What better way to spend a day than with a picnic under a cherry tree, admiring the blossoms overhead and, preferably, sipping on something bubbly? Well, at the end of April that’s exactly what I did, (exchanging the bubbles for coffee,) as I hit the motorway, Faversham-bound, for the Hanami Festival at Brogdale Orchards.
Hanami is the Japanese tradition of taking time to appreciate the transient beauty of flowers in bloom. The most famous blossom associated with Hanami is the cherry blossom, known as Sakura. During a two to three week window each Spring, Japanese families will often celebrate this beauty by picnicking beneath the blossoms, complementing good food with sake, stories and song.
Cherry blossoms are an integral part of Japanese culture. Legend has it, when a cherry blossom falls to the ground it represents the soul of a Samurai who lost his life in battle. In old Japanese villages people believed gods lived within the Sakura trees; that they could tell they were there when the blossoms were full. Villagers would place offerings at the tree’s roots so as to please the gods. They believed that if the gods were happy with their offerings they would grant them a plentiful rice harvest.
Brogdale Orchards boast the largest collection of fruit trees in the world and my visit gave me the opportunity to appreciate the cherry blossom – 350 flowering cherry varieties no less – along with an array of others from quince and plum to apple and pear.
I arrived just in time for a guided walking tour of the orchards, which you can do three times a day from April until October. More information on those here. I must admit my knowledge of fruit trees was limited (to say the least!) but you certainly don’t need to be an expert to appreciate the beauty of the place and I had a great time listening to my guide and learning to identify the difference between a quince and an apple blossom. (FYI: Quince is bigger with floppier petals!)
After the tour it was time to head back to the picnic area for a rousing Taiko drumming session. The performance was lively and engaging and it made me wish I had a drum of my own so I could join in! There were a few little stalls where visitors could learn the art of Japanese calligraphy or green-fingered attendees could pick up tips on how to look after Bonsai. I was a little disappointed to miss the Japanese Tea Ceremony but there’s always next year!
I really enjoyed my visit to Brogdale and am planning to return in the Summer months for their other festivals – their Strawberry Fair on 11th June is already in my diary. If you’re looking for a family-friendly day out it’s a great option and not far from London. It’s easily accessible by rail too – you’ll need to either walk the mile between Brogdale and Faversham station or you can pick up a taxi for around £4.50.
Also located on the same site are a number of farm shops selling locally made produce – birch wine anyone? – and you can sit and enjoy a nice cuppa at the cafe. You may even be inspired to come away with a fruit tree of your own! In terms of accessibility, parking is no problem and it is possible to get about in a wheelchair, though some of the shops are a tight squeeze. According to the website wheelchairs are welcome on the orchard tours and I think it’d be fine enough to get around. Do bear in mind though that the terrain in the orchards isn’t entirely level on account of mischievous rabbits digging holes so keep your wits about you! For more information including admission and what’s on take a look at their website.
Until next time,