Blossom in the Midlands
The botanical definition of blossom refers to the flowers of those trees that produce fleshy fruit surrounding a stone, such as cherries and plums, but today in the UK we generally associate it with apples.
In Japan, the March Hanami blossom festival sees hundreds of thousands of people celebrating the cherry blossom, here in the Midlands we look forward to the famous May blossom trails through the lanes of Worcestershire and Herefordshire, and there’s plenty of opportunity to walk through orchards at our properties.
The native crab apples of our hedgerows are first to flower with cloud like masses of white petals. The pink and pink tinged blossoms of our apples today, derive from centuries of apple breeding from the pink flowered apples that originated in Central Asia. At Brockhampton, a project to restore lost orchards has been inspired the history of apple and planting over the next three years will show the history of our apples.
Walking through an orchard is accompanied by the buzz of pollinators. Hives in our orchards are a familiar site, but honey bees have the company of wild bees and hoverflies for this important task. In fact, a medieval remedy for bee stings involved a poultice using blossom preserved in vinegar. A less painful reason to pick blossom is as an edible flower. Apple blossom flowers have a tart taste, some say akin to rhubarb. Apple blossom scent is delicate, whilst the blossom of damsons are hypnotically fragrant, as a visit Lower Brockhampton Shropshire prune damson orchards will testify.
There is much folklore associated with our orchards. However, this can confuse as the word ‘apple’ was a general term for all foreign fruit, and our apples started off as foreign fruit. This is most strangely evidenced in our now very familiar tomato, which on its introduction to Europe was thought to be poisonous and called a ‘love apple’.
A May visit to our orchards are a place to wander, not rush, take time to absorb the scent and sounds and look close at the five petalled blossoms. Orchards are a human scale forest, they are relaxing spaces and remember it’s not all about the fruit. One of the old orchards at Hardwick Hall is known as the ‘non fruiting’ orchard, trees here were selected for their blossom and the habitat they create.
Oranges and Lemons
An apple or cherry harvest may be taken for granted, but what about oranges and lemons? Here in the Midlands, the Hanbury Hall 18th century orangery is still used for the exact purpose it was designed for. Potted trees of citrus fruits shelter from frost in this south facing, large windowed building from September to May. After all threat of frost has passed, the trees are brought out as they were in the 18th century to decorate the garden and stand on the gravel apron in front of the Orangery. Citrus trees can flower throughout the year but late winter is the most common and the fruit can take 12 months to grow and ripen. As a result, it is possible to have both fruit and blossom on a tree at the same time.
Orange blossom is a heady fragrance and is used in the perfume industry and featured in Victorian bridal headdresses. The phrase "to gather orange blossoms" meant to look for a wife. So, regardless of your reason for visiting, an orchard in full bloom is a memorable, sensory experience, even after the flowers fall. There are not many times that missing a plant in flower is a bonus. As petals fall orchard floors turn pink, if the weather is favourable and the petals collect, fruit trees appear to rise from pink pools, plunge your toe and anticipate the harvest to come.