It’s my birthday so today I will be brief. There is a springtime out there to be part of. A moment of guaranteed awakening, coming to life and indecisive weather.
I know this time well. In observations that are marked by fresh growth. Snakeshead fritillaries chequered in shiny new grass, celandines blinking open in sunshine and the gold of marsh marigolds illuminating the wet hollows. The blossom trees billowing. Plums in full sail, pears just breaking and the cherries lighting up the still grey woodland.
The Sweet Cherry, or Gean or Mazzard (and Massard) is a tree I have a long relationship with. First encountered in my childhood home, where they had outstripped a long-forgotten garden and towered thirty meters high. We would hug their dark, rough and peeling trunks which by that time were seventy years old and leaning rakishly in their last chapter. The dark limbs and roots running widely over the surface and the light above as the flowering branches flushed palest pink bud and then white against often grey skies. They were the first trees to come crashing down as we cleared the garden, our family spending weekends making inroads into the undergrowth. It was as if they sensed the end of an era and they leant down gently in the night. One first, then another following, without a sound or associated drama.
We have them here as a borrowed view down the valley, youthful trees pushing up though the alder woods which line the stream and provide the cherry blossom with a dusky undercurrent of bruised purple. I planted them in the Blossom Wood in our first winter here. Young whips, navel high and easily identified for their richly red bark and promising buds. Living fast and not for much longer than eighty years, they make a quick presence. Growing vigorously up and forming a pyramid of limbs that make their own space before racing skyward to claim an early loftiness in a young wood. Though the double form Prunus avium ‘Plena’ lasts a whole week longer in bloom, the Gean is brief, but no briefer than the plums. A fortnight of expectation as the buds swell and give way to a week or ten days in a cool April.
Following on in early summer, the fruits, held in drupes and often pairs, ripen early. A dark, rich red and tart enough for you to make the mistake of thinking another day will make them sweeter. The birds will get there first if you do and it is the birds that distribute them and give the tree its specific name, Prunus avium. An April wonder.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 10 April 2021