After a dismal bout of cold weather, spring is on the way. And with it comes the blossom. Kent is famous for its orchards and, to celebrate our unique heritage, the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale has introduced a very special festival.

The National Fruit Collection at Brogdale, near Faversham, has over 323 different fruiting cherry varieties and an additional 42 varieties of ornamental cherry. In spring, the orchards are transformed into clouds of blossom. To allow visitors to get the full benefit of this wonderful spectacle, Brogdale has introduced its own version of the Hanami Festival.

Originating in Japan, Hanami means ‘flower viewing’. The custom of Hanami dates back hundreds of years to the Nara (710-794) and Heian (794-1185) periods. Traditionally, families sit under cherry trees and eat picnics, taking their time to appreciate the blossom. Some sites in parks are so popular that prospective picnickers have to get up early to bag their spot!

I asked Brogdale representative Kimberly Campion for more information on Hanami – and also got some expert gardening advice.

How did Brogdale get the idea for the Hanami festival?
Brogdale Collections’ mission is to “ensure the long term, sustainable future of the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale” through developing visitor access opportunities and the way in which the collections are interpreted. Blossom time has always been a wonderful opportunity for the public to visit the collections and see them in full bloom. Brogdale Collections therefore decided to do justice to the blossom period by making it into a Hanami celebration.

Can you tell me more about Brogdale’s blossom walks?
Hanami tours will take place at Brogdale through April and May. Visitors will be able to walk through the orchards under an array of coloured blossom. On selected days, they will also be able ride on the tractor trailer for a bird’s eye view.

Visitors can make a blossom tour at the usual ticket price. Alternatively, they can join a pre-booked Hanami tour for £11.50 which includes:
* A tour of the National Fruit Collection in blossom and the history of the Traditional  Celebration of Hanami
* Entrance to the exhibition of Japanese Artefacts
* A taster bag of Japanese snacks
* Free loan of tarpaulin for picnics under the blossom

Can you supply me with some in-depth information for gardeners regarding cherry tree types?
The principal cherry groups are Sweet, Sour and Ornamental. Within each group are subgroups according to the colour of the juice (not skin as would seem more obvious).
Sweet cherries are red, white or black.
Sour cherries are either:
* Morello: red skins and red juice, or
* Amarelles: red skins and white juice.

What types of ornamental and fruiting cherry are suitable for particular types of soil?
All cherries do best on a deep, well drained fertile soil but older selections can do well in less favourable conditions. Sour cherries, derived from Prunus cerasus are more of a woodland tree and are therefore more shade tolerant and suitable for a cool wall. These are usually eaten cooked with plenty of sugar or used in preserves or alcoholic drinks.
 
When should new cherry trees be planted? Are there different planting instructions for bare root/soil-rooted cherry trees?
Container grown trees can be planted at any time but late autumn or winter are better if soil conditions allow (i.e. the ground is not frozen). Bare root trees will be lifted by a good nursery in late autumn or winter and should be planted as soon as conditions allow

Are there types of cherry trees that are particularly suited to the Kentish climate?
In the past, popular cherry varieties were: Napoleon, Roundel, Early Rivers, Waterloo, Bradbourne Black and Merton Glory.
Some popular modern varieties are: Stella, Sasha, Sunburst, Hertford, Merchant, Summer Sun and Vega. 
 
Is the changing climate altering the kind of cherry trees that will thrive in Kent?
Not really, although it may be that crop is becoming more reliable. 
 
What aspect/type of soil/weather do cherry trees prefer?
Sunny position. South or west facing.
Good deep, loam brick-earth.
Fairly warm summer. Not too much rain. 
 
Are there types of cherry trees for all types of garden (e.g. large/small) and soil type?
Older cherry varieties may need a carefully chosen pollinator and so should not be planted in isolation. More modern varieties, such as Stella and Sunburst are self-fertile so will give good crops of sweet black cherries from just one tree. 
As the name, prunus avium suggests, the sweet cherries will need protection from birds which otherwise strip the crop just before it is ripe. Netting a single tall tree is difficult but a tree grown on a dwarfing rootstock – Gisela 5 or 6 – will be much easier at about 2.5metres high.
Varieties can be chosen which have fruit ripening at different times over many weeks.

Are cherry trees subject to particular types of pest? How are these identified and how can they be treated?
Cherry trees are very susceptible to birds which can be scared off with bangers or the trees can be netted.
However, infections such as silver leaf and canker are an even greater problem. These are most likely to attack through wounds in winter and so pruning is best done when in leaf, for example, just after fruiting. One of the worst pests is black-fly. This must be treated with insecticide as soon as it appears. 
 
Have you got any other gardening information regarding cherry trees?
In the past cherry trees were considered too large for many gardens, although with the new dwarfing rootstocks they can be grown in much smaller spaces.

My thanks to Kimberly and the Brogdale team for their advice and assistance in preparing this article.
For more on the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale, go to: http://www.nationalfruitcollection.org.uk/

T. Thurai is currently working on a collection of short stories inspired by Rochester Cathedral. Entitled ‘Barley Bread and Cheese’, the book is due to be published this summer. 
T.Thurai’s first novel, The Devil Dancers, was published in 2011/12. To find out more, visit her website at: www.thedevildancers.com