British cherry blossom celebrated and recorded for the first time
05 April 2019
Every year people around the world celebrate the arrival of spring with the blooming of the cherry blossom.
The Japanese tradition of hanami, gathering in great numbers underneath the flowering trees, dates back to the eight century and even today it has its own cherry blossom forecast to predict when the flowers will open.
Kent also has a long association with cherries. The cultivation of the county’s famous cherry orchards under the orders of Henry VIII, along with other fruit, was the reason why the county became known as The Garden of England.
Now for the first time, images of all 323 UK varieties of the fruit’s white flowers have been recorded. Canterbury Christ Church University academic and artist, Dr Sam Vale, has produced the complete collection of images that catalogues all the varieties in a new book.
Complete and comprehensive records of cherry blossom have historically been difficult to reproduce in books as the delicate flowers are considered too uniform for traditional illustration to capture the slight differences between varieties.
Sam, a Senior Lecturer in the University’s School of Media, Art and Design, explained: “A popular and well-recorded form of botany, the scientific study of plants, has been practised for over 200 years in books and catalogues. Pomology is the study of fruit trees, examining the cultivation of different and related varieties of tree, with the aim of improving and developing attributes such as taste, longevity and yield of popular fruits.
“Historically, pomological books were drawn up to differentiate types of fruit using a classification process that can be used to identify different varieties and types. These beautifully and carefully illustrated books would include diagrams of the fruit, the leaves, branches and commonly the blossoms (particularly in apples, peaches and plums). In examining these historical sources, it came to my attention that the cherry, a tree that is revered for its blossom, was mainly represented by drawings of the fruit and leaves, rarely its delicate blossom. After some careful investigation, I discovered that cherry blossom was seldomly recorded because it was considered too uniform to recognise differences, and traditional illustration could not reveal the nuances and insignificant details that distinguished between cherry blossoms.”
Using photography Sam has been able to accurately record and showcase the flowers’ subtle yet distinct differences to fill this void in the history and study of the cherry blossom.
Sam was granted access to the National Fruit Collection, at Brogdale in Kent. This collection was designed to keep a pair of each variety of cherry available in the United Kingdom, with the aim of keeping an accurate record for scientific purposes and to retain some of the heritage variety that have fallen out of favour.
Dr Matthew Ordidge, Scientific Curator for the National Fruit Collection, based at the University of Reading, said: “As a genetic resource collection, we make a wide range of material available to users, mainly graftwood and fruit samples, as well as leaves for analysis and pollen for breeding. I would have to say that Sam’s study of the collection was one of the more eclectic uses, and it is relatively rare for anybody to study the flowers on cherry in such fine detail. We were very pleased that the collection could be available to make this work possible.”
Sam added: “Collecting is driven by two opposing ideas, the similarities of the items being acquired which connect under a scheme devised by the collector, for example stamps, clocks or books. Yet, simultaneously, the objects within the collection need to also have differences to distinguish them for each other and hold the interest of the collector. The joy of collecting is driven by noticing what is overlooked and cherishing the connected items for their individual characteristics. In the presentation of this collection it is hoped that the beautiful qualities and patterns of the project can come to the fore and demonstrate the value of looking again at things that might at first seem indistinguishable.
Copies of the book will be donated to reference libraries and collections.
Sam’s book, A Typology of British Cherry Blossom: Containing Coloured Images of the Most Esteemed National Fruit Collection at Brogdale will be published in May 2019 by GOST. Each book will include a unique pressed, dried cherry blossom petal.
Canterbury Christ Church University will be hosting a book launch on Friday, 7 June, 3.30pm.
Brogdale Collections will be hosting their own Hanami Festival, celebrating Kent’s cherry blossom on Sunday, April 14. For more information visit: www.brogdalecollections.org
Notes to editors
- The National Cherry Collection originally belonged to the Kent Farm Institute at Borden near Sittingbourne, but passed into the care of MAFF (now Defra) in 1965. The collection was last re-propagated and established in its present location, Brogdale, Kent in spring 1996.
- There are two accessions of each of the 323 cultivars on Colt rootstock. Cultivars in the collection are either Sweet (Prunus avium), Acid (or Sour) (Prunus cerasus) or Duke cherries, which are hybrids between the two. Varieties are grouped into type, then colour (black, red, white or mixed) segregated into early, mid and late season according to recordings made at Brogdale. Where these are not known the labels remain empty.
- The Gean, Dwarf or Wild Cherry are native to Kent as wild trees, they were found growing here by the Romans when they invaded Britain.
- Henry VIII’s head fruiterer, Richard Harris, was ordered to propagate sweet cherry varieties brought over from Flanders. The site chosen to establish a fruit nursery was Teynham in Kent.
- The nursery flourished and Kent emerged as the UK’s premier cherry growing area. During the 17th and 18th centuries an expansion of planting cherries took place along the North Kent Downs and the Faversham Fruit Belt was born. This area covered form Rochester to Canterbury.
- During May and June cherry auctions would be held in Sittingbourne and the surrounding villages. A custom that continued until the end of the 20 century.
- Between 1900 and the 1970s, 90% of Britain's cherry orchards vanished as harvesting problems and imports took their toll. But in recent decades new cultivars that are more robust, more tolerant of extreme weather conditions, self-fertile, juicer and sweeter has meant that cherry acreage in Kent is increasing.
- Sam Vale is an academic and internationally exhibited artist interested in the use of photography and its relationship to other media. Working with collections and archives, Sam aims to uncover narratives which might not be immediately apparent from the gathered objects, offering an alternate perspective to the collected material and the owners or curators that accrue it.
Canterbury Christ Church University
Canterbury Christ Church University is a modern university with 16,000 students across Kent and Medway. Its courses span a wide range of academic and professional subject areas.
- Over 94% of our UK undergraduates were in employment or further studies six months after completing their studies*.
- We are one of the South East’s largest providers of education, training and skills leading to public service careers.
*2016/17 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey