Britons are learning to delight in blossom as the Japanese do.
Children enjoy the blossom at Brogdale National Fruit Collection
The rows of blossom trees stretched further than I could see, their heavy branches flush with the delicate blooms that signal spring. There was a particular poignancy to this moment last year, locked up as we had been for January, February and March.
I was with my husband and daughter and some friends, visiting Brogdale Collections in Faversham, Kent, for its Easter trail. And on this unexpectedly sunny day, we settled down to a picnic in a blossom orchard, sighing out some of our exhaustion and frustration, feeling the warmth of the sun on our faces and the blossom fragrance dancing on the light breeze.
What is ‘hanami’?
We were taking time to indulge in the beauty of flowering blossoms, a custom known as hanami in Japan. There, blossom viewing - usually the cherry blossom or sakura - is a major cultural event.
“Hanami is literally translated as flower viewing,” explains Izumi Thomas of Japan House London, an organisation promoting Japanese culture in the UK. “Cherry blossom is loved by Japanese people as a joyful flower which announces the coming of spring, and at the same time a sentimental flower with a beauty that is transient.”
Why should we adopt it?
British blossoms can be just as significant, and there’s a buzz about planting more at the moment. “I’m surprised at the amount of cherry blossom in London parks and streets,” says Thomas. “It does seem that hanami is getting more popular in the UK.”
She says this might be down to planting schemes such as the Sakura Cherry Tree Project, launched as a symbol of friendship between the UK and Japan. As a result of this initiative, 6,000 trees have been planted across the UK since 2020. It dovetailed with the ambitions of the community organisation Colourful Margate, which in November 2018 began planting cherry trees with the express intention of turning Margate into a blossom destination. In addition to the 123 trees now flowering in the town’s Dane Park, it has also helped plant a cherry tree in 33 local schools.
At Brogdale, home to the National Fruit Collection, there are thousands of flowering fruit trees. The plums come first, followed by the cherries, apples and pears.
From early March it updates its online blossom forecast weekly. This year, Brogdale will plant over 100 ornamental cherry trees designed to celebrate “growth, beauty, nature and peace”. Very apt in the year that we are also being encouraged to plant trees to commemorate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
Three to view
Brogdale, Faversham, Kent. Join a guided blossom tour throughout April and May, taking in 400 varieties of cherry trees alongside apples, pears, quince and plums.
RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey. This garden has sited 140 trees as you enter the property, creating a magical hanami experience.
The Meadows, Edinburgh. Pack a picnic to enjoy under the cherry trees lining this expansive park - and gaze at Arthur’s Seat through the blooms.
The National Trust is also pushing blossom, in part for its restorative properties, and is planting around the country. In 2020 it piloted #BlossomWatch, explaining: “The sight of blush-tinted blooms can help lift spirits and bring everyone together to celebrate nature.”
Professor Miles Richardson from Derby University has studied the links between nature and wellbeing. “Spending a few moments looking at and enjoying blossom can have a surprising impact on feelings of wellbeing,” he says. “There’s a need for greater public understanding that a close connection with nature is a key component of a worthwhile life, a sustainable life - a good life.”