In The Cherry Orchards Of Kent
In April when the green shoots are sprouting and all the leaves unfurling, who can resist a pilgrimage to view the cherry blossom at the National Collection of Fruit Trees at Brogdale in Kent? This is the largest collection of fruit in the world – as the guides proudly remind you – with two hundred and eighty-five types of cherry among over two thousand varieties of fruit, including apples, pears, plums, currants, quinces and medlars.
As if this were not remarkable enough, I was informed that this particular corner of Kent – at the edge of Faversham – offers the very best conditions in the world for growing cherries. They may have originated in the forests of Central Asia, travelling east and west along the Silk Road before they were introduced by order of Henry VIII nearby at Sittingbourne, but here – I was assured – they have found their ultimate home.
The constitution of the soil in Kent is ideal for cherries and the temperate climate, in which the tender saplings are sheltered from the wind by long hedges of hornbeam, produces a delicacy of flavour in the ripe fruit which cannot by matched by the climactic extremes of the Mediterranean.
It was with these thoughts in mind that I advanced up the track, lined with decorative blossom in those livid pink tones so beloved of mid-twentieth century town planners, before turning the corner of a long hedge to confront the orchard of cherries. There are two specimens of each variety regimented in lines that stretch into the distance. The cherry trees are upon parade, awaiting your inspection and eager to display their flamboyant regalia.
A mild winter followed by a cool spring this year has produced conditions without precedent in the memory of Kent locals and delayed the advance of the fruit trees. Yet there was more than enough cherry blossom to induce euphoria, with the promise of future blossom rendering what I saw as an alluring overture to the full flowering that is still to come.
The National Collection of Fruit Trees at Brogdale in Kent is opening for Hanami tours over the next two weekends, 21st-24th April & 28th- 30th April.
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