The Twickenham Tribune


Marble Hill Horticultural Marvels

Hawthorn-May tree (Crataegus monogyna)

Hawthorn or sometimes known as the May tree is named after the month it flowers in and is a sign that spring is well and truly here. In the park at Marble Hill there are a number of large Hawthorn trees and bushes at the moment, their boughs weighed down and laden with the flowers.

Marble Hill Hawthorn
Marble Hill Hawthorn

The old gardeners saying ‘Cast ne’er a clout ere May is out’ refers to the opening of hawthorn flowers rather than the end of the month and here at Marble Hill Park we have planted 250 hawthorn plants in the woodland and will have planted 3000 by the end of the project, in the form of both hedges and shrubberies.

Hawthorn produces boughs heavy with scented white flowers and is teeming with insects and provides food and shelter more than 300 different species of insects particularly moth caterpillars.  Dormice eat the flowers and it provides nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects. Then in autumn when it produces berries these are eaten by migrating birds, such as redwings, fieldfares and thrushes as well as small mammals and the dense, thorny foliage makes fantastic nesting shelter for many species of bird.

Hawthorn has always been surrounded by myths and symbolism and has ancient associations with May Day. It was the ancestor of the Maypole and its leaves and flowers the source of May Day garlands as well as appearing in the wreath of the Green Man.
There are strong superstitions about never bringing Hawthorn blossom into the home as it was believed that bringing hawthorn blossom inside would be followed by illness and death, and in medieval times it was said that hawthorn blossom smelled like the Great Plague. In Celtic mythology, and the hawthorn believed to be inhabited or protected by Merble Hill Hawthornthe Wee Folk or fairies and many folk tales tell of people being waylaid by fairies when passing a Hawthorn tree!

Despite the superstitions surrounding the May tree it was used for many purposes, the leaves were eaten and were commonly referred to as bread and cheese, the blossom and berries were made into wines and jellies, and medicines made from the flowers and leaves were used to stabilise blood pressure. The strong, close-grained wood was used for carving, and for making tool handles and other small household items.

Marble Hill HawthornProbably its greatest practical use to people has been as hedging as it responds very well to being ‘laid’ which involves cutting the stem almost all the way through at the base  and arching the stems ( without breaking them) horizontally to create a thick hedge, which provide an excellent habitat for wildlife as well as a strong stock proof hedge. The plant then rejuvenates with vigour in the spring and is a practice we intend to reinstate at Marble English HeritageHill Park!

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