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Small trees as hedging plants
Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a field hedge near my house. A hedge consisting of about 60% hawthorn, with other shrubs added to make up the difference. At one time it was laid, trimmed and maintained but today just two trees remain, entwined together: a hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and a blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). This is a rather wonderful accident of nature, as the ‘tree’ flowers twice. The blackthorn begins in about March and the hawthorn takes over in May. In the autumn this tree will have two sorts of berries: blue-black sloes and deep red haws.
It is an example of a ‘husband and wife tree’. This is quite a well-documented phenomenon, which can occur when trees are planted as whips, very close together, and grow up entwined. Their root systems become inseparable. Very romantic. I engineered a similar occurrence here by planting three birch saplings together and then plaiting them: now, 12 years later, they have grown into one rather singular tree.
If I might wander off in a new-age, hippy-dippy direction for a moment, the hawthorn has always been strongly associated with fairies. All sorts of wispy spells and incantations deploy hawthorn, including those for the healing of a broken heart. It is also bad news for vampires, as the best sort of stake for impaling them is made of hawthorn wood. The tree is so powerful that the felling of a tree at the wrong time of year is said to have caused the failure of the De Lorean Motor Company. I may be an old cynic, but that is perhaps going a step too far.
Blackthorn is a bit more straightforward and a bit short on folklore. It is, however, really important as it provides food for a lot of moths including the delightfully named mottled pug and lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing. The wood is used to make shillelaghs (Irish cudgels) and the sloes add an excellent flavour to gin or vodka.
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