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.

70 thoughts on “apple blossom time

  1. Thank you so much Kate! I love Tom’s photographs-they are gorgeous, you are so lucky to have the beautiful tree so close to your house. I also remember the fairy books and adore them…

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  2. I used to work for Blackie, the original publisher of the Flower Fairies, and other Cicely Mary Barker books and illustrations. Although a wee bit sentimental her paintings were very truthful; she used real children as her models, as well as painting the plants from life.

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  3. Stunning. Thank you both so much for sharing. I never cease to be amazed at the resilience of trees – they seem to recover, and even thrive, after what seem like devastating events (like a lightning strike!).

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  4. Thank you for the pictures and the Cicely Mary Barker reminder. The pictures are serene and peaceful, you are so lucky to have that landscape nearby.

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  5. Thank your fhese stunning pictures and your blog. It loved reading it. Childhood memories when it comes to apple trees. It was interesting to read about the flower fairies.

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  6. I just love Tom’s photographs and, just as much, your writing. Where did you find Cicely’s fairy books? I think the drawing technique is wonderful and the nostalgia somehow quite vital to me at this age, so I would really like to try and get a copy or two. Thanks! Jeanne

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    1. Hi – you’ll be able to find her work through the second hand sellers on Abe Books – I recommend buying the smaller volumes rather than the big anthology – I much prefer the sense the wee books give of her drawing on the page

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  7. What a great testament to survival that tree is! Absolutely gorgeous-I can almost smell it, the photographs are so evocative.

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  8. Thank you and Tom for sharing these beautiful apple blossom photos with all of us. The apple blossoms are elegantly captured by Tom’s artistic eyes. A treasured gift for all…

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  9. Oh, Kate. Please thank Tom for his beautiful photos, and thank you for sharing them with us, and for reminding me how utterly exquisite the world can be.

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  10. Hi Kate, thanks for introducing me to these wonderful books, drawings and colors. If I may be so bold as to suggest your consideration of a color while you are thinking about a new color palette…. I have been searching for a yarn the color of the wildflower chickory. Chickory and its fairy are in the book of wildflowers by the wayside (after your post I looked up all the drawings online). In real life, chickory is a delicate combination of blue and purple. It is not blue, nor is it purple. Some might call it periwinkle. Whatever it is called, it is rare and gorgeous. Thanks, Adela

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  11. This is such a lovely post – I think there is a piece of music waiting to be written about apple blossoms….. >

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  12. I love these photos that Tom took. I hope he’s got a shop…love love love…

    I adore blossoms too and (cherry blossoms) that tree is amazing. It’s also amazing that you’re just starting spring and here (California) we did that in February and March. What different constructions of reality we have. I hope your palette will reflect some of this airy beauty! Can’t wait.

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  13. I loved these books so much as a child, I used to pour if they for hours and hours. I bought a compendium for my children. Which I don’t think they have ever independently looked at. Kinda heartbreaking.

    I think the romanticism of these pictures informed my whole life.

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  14. I, too, loved the flower fairies as a child and devoured the books voraciously. I made my oldest granddaughter a quilt of flower fairies and butterflies and she loves them too. Your beautiful old tree reminds me of many seen around Tasmania, remnants of its past tag as ‘the apple isle’. Many apple orchards have been pulled out and replaced with cherries, so we still enjoy beautiful spring blossom time all over the island. Thanks for the memories, and for the insight about colour preferences too!

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  15. Oh, those flower fairies! One of the few souvenirs I bought on a trip to London in high school was a button with one of the flower fairies on it–I loved those illustrations, and didn’t realize they came in a set of books, for which I’ll be looking on Amazon shortly.

    I also think the first picture of the single apple blossom–right after the first grey-scale picture of the tree–looks exactly like a Vermeer–such depth of color and clarity. Gorgeous.

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  16. Love the fairies – not too sweet, just right.

    Please, please have the tree looked at by an arborist. Its state of unbalance could cause further damage in a big windstorm. (I miss my former home in an apple orchard.)

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  17. My mother (born 1941) had the seasonal flower fairy books by CMB which came down to me and I seem to have then lost most of them. Fortunately for me, a trend for them took off again in time for my 2nd daughter (born 1991) and her sisters to enjoy them; in fact, I sent her and her sister to a fancy dress ball dressed as the apple blossom and snowdrop fairies when they were very small…! About 10 years ago I had several little figurines of some of the fairies that I used to decorate around the house.
    My favourite was always the poppy :)

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  18. Absolutely beautiful! I love the tree that has been so weathered and then turns into this gorgeous sight. I think that many would cut it down (at least around me) where builders have just hacked down four mature trees in order to build a four stall garage.

