Listening in the orchards

If you didn’t get the chance to experience it last year, the wonderful‘talking trees trail’ is up and running again from 12 March onwards in the orchards at Cotehele, near Saltash. The trail brings traditional orchards to life in an entirely new way that is fun for all ages, and full of fascinating facts, but doesn’t impinge upon the beauty of the landscape.

Talking Trees

Pick up a ‘talking pen’ from reception, and then you can just wander at will through the old and new orchards, stopping at random trees to activate their ‘voices’ and hear their stories. Amongst the audio clips – recorded with the help of local people – you can hear the Cornish cider apple ‘Colloggett Pippin’ talk in dialect about its breeding; bees talking about their short busy lives in orchards and how they make honey; a wassailing song and a recipe for apple crumble.

Cotehele’s old orchard was planted before 1731 and is an atmospheric place, full of character and mystery. The ‘Mother Orchard’, which contains 300 trees and 120 different apples, was planted by the local community in 2007 to establish a gene pool of historic varieties.

Other apples featured in the trail include the Beauty of Bath, an early dessert apple raised in Somerset in 1864; Cotehele Beauty, a dessert apple grown from a seedling found at Cotehele; Mère de Menage, a cooking apple known locally as ‘Blackrock’ (once widespread throughout the Tamar Valley but down to one tree in 1980); and Bramley Seedling, perhaps the most famous cooking apple, which celebrated its 200th anniversary last year.

For more information on the joint National Trust / Natural England project to protect England’s traditional orchards, go to: nationaltrust.org.uk/orchards

Oh! Roses and lilies are fair to see;

But the wild bluebell is the flower for me. Louisa A. Meredith

National Trust bluebell wood

Imagine yourself here, walking along this path on the Godolphin estate in west Cornwall… Kathy Doyle posted from Godolphin last year: 'I can see the very first flowers starting to come through, very exciting, still awaiting the grand show.'

There’s something about bluebell time, isn’t there? Those rolling carpets of purpley-blue under new beech leaves, that sweet fresh green scent, bring a spring to your step and a feeling that winter is past. The Trust looks after some of the country’s most important bluebell woods; a quarter of the woodland we own is ancient or semi-natural – the perfect environment for our native bluebells to flourish in.

The first appearance of the flowers is keenly awaited and anticipated, but whether it’s going to be mid-April or mid-May depends on all kinds of factors such as how cold the winter has been and whereabouts in the country you are. This is why the Trust gives a helping hand with its online Bluebell Watch. Keep an eye on the Trust’s website from late March onwards, and you will start to see updates from staff at gardens and woodlands throughout the South West letting you know where are the best places to see bluebells this spring. You can also follow updates on our Twitter page and our South West blog, and upload your favourite bluebell photos.

A glance through last year’s Bluebell Watch postings shows that the first in the country was made by Andrew Wrayford, warden at Buckland Abbey in the sheltered Tavy Valley, who wrote on 14 April: ‘I spotted the first few bluebells out yesterday – follow our “Blue Walk” to see them…’. He was followed two days later by Mike Hardy, warden on the Lizard, who had seen them on the Penrose estate, near Helston: ‘The first flowers are finally showing today, in full sunshine but still with a chilly easterly wind. Will they all be in full bloom for Flora Day, Helston’s celebration of the arrival of spring on 8 May? The clock is ticking…’.

Ode to the Bluebell by Ian Wright, Garden Adviser for Devon and Cornwall

England without bluebells? It would be like cancelling spring and going straight to summer! Can anything actually beat walking through a bluebell wood on a warm spring day with all your senses in total overdrive?

But for the bluebell, that time of glory is the commutation of months of preparation, much of it going on unseen. The bluebell starts to grow in the late summer, hidden away underground, its clock ticking towards spring. The bluebell’s sole aim is to set its flowers before other plants that are more temperature-dependant can compete, and before the tree canopy above shades out the forest floor.

You would be mistaken if you thought this iconic plant of spring is untouchable. It faces real challenges in the form of climate change which may give other plants a chance to compete at the same time or even losing its unique identity by hybridising with its invasive Spanish cousin.

But for all this, the bluebell remains one of our real champions of spring, so I urge you to make the effort to go and visit a wood near you, and stand still in awe at nature’s sheer beauty.