A week or so ago, I was thinking about colour (as one does when one is developing a new palette), and had a sudden yen to look at Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies. When I was very young, I had a cased set of Barker’s eight small volumes, and looking back, I really think that it was from these books that I absorbed many of my early ideas about colour, as well as learning something about plants and flowers. So I located a second-hand copy of the Flower Fairy Alphabet online, and ordered it. When it arrived a few days ago, I was full of trepidation – I was really rather worried that I was going to find the images repellently saccharine and sentimental, and that the perspective of a critical adult would somehow destroy the fond memories I had of these books. I opened the first page, to the letter A, for apple blossom.
The image was sentimental – there was no doubt about it – but its effect on me was completely Proustian. I so vividly remembered that blushing pink, that new spring green, the pale blue of the sky. I remembered the gnarly stems, the protective arm of the elder figure around a younger sibling (perhaps because I had a younger sibling too), but most of all, I felt the same feeling I felt as a child of the air in the picture — the bare sensation of being outside, among the apple blossom, on a soft May day.
What really struck me, looking at the alphabet again, was how perfectly Barker captured the detail and character of the plants and flowers she was representing. And that’s about the feel and colour of the images as much as their botanical accuracy.
And I’ve had apple blossom on the mind in many respects lately, since one of our favourite trees is in full bloom.
Tom and I are slightly obsessed with this tree, which sits a short distance from our house, and which we encounter on a pretty much daily basis as we walk about with Bruce. It is absolutely ancient, has been split in two by lightning, and over winter has a gnarled and dead appearance which is completely misleading.
Because every spring, this happens.
Gradually, through May, both the upright and recumbent parts of the tree produce green stems and buds.
Until each old, lichen-covered limb comes alive, and the whole tree is covered in a crazy riot of blossom, softening its broken angles with a pink-white haze.
In the middle of the day, the tree literally hums with bees and walking by it after a rain shower is an experience of sheer sensory overload – the scent of it is incredible.
Yesterday I asked Tom if he would photograph the tree as it is just so beautiful at the moment. I love the images he’s taken.
I’m rather enjoying apple blossom time. I’ve also ordered Cicely Mary Barker’s other volumes, and am looking forward to rediscovering them.