Spring seems to have arrived early this year! There were trees in blossom in February after some record-breaking temperatures across the UK. But, it’s always a shame when the beautiful delicate petals succumb to the winds and rain of March and the spring storms.
Avenues of white, pink and sometimes yellow blossom seem to hold a very special moment in nature’s calendar. Every year, they are welcomed and one never tires of this brief display of pretty flowers and soft colours to herald the arrival of warmer days, lifting the spirits after the dark days of winter.
Nature is clever and unrolls her festival of colour across several months, starting in March or earlier as this year and going on into June and even July. There is always something to look at.
Identifying blooms – don’t bark up the wrong tree!
Here are some key trees to spot this spring…
Wisteria – this old English favourite can be seen across the facade of houses throughout the country. Wisteria usually produces a light delicate lilac flower but can actually vary from a deep purple to almost a white/blue shade
Apple – a five petal flower appearing in late May and June, white with touches of pink blush, spectacular when seen en masse in an apple orchard
Blackthorn – cascades of beautiful white flowers fill the hedgerows towards the end of March and on into April. A period of bad weather during or after the flowers emerge is known in country lore as a ‘blackthorn winter’. Take note, fans of sloe gin, a blackthorn winter means there will be generally less fruit to harvest in the autumn as the cold temperatures reduce the bee activity to virtually zero. Hawthorn, also known as Quickthorn and Whitethorn is similar to blackthorn but the white flowers actually grow in clusters and arrive later, in May
Laburnum – bright yellow drooping flowers, unmistakable, arriving in late spring and give the tree its old-fashioned name of the ‘golden chain tree’
Lime – lime exhibits a flower of five petals in white and yellow with the headiest and intoxicating scent which explains why the blossom is so popular with bees. This appears in high summer
Cherry – offering a variety of different shades of pink, cherry blossoms in April and May
Horse Chestnut – famous in the autumn for its harvest of conkers, don’t overlook the beautiful flowers it sports in the spring, perhaps not as visually accessible as some of the smaller/lower trees. Pretty pink and white candle-like flowers with long stamens burst out like an illumination all over the tree
Identifying spring trees
The Woodland Trust has some stunning photography to help you identify what you are looking at. They also have an ID sheet you can download to accompany you on your walk through the woods.
Gardens and Arboretums to visit in Leicestershire
Any park, local wood or just someone’s front garden can display the beauty of trees coming into their spring blossom. Flowering cherries have always been popular with town planners to brighten up an urban landscape so you probably won’t have to go far to find some delightful blossom. But if you want to head somewhere just a little grander, why not visit the gardens at Belvoir Castle. There are a variety of different circular walks through the woodland and formal gardens, with an opportunity to view trees and plants waking up for spring from their winter slumbers.
If you are after something a little more culturally diverse, then the Botanic Garden & Attenborough Arboretum at the University of Leicester is a marvellously varied collection of shrubs, plants and trees specifically focusing on global biodiversity. The University’s stated aim is to maintain the most diverse garden in the region, support research taking place within the institution and to educate all age groups within the community. The Attenborough Arboretum is named after Sir David Attenborough who opened it in April 1997. The planting design is intended to display trees in the sequence in which they arrived in the UK and is very much a wild and intentionally less formal site than Belvoir Castle.
Travelling further afield, the National Arboretum at Westonbirt is a must. With international recognition, it has on offer 15,000 different species of trees. Or the Cherry Walk at Kew Gardens, a riotous avenue of pink at the right time of year. Take a volunteer guided tour around the spring blossoms, starting at noon every day through until the end of April.
Folklore and superstition surrounding the buds of spring
Spring blossom is a sight to behold and tempting though it may be to cut a branch or two and bring a spray into the house, myriad tales surround this practice which might just put you off.
In Ireland, hawthorn trees are believed to be the trysting place of fairies. Perhaps that’s why it is viewed by some people to be bad luck to gather flowering hawthorn branches and display them indoors. They may look beautiful but they actually have an unpleasant scent, remarked on by the poet, Walter de la Mere, as “a deathly smell”. Contrast the lilac tree which has a heavenly fragrance and the most remarkable colour but is also believed to bring bad luck or death into the house if you gather the blooms and place them in vases inside.
Cherry trees have particular significance in Shinto and Buddhist legends Symbolically, the flowers represent the transient nature of life reflected in the very short flowering window that these beautiful blooms enjoy. Cherry blossoms or Sakura have become emblematic of the Samurai warrior, a short but colourful life lived. And they also adorned the Second World Warplanes of the Kamikaze pilots, presumably for the same reason.
If you want to enjoy the beauty of spring trees in blossom then why not capture it in an image, a way to admire the colour and delicate aspect of these lovely flowers for longer than nature intended.
The BBC programme, Countryfile has put together some top tips specifically for people who are keen to capture a worthwhile picture at this time of year. Remember, blossom looks beautiful on the tree but can also make for an interesting shot when it is freshly fallen or moving in the breeze. Or perhaps you will be one of the very few lucky enough to time your camera to capture nature’s confetti in the air just as it swirls away from its tree.