On a country walk today the hedgerows are frothy with the prettiest of white blossom – up close it’s like miniature cherry blossom, and in fact it shares the same genus as cherry, Prunus. It’s our native Prunus Spinosa, or blackthorn, whose wood was traditionally used to make shillelaghs. I remember miniature versions of these varnished and sold as souvenirs to spendy tourists, but the shillelagh, Google tells me, was in former times used to settle disputes ‘in a gentlemanly manner’, and modern students of self defence practice its use as a martial art. Which probably says a lot about where we are as a nation when you think about it. But I digress.
Blackthorn the bush is often confused with whitethorn, which is actually hawthorn, which is why botanical names are so important to avoid confusion. Prunus spinosa or blackthorn is the first into flower on bare branches, its creamy white buds like clusters of seed pearls, any time from March onwards. Our native hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, flowers nearer to May, with clouds of blossom alongside the new green leaves. Both plants are sometimes called whitethorn, but you need to know which is which if you want to include them in your garden, because they’ll both behave differently.
Prunus spinosa or blackthorn works best alongside other plants as part of a native hedge – although its flowers are very pretty its leaves are fairly nondescript, so it’s more of a team player rather than a solo artist. Crataegus monogyna is also a great candidate for mixed hedging, but does work well on its own – the shiny curved leaves are very attractive and it’s as tough as old boots, growing happily on mountainsides as well as coastal areas blasted by Atlantic gales.
In autumn, the hawthorn’s gloriously coloured crimson haws provide much-needed food for birds. The blackthorn produces inky blue sloes too bitter to eat, but luckily everything has some evolutionary purpose, and theirs is a pretty useful one – they’re used to flavour sloe gin.
Anne’s Tip of the Week:
If you’ve recently planted a new hedge, check out ‘Rootgrow’ from good garden centres. It’s a product that harnesses the mycorrhizal fungi that naturally occur in the soil to speed up growth, essentially helping you to ‘fast forward’ the process.
Anne Byrne Garden Design provides easy to follow Garden Plans that you can implement right away or in stages. Anne’s design flair and passion for plants brings a touch of magic to gardens of all sizes.
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