The Simple Things
THE BLOSSOM CALENDAR
MARCH Take the sloe road
This is the month to get your walking boots on and head to the countryside to see the best displays of blossom, before the leaves are even unfurled. Shrubby blackthorn comes first, better known for its sloe fruit – tart purple berries that are delicious steeped in gin or made into jelly. In the West Country, you’ll find a profusion of blackthorn in the ancient hedgerows of Dartmoor, as well as along Dorset’s Purbeck coast where doughty little trees perch on the clifftops.
Magnolias comes under the umbrella of blossom, too, and the luxurious flowers that began to peek out as early as February will be in full swing by March. While magnolias grow in parks and gardens everywhere, for full immersion plan a trip to Caerhays Castle in St Austell, Cornwall, which holds the National Collection – 40 species of magnolia and a further 170 named cultivars.
APRIL Cherry picks
Warmer weather heralds cherry blossom time, when marshmallow colours spread across Britain’s urban parks, gardens and
roadsides. The variety of ornamental flowering cherries is mind-boggling, from small to tall, single-flowered to double-flowered, white to strawberry pink. In April, blossom fans and Japanese ex-pats flock to Brogdale in Kent to enjoy a hanami picnic amidst 350 varieties of flowering cherry, and the Hanami Festival on 22 April. Other special places include Batsford Arboretum in Gloucestershire, which holds the National Collection of Japanese flowering cherries, and Alnwick Garden in Northumberland where an orchard of 326 ‘Taihaku’ or great white cherry trees shimmer.
The best place to spot pear, plum and apricot blossom is in walled kitchen gardens at historic houses, especially planted against warm brick walls. Damsons are rarer and
you may have to travel to find its clusters of white blossom. One hotspot is the Lyth and Winster Valleys near Kendal in Cumbria, where orchards of Westmorland damsons flourish. Damson Day, held at Low Farm in the Lyth Valley on 22 April, marks the blossom season. Another is the National Trust’s Brockhampton Estate in Herefordshire, with 25 acres of Shropshire Prune damson trees, and wild damsons seen all around the nearby town of Bromyard.
MAY Most beautiful month
“Cast ne’er a clout ‘til the May be out”, goes the old saying, meaning ‘wait until the hawthorn blossom, aka May, appears before baring any flesh’. Hawthorns are a country hedgerow staple – stock-proof and providing strong wood ideal for walking sticks and tool handles. The trees grow big if left untamed and their creamy flowers have a pungent perfume. Lowland Derbyshire is a hawthorn haven, as is Dartmoor, where blossom often arrives in April due to the milder climate. The hawthorn is part of our cultural landscape too, especially in the art of David Hockney, who painted and photographed the magnificent hawthorn trees of Woldgate, East Yorkshire.
Apple, crab apple and quince are in flower in May: community orchards and historic
houses with kitchen gardens are a good bet for tracking it down. Head to Herefordshire to enjoy the cider apple orchards – find a couple of gentle cycle routes described on ciderroute.co.uk. The Blossomtime Weekend on the first May bank holiday weekend, showcases small producers of the Marcle Ridge. To see the traditional, tall apple orchards, head to the National Trust’s Killerton in Devon, home to 50 acres of orchard, producing juice and cider.
JUNE The grand finale
While most blossom is over by now, there’s just one tree left to enchant us – the elder, associated with spirits and fairies. Elders self-seed thanks to the birds that eat their dark purple berries, so you’ll find them growing in hedgerows, on wasteland and in scrub, as well as springing up uninvited – but no less welcome – in garden margins all over the country.
Once you start spotting elders at the roadside or alongside railway tracks, you’ll find you can’t stop. Their blossom makes for a delicious cordial as well as a lowalcohol sparkling wine for which you’ll need a basket of flower heads, sugar, lemon zest and a few other key ingredients – visit rivercottage.net for Hugh’s tried and tested recipes.