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  19. One of my daughters​in particular loved the flower fairy books. She is now an artist- and has just honeymooned in Japan at blossom time. The blossom here seems particularly abundant this year. Your tree like amazing.

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  20. I did have books of Swedish Fairies as a child! Can still picture some of the pages. so long ago…..wonder where they are.
    Great Apple Blossom photos and that magnificent tree. Thank you both for that!

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  21. Such a delightful read Kate and beautiful photos Tom. Isn’t it amazing that the tree, in spite of being damaged so badly, has continued to blossom equally well in both parts. I think your good weather is back so enjoy. We planted an apple tree a few years ago and last year had a small crop but this year it is covered in blooms so it looks gorgeous at the moment.

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  22. Great photos and a great tree! The whole post makes me want to figure out how to grow an apple tree in my shady yard.

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  23. Beautiful! I have the books too and memories of how much I loved each one. I have only realised after reading your recollection my love of colours and the fairy aspect has engaged my mind from a child.

    As a young adult I stitched the poppy fairy, in shades of red, barely perceptible when stitching but alive in the finished fairy. We have it framed in our home today. She stands tall holding the poppy which towers above her head. The frame is approx 74cm long and my fairy picture mounted approx 47cm tall. My reminder today is poppies growing outside my window and my love of the Poppy fairy which I spent months stitching.

    I love apple blossom and these photos have inspired me as I haven’t been able to be out to take photos so far this year. Wonderful memories, thank you Kate

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  24. Thank you Kate. The book is lovely. Tom’s photos are wonderful. I have ordered a copy to read to my grandchildren. They will love it. They go camping quite often and love to explore the wonders of nature.

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  25. I’m sure I learned the names of wild flowers from these books. They are enchanting and fill me with pure joy whenever I look at her beautiful paintings. Our old apple tree still produces blossom and a few apples even though it is covered in Mistletoe now. We’re reluctant to chop it down!

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  26. What an amazing tree! So beautiful, so determined to survive. What amazing photos! All that is missing is the scent of the blossoms. Exquisite.

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  27. Loved CMB as a child, and although her fairies are rather “sweet” her botanicals are spot on, I didn’t have the ABC book you mentioned, but all the others in little separate volumes – where are they now I wonder. I remember bluebells, and a plant we knew as aquilegia (but I rather suspect had another name in the book which I have now forgotten).

    Love the photographs of your old apple tree.

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  28. I collected all the Flower Fairy books as a teenager, apple blossom was one of my favourites. I love the beautiful photos, all those lovely pinks and greens.

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  29. My favourite books, and some of my first, when I was a small child. I still have one somewhere, I must look it out. Tom’s photography is superb, what are you going to design with all those pinks and greens?

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  30. How lovely.
    I also have the dolls from when my daughters were small and my grand daughter discovered them only last week where they sit in the spare room. I’m sure the books are in the loft – I must investigate!!!!

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  31. I enjoyed these books with my daughter, who still remembers all the old-fashioned names of the flowers. I love that fairies were modeled on real children from her sister’s kindergarten class and the character of the children as well as the flowers shines through.

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  32. How glorious. I just love apple blossom, and to see the contrast between the blooms and the gnarled old bark of the tree is wonderful. As ever, Tom’s photography shows both off to their best.
    I didn’t have the Flower Fairy books, but my eldest sister had an oversized book about a Fairy Ball. It was so beautiful, but she loaned it to someone and never got it back – I wish I could find a copy to revisit that fantasy world.

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  33. I totally agree with you , I loved this book, and shared this book with my granddaughter, who also loved the flower fairies ,It’s the return to innocence and the delight of the drawings with the subtle shading of each flower, which somehow or other pulls the heart strings , making you want to recapture the feelings in your every day life. It’s so peaceful to open each page and delight in the pure joy that each page provokes within the secret you .
    I envy you having this wonderful tree that you often walk past and that Tom has captured so well within his photography , He has photographed this tree , not only with his eye but also his heart . Thank you so much for sharing

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  34. Just beautiful Kate. That tree is,amazing, the amount of blossom is incredible. Tom’s pictures are beautiful. I think I can see your new palette of colours ,,,,, it is going to be lovely. Sue

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  35. Thanks for that! Thanks for the super photos. And I am so glad you still like the pictures.They were part of my childhood, and made me start to look at plants:something that I have never been able to stop doing.

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  36. In my opinion if I ever meet a fairy I so want it to be a Cicely Mary Barker one she is a huge favorite of mine…..

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