener Collingwood Ingram documents the international preservation of cherry tree diversity as well as cultural exchange. While Ingram was born into a wealthy family, he was no stranger to adversity, serving in WW I and as a commanding officer in the local defense volunteer forces during WW II. Between these two bookmarks, he studied birds but eventually discovered the rich potential of botanical studies through a variety of plants gathered from around the world. He soon focused on cherry trees, or sakura, as they are called in Japan. He established an international network of gardeners, researchers, business entrepreneurs, and government officials committed to the restoration of cherry tree diversity in Japan, since it had suffered severe decline as a result of industrialization and preparations for war. This involved the repatriation of sakura varieties that had become established the world over. Drawings and photographs render this book a charming contribution to better understanding the important relationship between plants and people. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers.--T. Johnson, Spring Valley Public LibraryTed JohnsonSpring Valley Public Library Ted Johnson Choice Reviews 56:12 August 2019 Copyright 2019 American Library Association.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

Japanese journalist Abe (Dance Notations and Robot Motion) delivers a charming and informative biography of the eccentric English aristocrat Collingwood Ingram (1880–1981), who saved Japan's cherry blossoms from extinction in the mid-20th century. After visiting Japan in 1902 and 1907, Ingram, a former ornithologist, fell in love with the country's cherry blossom trees. When he returned to the country in 1926, he was heartbroken to learn that the diverse varieties were disappearing due to a national preference for one particular strain, leading to near-extinction of other types of cherry blossoms ("two decades of yearning for a country that... had taken his breath away had evaporated"). He became determined to document the species and take cuttings with the hope that they would flourish throughout the world. In 1945, Ingram wrote what "remains a horticultural classic and bible" on the subject, which encouraged growers worldwide to keep multiple species alive. Abe offers intriguing facts throughout, such as how cherry blossoms ended up in Washington, D.C. (botanist David Fairchild and his wife, Marian, the daughter of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell, imported 150 trees; and in 1906, Tokyo's mayor sent 2,000 trees as thanks for the U.S.'s involvement in the Russo-Japanese War). Ingram devoted himself to the cherry blossom until 1981, "when sensed that his life was drawing to a close." Impeccably researched and lovingly crafted, Abe's enlightening history will be a boon to horticultural enthusiasts. (Mar.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly Annex.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Tells the story of a man whose obsession with the cherry tree and alarm at its potential extinction led him to travel the world planting the cuttings of cherry trees he first brought back with him from Japan.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Explains how Collingwood "Cherry" Ingram dedicated his life to sharing his love of Japan's cherry blossoms by sending over one hundred varieties all around the globe, as well as a history of the plant in Japan.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

The incredible'and improbable'story of how an English eccentric saved Japan's beloved cherry blossoms from extinction. Collingwood Ingram'known as 'Cherry' for his defining passion'was born in 1880 and lived until he was a hundred, witnessing a fraught century of conflict and change. Visiting Japan in 1902 and again in 1907, he fell in love with the country's distinctive cherry blossoms, or sakura, and brought back hundreds of cuttings with him to England, where he created a garden of cherry varieties. On a 1926 trip to Japan to search for new specimens, Ingram was shocked to find a dramatic decline in local cherry diversity. A cloned variety was taking over the landscape and becoming the symbol of Japan's expansionist ambitions, while the rare and spectacular Taihaku, or 'Great White Cherry," had disappeared entirely. But thousands of miles away, at Ingram's country estate, the Taihaku still prospered. After returning to Britain, the amateur botanist buried a living cutting from his own collection into a potato and repatriated it to Japan via the Trans-Siberian Express. Over the decades that followed, Ingram became one of the world's leading cherry experts and shared the joy of sakura both nationally and internationally, sending more than a hundred varieties of cherry tree to new homes around the globe, from Auckland, New Zealand to Washington, D.C. As much a history of the cherry blossom in Japan as it is the story of one remarkable man, The Sakura Obsession follows the flower from its significance as a symbol of the imperial court, through the dark days of the Second World War, and up to the present-day worldwide fascination with this iconic blossom.