Mon, 02 Mar 2020
Greys Court © National Trust Images / Hugh Mothersole
GO on a flower-viewing adventure as you take a stroll through some gardens and parks in Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire under the arbours of blossoming fruit trees.
In Japan, ‘Hanami’, or ‘flower viewing’, is all about enjoying the fleeting beauty of blossom trees as they come into bloom. There’s no better bringer of gratitude for the arrival of spring than the gentle flutter of falling petals surrounding you as you stroll through a garden or orchard. The Japanese even have a name for it, ‘Hana no ame’ or ‘flower rain’, which is when blossom sprinkles down from trees.
It’s this showering effect that distinguishes the true blossom of stone fruit trees from the flowers of other trees, which isn’t strictly blossom.
Blossom is an essential source of nectar and pollen for our pollinating insects; whether from fruit trees in an orchard, or hedgerow flowers such as blackthorn, hawthorn or crab apple.
In most cases, fruit trees are not self-pollinating and rely on insects, particularly different types of bee, to do that job for them. Some bees favour specific trees, such as the Blackthorn Mining Bee which collects pollen to provision its nests for its larvae. Pollinators help to ‘set the fruit’ – without them, the fruit doesn’t form very well, remaining small and often dropping before fully ripening.
Here are the blossom and flowering tree highlights from National Trust properties around Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire
Hughenden, High Wycombe
Home of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli
About one hour drive from Newbury
Hughenden has flowering trees in every season, from winter sweet box through spring apple blossom to exuberant horse chestnut spikes in early summer.
There are more than 50 varieties of old English apple trees in the orchard and walled garden which burst into beautiful blossom in April and May, together with pears and cherries.
The sheltered walled garden provides year-round warmth allowing a range of fruit to thrive with delicate spring blossom to enjoy. In a sheltered corner are quince and a traditional old English damson. Around the walls are trained apricot and morello cherries.
The horse chestnut trees in the parkland put on a spectacular show in spring with spikes of white or pink flowers and one of Disraeli’s favourite trees, the Manna ash, features frothy bunches of creamy white flowers in May. In early summer make sure you step out onto the south terrace of the Manor to capture the heady scent from the Caucasian lime tree.
Greys Court, Rotherfield Greys, Henley-on-Thames
About a 48-minute drive from Newbury
At Greys Court, the cobbled paths were specially designed to retain a carpet of delicate petals and prevent the cherry blossom from being immediately trampled underfoot. There are small flowering fruit trees dotted all around the walled gardens at Greys Court, but it’s the crab apple arch, flowering in May, that is the real sight to see. It’s been trained over hoops and entwined with clematis to create a scented flowery tunnel for visitors to walk through.
Not strictly blossom, but equally enchanting is Greys Court’s wisteria ‘room’ in the walled garden. Planted in the 1890s, it puts on an incredible show each May.
Cliveden, Cliveden Rd, Taplow, Maidenhead
Former home of the Astors and where John Profumo first me Christine Keeler
About a 56-minute drive from Newbury
Did you know that Cliveden’s main car park was once a walled garden? It’s obvious, once you realise. There are still fruit trees around the perimeter, including peaches and plums on the warm south-facing sides and apples, pears and crab apples espaliered and fanned against the walls. These include the variety Arthur Turner, the only culinary apple tree to receive an Award of Garden Merit for its blossom. A visit in spring may find you returning to a confetti-covered car.
However, the ornamental Round Garden orchard is where the real blossom drama occurs at Cliveden. Originally laid out in the mid 19th century in a circular shape, it has an arrangement of 2m iron arches forming tunnels across the diameter and around the edges of the garden. The orchard fell into disrepair in the 1950s and has been undergoing long-term restoration for the last few years.
The rangers and volunteers have been grafting the heritage fruit varieties onto new root stock to fill in the gaps along the run of hoops. It’s now reached the stage where the majority of the apples and pears have grown over the arches so there’ll be fluttering tunnels of blossom this spring. The white blossom of the pears comes out first, followed by the apples with white flowers and pink centres.
There are lots more ornamental flowering trees across the estate, including magnolias and ornamental cherries in the Water Garden (currently undergoing restoration), a Handkerchief tree near Blenheim Pavilion and a Tulip tree down by the river.
Georgian landscape garden and park
Just over an hour's drive from Newbury
There are lots of apple trees producing blossom in April at Stowe; in the Grecian Valley orchard, in the parkland and around New Inn and the car park. The gardeners are working hard to preserve the original orchard and the traditional heritage varieties of apple which are gradually dying out.
The rangers have also been planting fruit trees in the overflow car park instead of putting up fencing to delineate the rows. This has the dual effect of creating new homes for wildlife such as early-emerging solitary bees and creating a lovely blossoming welcome for visitors in spring.