Loving the cherry plum

In the Casentino area between Arezzo and Florence there is a wide valley, dominated by the castle of Romena on one side and the castle of Poppi on the other. Up a height you can see the abbey of Camaldoli and the Franciscan sanctuary of La Verna. In this valley you will find the so-called “Giardino dei figli perduti” – the garden of the lost children.

The garden is a stretch of grassland behind the parish church. The atmosphere almost vibrates with a palpable spirituality: even the Etruscans, more than two thousand years ago, recognized that the place spoke of the “beyond”, and provided it with a temple. This atmosphere drew parents, friends and relatives who had suffered the loss of a child, but instead of erecting headstones, they would each plant an almond tree, with thoughts and memories of the departed written around the eventual trunk. Year after year, tree after tree, blossom after blossom, an enormously moving and mystical park took shape, governed by an ephemeral beauty and a fragile silence. It is a place of welcome for all, and even seems to restore something of the lives that had so often been so brutally snatched away.

The choice of the almond tree is not random. The almond is the first tree to respond to the coming of spring; the first to put forth its magnificent blossom, which it does in mid-March. These are white flowers, but they blush slightly with a pink soul, sometimes almost a sanguine splash. It’s impossible not to feel a shiver run down your spine.

Walking between the almonds and the written thoughts for the dead, which are a bit unkempt compared to the rest of the garden, you cannot fail but notice a cherry tree, decades old, standing tall and proud. It’s a majestic specimen, one that gives the idea of an eternal, benevolent father spirit watching over the lost children. This is an old, old exemplum of Prunus cerasifera, a particular cherry cultivar which in Romena erupts into a spectacular blossom of white and pink. Yes, the very same branches are hung with white and pink flowers. It’s a marvel.

The cherry plum is a unique plant. It’s used to grow various species of cherry, as its rootstock lends itself to grafting. Cherry plum has a health and tenacity that other cherries, indeed other fruits in general, rarely have: it shrugs off the wind, the cold, fungus, mold and parasites. The cherry plum takes everything in its stride, which is why it can reach heights of 10 metres or more. It is also a melliferous tree, beloved of the bees who swarm it and reap nectar for the sweetest of honeys.

It is the tree that watches over the wonderful yet delicate flowers of the nearby almond trees.

Almonds, cherry plums, Romena. For anyone who doesn’t know this place, now is certainly the time of year to visit it.