Blossom Gazing

When May comes and the blossom is out, the Japanese tradition of Hanami (cherry blossom gazing) comes to me. Except, there are no cherries here, there are Hawthorn, Viburnums, Elder, and the tremendous breathtaking Apples.

Apple blossom is the best of the blossoms. If I could only have one tree it would be an apple tree.

All around us are old, traditional apple and cider orchards, the type that (I imagine) stretch back to the times of wassailing and the green man.

You can understand why these orchards became so revered and cherished. The apple blossom, like the Japanese Sakura, seems to embody the transitory beauty of life and fertility. Unfortunately, since 1950 we have lost an estimated 60% of our traditional orchards.

Growing apples on poor, dry, limey soil like mine is a tall ask. To begin with I thought I wouldn’t even bother, and then I took a walk along the Somerset & Dorset railway line (that also runs through our garden) and saw the apples growing in the ballast…


Several old coal railway lines now form part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network across the South West. These photos were taken on the bit that runs from Radstock to Mells (Route 24). If you want inspiration about what you can grow on a brown field post-industrial site the old railway line gives you hearty encouragement…. Pretty much everything has found a home there, the reclamation of nature is romantically resplendent.

So, I decided to go all out for blossom and planted an avenue of Tea Crab Apples also known as Malus Hupehensis. This tree has it all: great candy floss-like blossom, beautiful crab apples in autumn, and that fabulous gnarled spreading shape that is distinctive of an apple tree. It is also amazingly resilient, I have dressed the roots with compost and bark mulch every spring since they were planted as whips in 2012 and then left them to the baking sun and the southwesterly gales.

Eventually their canopies will meet (they grow to about 8/9 metres) and hopefully we shall have an avenue in which we can be truly immersed in blossom and I can start ‘wassailing’ (which seems to involve drinking cider, hanging toast from branches, and singing, -brilliant).