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Petal Power

Every cloud has a silver lining, or in the case of the this season in Cheltenham, a pink and white lining. A. Burchard has captured the glory of an exceptional spring. crack

We all love the famous Cheltenham in Bloom every summer, but it is of course entirely man made. Why do we not celebrate what nature does entirely by itself without being asked to do it, quietly and all for free? In these financially challenged times, we should appreciate these wonders on our doorstep.

Because of the continuing low temperatures the buds of trees and flowers remained resolutely closed. And then, quite suddenly, a couple of bright sunny days were enough to make every bush and tree burst out into flower in a volume rarely seen. Best of all are all the white cherry blossom, as well as the pink peach blossoms all over town. And this year they looked as if clouds of candy floss had been dropped from heaven.

What can this abundance of blossoms, which is tied to temperature, tell us about our climate change? Meteorologists have found that trees are now flowering earlier than in the last 1200 years. So perhaps the warming of the planet has been going on since long before we started driving cars, overheating our houses and filled the world with unrecyclable materials.

This amazing spring glory could not go unrecorded, so I took a walk around Cheltenham to admire it.
I spoke to people who have trees in blossom outside their houses and some whose blossoms hang over a garden wall. Many said that those particular trees were already there when they bought the house, so they are benefitting from the foresight of previous house owners and gardeners, some of who may well have lived a century ago. Fruit trees in particular have incredibly long lives. And not only are they beautiful; there is nothing like savouring a cherry straight off the tree or biting into an apple which has not been imprisoned in a plastic box for weeks on end.

The word blossom is a term used for the flowers of stone fruit trees. Peach blossoms and cherry blossoms are usually pink. Plum and apple trees and some varieties of cherry trees have white blossoms. Fruit trees have a tendency to lose their flower petals in cascades in a breeze and a garden will turn into a magical landscape over night.

One of the most important benefits of fruit trees is that their blossoms provide pollen to pollinators such as bees. If bees diminish drastically or disappear most of our fruit and vegetables would simply disappear. By planting fruit trees you’ll be able to help the bees which are in crisis all over the world.

Two years ago we planted what seemed a sparse cherry tree in our north facing garden. It was about 6ft high. To our amazement it produced an abundance of cherries in the first summer. This year it looks as though we’ll have twice as many cherries. What had prompted me to plant it was the price of cherries in the shops in recent years. Not only that, but the fruit that comes into our shops these days tastes of nothing because it has been packed and kept too long. This year, I replaced and evergreen bush with a peach tree and I’m hoping it will do what the cherry tree has done. When we bought our house in 2007 there were two old looking trees which had been badly hacked about. We were about to give them up for dead when we realised that they were in fact a very old variety of plum trees. They now flower in clouds of white blossoms. When temperatures are still near freezing they light up the whole garden. Later in the year the fruit makes terrific tarts and puddings. Another advantage to planting fruit trees, rather than soft fruit bushes like raspberries, is that they don’t invade your garden space on ground level, leaving room to plant annual flowers.

All over the world there are festivals to celebrate the blossoms of spring, so why not here? In Washington D.C. the National Cherry Blossom festival has been a springtime tradition since the 1930s. It is said that the first cherry trees were brought over as a peace offering to the United States from Japan in 1912. Since then the many Japanese immigrants to the USA have continued their family tradition of picnicking under the blossoming trees. The Washington festival regularly draws thousands of people. It also brings over least $120 million to the D.C. metro area each year, according to the National Park Service, making it the city’s largest annual tourism event by far.

In Japan, the cherry blossom is traditionally associated with both the goddess of Mount Fuji in Japanese mythology, aa well as with the Samurai culture. Recently records of cherry blossom festivals have been unearthed going back to the 9th century in the former capital of Kyoto and in nearby towns.

This year, in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster following the tsunami, the Japanese authorities warned that the population should not celebrate the cherry blossom festival. But people are so attached to this tradition, that despite the warnings, they ventured out to have their family picnics under the cherry trees.

Cheltenham certainly has the potential to attract lovers of blossoms. Of course, there is no guarantee that we will have such spectacular spring blossoms each and every year. Perhaps someone could initiate guided a Cheltenham in Blossom tours in the future?

Meanwhile, why not rush to your garden centre and invest in a couple of fruit trees before it’s too late and enjoy your very own harvest each year. As for the trees, barring disaster, they will continue to flower and fruit long after you’ve gone.