Celebrating blossom in Kent

The Orchard in April at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent
The Orchard in April at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent. Pic: © National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The National Trust are once again inviting people to take part in Blossom Watch as their gardeners recommend five trees to bring joy to your own garden

After the success of #BlossomWatch across social media in 2020, when thousands of people captured and shared images of trees in bloom, the National Trust is inviting people to celebrate this year’s blossom season in Kent. 

Emulating Hanami, the ancient Japanese tradition of viewing and celebrating blossom as the first sign of spring, the conservation charity is encouraging everyone to take a moment to pause, actively notice and enjoy the fleeting beauty of blossom. 

Using the hashtag #BlossomWatch once again, the Trust is asking people to share their blossom images on social media, with the hope that the joyful sight of blush-tinted blooms will lift spirits and enable everyone to celebrate nature together. Find out more at: nationaltrust.org.uk/features/blossom-watch

Blossom in Kent

The National Trust looks after thousands of heritage fruit trees and ornamental cherry trees at their gardens in Kent. Many of these can be found in traditional orchard settings. Over 90% of Britain’s heritage orchards have been lost, but the Trust now protects more than 25 in the
South East alone. They provide a valuable lifeline for insects including pollinating bees and butterflies, and are an uplifting spectacle in the spring.

Five trees to bring the joy of blossom to your garden

Beautiful blossoming trees can be seen in spring in streets, gardens and public parks across The Weald, as well as at places in the care of the National Trust*, such as Sissinghurst and Chartwell.

For those inspired to plant a blossom tree of their own, the Trust has compiled a list of the top five such trees suitable for home gardens, as recommended by senior and head gardeners at gardens in its care, including Jamie Leslie at Ightham Mote, near Sevenoaks.

Emma McNamara, National Trust Gardens and Parks Consultant for the South East and Northern Ireland said: “Blossom is fleeting but so beautiful that you’ll find planting your own tree hugely rewarding. A blossom tree gives you two seasonal delights: Bright, blowsy, or delicate flowers in the spring, and later, home-grown fruits. Most fruit trees are easy to maintain; you may need to take action against some pests and diseases, but these trees are resilient and long-lived. Bees will be delighted by the flowers and will help to pollinate, leading to autumn fruit.

“Blossom trees come in all sizes, and whatever sized outdoor space you have, there is a blossom tree that will suit. Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ is a very small Fuji cherry tree with zig-zagging branches and masses of flowers – perfect for growing in pots. 

“As winter ends in early March, ‘Kojo-no-mai’ bursts into an abundance of blossom.”

1 Pyrus communis (pear cultivars)

“Created by Rudyard Kipling [who lived at Bateman’s, just over the Kent border in East Sussex], our Pear Alley provides one of the best views towards the house. It is clothed in white pear blossom in April, which is good for pollinators, and it is under-planted with spring-flowering bulbs and perennials, such as Scilla litardierei, Symphytum ibericum, bluebells and tulips. 

“The metal structure is original, but the pears were replaced in 2000, matching original cultivars, including ‘Beurre Hardy’, ‘William Bon Chretien’, and ‘Doyenne du Comice’.

“The espalier pear trees are trained along the metal structure to show off the fruits to their best advantage. These varieties produce good crops and are delicious to eat off the tree. A further restoration of Pear Alley is planned for this autumn.”

Len Bernamont, Garden & Outdoors Manager, Bateman’s, Burwash, East Sussex

2 Malus baccata var. mandshurica (Manchurian Siberian crab apple) 

“As the seasons pass, the pure white blossom of mid-April makes way for an abundance of cherry-like deep red apples that take centre stage in our autumnal and Christmas displays – they last into the new year. Requiring only basic tree husbandry with little or no pruning, this fully hardy tree, native to eastern Asia, is perfect for all garden lovers. It can also be used in orchards as a pollinator tree.” 

Jamie Leslie, Senior Gardener, Ightham Mote, Ivy Hatch, near Sevenoaks

3 Malus domestica ‘Discovery’ (apple ‘Discovery’) 

“This early dessert apple, a cross between ‘Worcester Pearmain’ and (possibly) ‘Beauty of Bath’, is as beautiful as it is delicious, producing pure white, cup-shaped blossoms from around the end of April. 

“Be mindful of the rootstock it is grown on as this will dictate its eventual size (good fruit-growing nurseries can advise). Ideally, choose an open and relatively sunny site and be generous with your planting hole. 

“Make sure there is plenty of room to accommodate a good helping of well-rotted manure in the base, adding more as a mulch on top. It’s extra work, but giving it a ‘good breakfast’ like this will really pay off.”

Vicky Cody, Senior Gardener, Snowshill Manor and Garden, Gloucestershire

4 Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree) 

“I really look forward to this flowering in May – unusually, the deep pink blossoms erupt straight from the main stem and branches, which gives added ‘wow’ factor. These are followed by pea-like fruits which are most obvious in late summer/early autumn. It’s a reliable performer and not a shy flowerer. It’s fairly easy to obtain and grow and can happily be pruned to shape. Plant it in a nice open space where it can be seen to full effect.” 

Neil Cook, Head Gardener, Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire

5 Prunus ‘Kanzan’ (cherry ‘Kanzan’) 

“There is a reason why this is one of the most popular double-flowering cherry trees. In March/April it has floriferous double pink flowers, followed by lovely bronze leaves turning green in summer. Once autumn is here the foliage develops a coppery orange colour before falling. A reliable and wonderful tree giving great value through the seasons, and even better if you can position it where you can enjoy it from a window.” 

Anthony Mason, Head Gardener, Cliveden, Berkshire

Also find inspiration at: 

Sissinghurst – large orchards of apple, pear and cherry blossom.

Chartwell – orchard of British apple blossom varieties, including the Winston apple, named after former resident Sir Winston Churchill.

Ightham Mote – heritage apple tree blossom in the orchard, and cherry blossom on the eastern terrace of the garden.

Emmetts Garden – around 50 cherry trees reveal displays of pink blossom, underplanted with a colourful mix of tulips.

Scotney Castle – early cherry blossom frames the view to the castle ruins. Apple, pear, quince, plum and crab apple blossom in the Walled Garden.

Smallhythe Place – orchard with over 30 varieties of apple, pear, plum, and medlar tree blossom.

* Visitors are urged to check local and national government guidelines before travelling. Some National Trust properties may require or advise that admission is booked in advance to guarantee entry – check the relevant National Trust web pages for the latest information: nationaltrust.org.uk