Scent of Apples-E.S. Rodhe

Pommiers et genêts en fleurs

The ' softest ' of the early summer scents is surely that 
of apple blossom. The individual blossoms have little 
perfume, but in the mass it is exceeding sweet, although 
delicate. But I think its most attractive quality, beyond 
even its sweetness, is its softness. To walk in an orchard 
of apple trees in full bloom is to be enfolded in an invisible 
soft cloud of most delicate yet all-pervading perfume. 
A great deal has been written about night-scented flowers, 
but lovely as they are, the early morning scents are, I 
think, the lovelier. The scent of apple blossom is sweetest 
and most pervading in the early morning. Indeed, it is so 
strong that it overpowers all other scents, for the whole 
air is filled with it. And how delightful it is to watch 
the pollen-bearing bees loaded with the pale yellow pollen 
of the blossoms. This year the apple blossom, according 
to the country-folk, is more wonderful than within living 
memory. Indeed, it is difficult to find on the young trees 
one wood-making shoot, and the flowers are so closely set 
that seven to ten flowers in a cluster are quite common. 
The apple orchards, especially of the West Country, have 
been surely one of the most glorious floral spectacles in 
Europe. Their beauty is unsung, and mercifully unadvertised, 
but to those who love them there are few 
sights of more endearing beauty than an English orchard 
in full bloom. How much has been written of the plum 
and cherry blossom of Japan, but what can compare with 
the opalescent loveliness and the ethereal scent of apple 
blossom ? When the trees are almost hidden by the wealth 
of white foam and given by the rosy-fingered dawn her 
first caress, a magic casement into fairyland is opened. 
An apple orchard in bloom is indeed one of the loveliest 
sights on earth. The beauty of cherry and plum blossoms 
appeals to the imagination, but the child-like loveliness of 
apple blossom appeals to the heart. Moreover, in spite 
of the ethereal beauty and fragrance of the flowers, there 
is a quality of homeliness about apple trees which endears 
them to us all. 

The apple tree may indeed be described as the tree 
symbol of an English home, for there is no other tree 
which embodies in its quiet happy beauty and its simplicity 
all that the word home means to our race. How 
largely this tree figures in the domestic history of our 
race, and how interesting it would be to trace the story 
of it in these islands from the days of our British ancestors 
through Saxon, medieval, Tudor, Stuart and Georgian 
days. What pictures flit before one of our indigenous 
apple trees in the beauty of their bloom before the days 
of the Romans, when the sacred island of Avalon was so 
called because of the apples which grew there in such 
abundance ; of the orchards of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors 
and the picturesque scenes when they made cider (which 
they called sieder) of the well-cared for orchards belonging 
to the monasteries ; of the fame of the cider orchards 
of Herefordshire even in Elizabeth's reign. Gerard 
enthusiastically advocated the planting of yet more or- 
chards. ' Gentlemen, that have lands and living put 
forward in the name of God ; graffe, set, plant, and nourish 
up trees in every corner of your grounds ; the labour is 
small, the cost is nothing, the commoditie is great, your- 
selves shall have plentie, the poor shall have somewhat 
in time of want to relieve their necessitie and God shall 
rewarde your good mindes and diligence.' Apples and 
apple trees figure largely in our folk-lore and the custom 
of wassailing trees was kept up to within living memory. 

' Here's to thee, old apple-tree ; 
Hence thou mayst bud, and whence thou mayst blow, 
And whence thou mayst apples bear enow ! 
Hats full ! caps full ! 
Bushel, bushel sacks full ! 
And my pockets full, too ! Huzza ! ' 


Apples, too, were widely used, not only in the medicines 
prescribed by the physicians, but also in homely remedies, 
and the smell of apples was accounted very wholesome. 
John Key, who was physician to Queen Mary, and later 
to Elizabeth, had great faith in even the smell of apples. 
In his book, which was published in 1552, he counselled 
his patients, when feeling weak after a dangerous illness, 
to ' smell to an old swete apple for there is nothing more 
comfortable to the spirits than good and swete odours.' 
Apple juice and pulp were widely used in cosmetics and 
' comfort apples,' as they were called (apples stuck with 
cloves), were the poor man's substitute for the orange stuck 
with cloves of the rick folk. One recalls a passage by Ralph 
Austen, that great lover of orchards and of the scent of 
their blossoms : ' Sweet perfumes work immediately 
upon the spirits for their refreshing ; sweet and health- 
full ayres are special preservatives to health, and therefore 
much to be prised. The most pleasant and wholesome 
odours are from the blossomes of Fruit-Trees, which 
having in them a condensing and cooling property are 
therefore not simply Healthfull, but are accompted 
Cordiall, chearing and refreshing the Heart and vital 
spirits.' 1 I wonder why we do not revert to the medieval 
custom of growing fruit trees in small pleasure gardens. 
There are thousands of small gardens where there is only 
space for a few shrubs and very frequently one sees shrubs 
which are in beauty for only one season. But fruit trees 
have two seasons of great beauty. A Captain John 
Taverner, writing as early as 1600, advised that all the 
highways in England should be planted with fruit trees, 
and he added the sensible suggestion that anyone should 
be allowed to pick and eat the fruit, but that if he carried 
it away he should be punished.