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Norman's blossomtime musings

Updated: Jun 21, 2022

Blossomtime this year has been made especially memorable by a truly magical wedding and a celebratory community Jubilee picnic at Dragon Orchard.

The orchard undergoes the most wonderful transition throughout May as the various fruit trees produce their own distinctive flower.

The subtle differences both delight and amaze with small changes in colour, hue and scent ensuring that pollinators are attracted to come and do their business.

Delicate Mirabelles, shy Quince, coy Medlar, strident Bramley and unassuming Gennet Moyle all play their part. Dorothy’s Orchard is the most striking where over thirty varieties are planted in small blocks to provide an ever changing palette of shifting hues which alter according to the weather and the light.

This against the baseline of deep green grass with the overhead delineation of sky gives a vista of nature of which one can never tire and in many ways allows a deep and powerful orchard meditation.

The Big Apple Blossomtime event

Blossomtime here at Dragon Orchard is always celebrated at 'The Big Apple' held over the first weekend in May. This began over thirty years ago and Norman’s father was one of the founder members. When we returned to Putley in 1993, there was little option but to step into his rather large shoes. Big Apple Blossomtime encompasses all that is vibrant and reassuring about the Spring and our parish bustles with life, visitors meeting and greeting, walking and talking, tasting and sipping and walking the lanes and the orchards.

Some of the Big Apple programme was based at Dragon Orchard including 'Plants for Pollination' and 'Laughing Betsy,' a wonderfully creative collective involving Hannah Day (our former partner in Once Upon A Tree) and Cheryl Hewitt who worked with people to produce ceramic and fabric leaves and apples which are still hanging in the trees.

However, the highlight was a talk in The Harry Taylor Memorial Theatre, aka the Green Shed, by Jane Peyton. Jane is the very first cider Sommelier don’t you know. Jane gave a fascinating talk giving a wonderful overview of cider, remarkably like our vision when we began Once Upon A Tree in 2007! She proposes we can make cider a drink to be regarded and appreciated as we do wine and beer. With breakfast butties on sale afterwards, provided by Little Marcle Church, there was much to enjoy in the orchard.

A surprise winner

A major part of the Blossomtime Big Apple event is the cider & perry trials which is highly regarded by cider makers and a win is highly valued and respected. Last autumn, a certain Gemma Druce and her mother came and stayed with us, hand harvested several different cider apple varieties, pressed them here on site using the Big Apple Press and let the alchemy begin.

Gemma was there to enter her cider into the prestigious dry cider class, a particular class that cider makers covet for its mystique and reputation. Gemma was also staying with us in Dragon Nest as the following Saturday, she and her fiancé Simon were to be married in Putley Church with their reception to be held in the orchard. Early on the morning of Saturday April 30th, Gemma and Simon set off to the parish hall to drop off their precious cargo.

The Big Apple cider and perry trials are revered among cider makers as they do not have a panel of judges, all the entries are judged by the entrants. The cider and perry is decanted into old fashioned quart flagons so that they are all completely anonymous, the makers taste all in the class and fill in their voting slips which are then counted.

The dry cider class quickly became a two horse race between Gemma and Charles Smart, who also used Dragon Orchard apples. If Charlie had voted for his own Cider he would have won, but he did not, so Gemma at her first attempt, won the dry cider class with Charlie a very close second. The next morning was May 1st and both ‘winners’ cycled up the Cockshute on the Marcle Ridge for the May Day sunrise and to toast their respective health with the prize winning product.

Orchard wedding

Kingston Black apples were used by both winners and it was entirely fitting that these were in full flower to provide the amazing backdrop for the wedding reception held in a giant Medicine Hat Tipi. Gemma and Simon had further cider connections as they used the shire horses and Landau Carriage from Weston’s Cider to take Gemma to Putley Church and then from the church to Dragon Orchard. The reception saw many ciders supplied by a number of cider makers from near and far.

Jubilee celebrations

By the time the Jubilee picnic came around in June, just a few late varieties remained in flower including Court Pendu Plat and Annie Elizabeth, but these were enough to bookend a wonderful month of blossom, scents and subtle Dragon Orchard happenings.

It was a fine event attended by well over one hundred village folk who braved a soggy and overcast orchard, after an overnight downpour, to enjoy a picnic under canvas and singing, entertainment and games.

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