“The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.” – The Last Samurai
In countries such as Japan, Korea and China, the arrival of the cherry blossom is a not-to-be-missed event. Old people, families and young lovers alike flock to the mountains, temples and parks that house the much-loved trees. And while the blossoms themselves are the main attraction, there can often be found tea ceremonies, specialty foods and crafts for sale as well.
In North America, big cities such as Vancouver, New York or Washington, D.C., also host festivals. But here in the Okanagan, where the orchards can stretch for acres and acres, dressed up in their delicate array, the season goes by with little ado.
Perhaps it has something to do with perception. In Asia, cherry blossoms are noted for their short and intensely beautiful life – a symbol of the transience of life in general. They are also omens of good fortune, and an emblem of love. Here, on the other hand, they are more harbingers of the sweet fruit to come. In this produce-rich valley, we’re all about the fruit.
Still, we at The Pear Tree couldn’t resist celebrating this ephemeral beauty with a photo shoot at a local orchard. The one we visited is Westbank Harvest, on the outskirts of Westbank in West Kelowna.
And we had some help from our lovely models, Avery Philip (top right and bottom left, above) and Sarah MacDougall (top left and bottom right, above), who tried their best not to be overshadowed by the real stars of the shoot.
Farmed by Brante Farrell and his father Farlie Paynter, Westbank Harvest grows 10 varieties of cherry – including one, a marble cherry that has both white and red flesh inside, that Brante is in the process of patenting.
The Paynter family has been in the Okanagan since 1909, and the 10-acre orchard (which also grows apples and apricots) has been in the family since the 1940s.
Brante and Farlie prefer the traditional way of orcharding, with row after row of canopy-creating trees. The newer, commercial style of planting attaches small trees to supports to grow them laterally, much like grape vines – resulting in larger crops that are faster and easier to pick. Brante says the old-fashioned way might be less practical, but it’s not as hard on the soil, and results in healthier trees.
“The natural tree, in its natural state, also provides homes for a lot of small animals, including coyotes, pheasants and raccoons who live in and around our orchard,” Brante added. “It supports the local ecosystem better, and provides a welcoming atmosphere for families and tourists.”
Once his trees are heavy with their juicy, ruby treasure – around the beginning of July – cars full of families and buses full of tourists start pulling up to experience a working orchard and to pick a few pails of fruit.
“We allow people to walk through the orchard and enjoy picking fruit off the trees to sample fresh, and to fill their pails. We should probably weigh them before and after we send them out, but we just charge by the weight of the pail,” Brante chuckles.
When we were there, however, the orchard was quiet – except for the buzzing of bees, busy at the task of pollinating the buds so that a good crop of cherries will follow.
It was a magical time – tranquil, carefree, resplendent. The kind of experience that should be celebrated, whether alone, in a group or with a kindred spirit.
– Story and photos by Lori-Anne Poirier