Any expectation that it was going to be an early year for fruit blossom has almost been reversed. As Howard Stringer predicted, our fickle climate has brought snow, frosts and hail in April. The damage to commercial crops of plums in Kent is reported to be serious in some areas and pears may also have suffered. As we move towards the end of April and usually less risk of frost, hopefully, the cherry and apple orchards, which are just beginning to flower, will escape unscathed.
Ornamental cherries, such as Tai Haku, the Great White Cherry, and Ukon with its creamy white flowers and bronzed foliage are already out in sheltered spots. Looking at the massed flowers of a majestic lofty cherry tree it is easy to understand why cherry blossom signifies the onset of spring and is cause for a nation wide celebration – Hanami – in Japan, when everyone takes a break from their work to party under the trees. The origin of Hanami, which means ‘flower viewing’, goes back over a thousand years and symbolises not only rebirth but the essence of life – beautiful but brief – like the cherry blossom.
These snippets of information I learnt from a splendid travelogue entitled Chasing the Cherry Blossom by Lowell Sheppard, published in 2001. The author recounts his journey on a bicycle from the southern most tip of Japan to its most northerly island. A trip that began in March when the blossom first opens in the south, it lasted the six weeks that it takes for the blossom to reach the north, a distance of 2,000 miles. His cycling speed kept pace with the wave of blossom and despite his tired aching limbs he was continually encourage to press on by news of the blossom front’s progress in the media and the preparations for the Hanami festivities, which begin well in advance of the crucial time when the flowers unfold. Ornamental cherries, not edible ones, are the subject of Hanami. According to an ancient anonymous writer the ‘Japanese cherry does not need to produce a market crop because it is a born aristocrat and its single mission is to be beautiful.’
The trees often live to a great age – Sheppard found one reputed to be 1,200 years old. Another celebrity, around which television cameras had been mounted on scaffolding ready to catch the moment the blossom unfolded, was called the ‘Rock Splitting Cherry Tree’ because it began as a seedling that germinated in a crevice in a huge bolder and eventually split the rock! Maybe one of our readers can tell us more about Hanami, the festivities and the cherry trees themselves.
In the meantime, we have our own celebrations in England, which begin this weekend with Damson Day in Westmorland on Saturday 19 April, followed by the Open Day at Bradbourne House, East Malling on Sunday 27 April when the walled garden and its collection of trained fruit trees will be open to the public and on the weekend of 3 – 4 May, orchard walks are being organised in the Herefordshire parishes of the Much Marcle Ridge. Fruit blossom viewing has, of course, been going for some weeks at RHS Gardens, Wisley in Surrey and at the National Fruit Collections at Brogdale near Faversham – currently plums, pears and some ornamental cherries and apples are in flower with the cherries and apples just opening. Details of all these blossom events on the Fruit Diary: http://www.fruitforum.net and there are no doubt many more going on all over the country.
On Sunday afternoon May 4 the Friends of the National Fruit Collections of Brogdale will be staging their own special ‘Blossom Walk’ designed to catch at their best some of the most spectacular varieties, particularly of apples.
You can join the Friends of the National Fruit Collections at Brogdale on line at: http://www.fruitforum.net/friends-of-the-national-fruit-collections-at-brogdale.htm
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