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).


On Friday morning at 7.30am there were 7 exquisite poppies on the ‘Chalk bank’ (a south facing mound of rubble). I took the children to school, came back, grabbed the camera and headed outside to take some photos….All gone…A gust of wind had come… A couple of petals left and one solitary poppy still hanging on.

You think you are prepared for poppies. They’re so common now that surely they are ubiquitous and almost hackneyed. But when you see one again you get pulled up short. A tiny, dull, easily missed bud explodes one day into this screaming red, tissue paper thin, incredible flower. It’s so mesmerisingly beautiful and fragile…Then the rain/ wind comes and it’s gone… This must be why they are such a good symbol for untimely death and the fragility of life.

Certainly, they are a reminder of the bittersweet nature of gardening.

So, enough of the bitter, here’s the sweet….

Harts Tongue Ferns in the wall, May 2016

Walls surround the farm… Limestone rubble walls in the yard and canal, drystone walls by the fields, and the completely crazy paving that is the railway wall… And embedded in these walls are lots of plants… And the king of the walls is the Hart’s Tongue Fern.

Luminous green, hairy ‘tongues’ uncurl from impossibly intricate spirals. Prehistoric, enigmatic plants that seem to survive in nothing, and reproduce without you noticing.

I’ve tried to plant my own in the walls… But it doesn’t work… They do it their way…

Got the Blues

Oh Boy! May has come and the garden and countryside is full of blue. I stopped the car and photographed the bluebells in the hazel coppice and beech wood nearby.

What the photograph can’t capture is the serene stillness in woods like this…. The dense woodland completely encloses you: no noises from outside intrude…. A shriek of a disturbed blackbird… Then a return to stillness and a deep peace.

It isn’t just the silence that’s compelling; it’s the smell too. A light floral musk that mixes with the damp-moss smell of the wood.

I planted 3,000 bluebells (Hyacinthoides Non-Scripta) in my garden last November… Now they’ve come up… A lot of them look Spanish or hybridised. (Spanish bluebells are paler, do not droop or nod and have little scent). Our English bluebells are threatened by habitat destruction, illegal collection, the Muntjac deer and the rise of the Spanish Bluebell: an invasive species that hybridises easily with our native variety.

So it looks as though I am going to have to do a lot of digging 🙁

Still, there are lots of other blues in the garden to marvel at. The Camassia Leichtlinii in the Walnut meadow are out – putting on a wonderful show.

The Camassia is related to the Asparagus family and comes from the American prairies. Apparently it was a food source for many of the native peoples in the US and Canada. I was worried about putting it in the garden, thinking that the badgers/ squirrels/ deers might dig it up and eat it… But so far…. *Fingers crossed*.

Pentaglottis sempervirens, May 2016.

This is Alkanet – the other blue in the garden. This was here when we arrived at the farm, there is no point in trying to get rid of it, – I suspect that this is indigenous to this place… There is so much of it it’s probably a keystone species! I keep it in check by strim-ing it before it goes to seed… it’s a bit like Rosebay Willowherb… A beautiful thug.