18 May 2012

The darling buds of May

An Sceach Gheal (the bright thorn), Whitethorn, Hawthorn, Maybush, the May... is there any one plant more redolent of May than the small tree that carries its name? The creamy blossom foaming in the hedgerows--defining the fields, hiding the ditches, providing shelter and home for the small things, for the birds.
Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna
Traditionally, some hawthorn hedgerows would have been layered (chop partly through a vertical branch, lay it horizontally, weave the resulting new vertical shoots through the horizontal branches, repeat) to form impenetrable boundaries to keep sheep and cattle where you wanted them. There was an amazing example of just such a hedge near a friend's house in Westmeath (where, apparently, about a quarter of hedges used to be managed this way, now only about 2%), but it's mostly gone now. Unlayered hawthorns have their own place and it's in hedgerows all over the country that we see the trees signalling that May is truly here. In autumn, their small fruits will turn the same hedges to garnet and ruby shades glowing in the October light.

It's not only in hedgerows that you'll find hawthorns: still there are many 'lone bushes' around the country - hawthorn trees that won't be cut down by those who own the land for fear of what might happen... folk tradition had it that the lone bushes are jealously guarded by the Sídhe and misfortune will befall those who interfere with them. I remember when I was doing fieldwork in Co. Cavan in the late seventies that I'd occasionally come across a small field with a lone bush in the middle and the pasture or meadow or crop would have to grow (and be harvested) around it. Some of these trees have become even more significant and have become shrines of a sort. Here's one on the border of Dublin and Wicklow (thanks for showing it to me all those years ago LB!):

Lone Bush
The other May messenger is the humble and ubiquitous Cow Parsley, or Queen Anne's Lace, as some more finely call it.
Cow Parsley, Queen Anne's Lace, Anthriscus sylvestris
Iz checks the Cow Parsley by the local stream
Like the hawthorn, seeing Cow Parsley along paths, roadsides, the banks of streams and in fields, reminds us that early summer has arrived. This year we have needed more reminders than usual as we've had a (long) run of cold and dull weather.

Messing about in boats
Still, last Saturday was a sunny day and we headed to the Grand Canal where a friend was bringing her boat from Kildare all the way in to the Grand Canal Basin as part of the annual Dublin Boat Rally. We had enormous fun making our way through the locks, pootling along at a sedate pace, cheering on the workers perched high on the pylons at a sub-station we passed on the way, and just generally messing about in boats.

The route in to the city passes through some less than privileged areas, but along the canal the whitethorn was in blossom and the locals' ponies were enjoying the May sunshine. The locks are amazing things, and I made a silent offering of thanks to those skilled 'navvies' who built the canals - the stonework is so well wrought, the locks are an engineer's delight and now the lock gates are bryophyte heaven. Lovely to have such a change of pace from the normal frenetic travel that goes on around Dublin. Thanks for a great day, Skipper Gráinne.

Bryophyte heaven - a lock gate
Pile On!
Grand Canal Pony and the May

Allium sp. Purple Sensation
While all that gallivanting was going on, things moved along in the garden at home. In spite of the cold weather, the alliums are escaping from their buds, the Rheum leaves are complementing the Lamium rather nicely and nothing seems to slow down the aphids or the slugs... one of the latter wasn't even put off by finding itself in the pond, deciding to rasp its way through a Water Hawthorn leaf, and another found the hosta in the pot! All have been moved on since I took the photos this week, but I know there are plenty more where they came from...

Rheum joins the party, Lamium having a good time already
Damn thing found my Hosta
A new way to dine - slug gets to grip with a Water Hawthorn


  1. Tree shadows echo
    Izy's inky silhouette
    Against Anthriscus

    Phew! Haiku are hard.

  2. They are :-), but they're a lovely form. Some writers in English don't concern themselves with the syllable counts, but stick to some of the other strictures. Snapshot Press (http://www.snapshotpress.co.uk/) produce some lovely collections.