Posted by: lialeendertz | May 26, 2010

Cinderella hedges and balls

Hawthorn doesn't get to go to the ball

Hawthorn doesn't get to go to the ball

I always seem to admire hawthorn blossom from the train, and it strikes me only now that this is because it is always in bloom at the time of Chelsea Flower Show (to which I’ve just been, and where I made a wee film for The Guardian, which you will find here). Every other plant that is naturally in flower around this time of year gets regular airings at Chelsea (PLEASE don’t tell me that irises, alliums and foxgloves are in fashion this year, or I will groan and roll my eyes, albeit quietly, and behind your back) but hawthorn, that explosion of white lovely frothiness, rarely gets a look in. I don’t understand it, and when I finally do my Chelsea garden (which I only mean in the sense that everyone must have one Chelsea garden in them; it’s as likely to happen as my novel, or my album, or my guerilla quilting retrospective at Tate Modern), I will use loads of the stuff.

Hawthorn bloom always reminds me of a trip to Cyprus for a May wedding a few years ago, or rather of coming home after. The wedding was utterly lovely, beautiful bride, ancient church, and rest of the holiday was very lovely in many ways, but I wasnt taken with Cyprus, or at least the bit where we stayed. I love a bit of Mediterranean heat and dust as much as the next gal, but this place seemed to do all the uncomfortable bits without the usual magic and charm. Dry, dusty, big hotels, no decent beach. I’ll say that again: No Decent Beach. On a Mediterranean holiday. I think I’ve made my point. Coming into land at Bristol airport I realised we had been gone that crucial week when spring turns to summer and everything becomes GREEN. It was as if the entire countryside had grown several metres and was stretching up enthusiastically towards us with open, welcoming arms, and of course, dotted among that fresh, early summer greenest, purest, most innocent and unsullied green were white firework explosions of hawthorn. It made me so glad to be at home in May and it also made me wonder, again, how I could grow hawthorn in my garden.

And so I now have an embarrassment of hawthorn. It’s probably the plant I have the most of in my garden, in fact. Along one side of the garden I planted what will one day be a pleached hedge (on the recommendation of garden designer Arne Maynard, who first alerted me to the fact that it makes fine topiary; fulsome and fresh in summer, and in winter spiky and scratchy, like an etching done by a slightly depressed and loony artist. These may not have been his exact words.), and then opposite, across the garden I have planted a double flowered form as a standard tree, to allow for some un-trimmed and encumbered frothage. I also once planted two little curved hedges of it at the end of the garden, most of which died because I cut them back too hard, too soon, but a few random members of which survive, so I will make them into some kind of topiary thing too, eventually. As I said, it’s almost a vulgar amount.

I like it now because it’s having its moment, but also because it looks so ‘at home’. I think this about fruit trees, apples in particular, that they have some kind of an affinity with the British landscape and townscape that makes them just slot into our gardens, they are part of our garden vernacular. I am almost certain that hawthorn is another member of this gang, looking easy and fine, however weirdly I bend, shape and snip it so as to squeeze as many as possible into my garden. If you need another reason to plant one, or loads (not that I’ve got shares, but I seem to have started on this persuasive tip, so I may as well push on) they are wildlife friendly, where wildlife friendly means that they will get eaten by loads of native things that you are not allowed to kill, and you will have to be philosophical and organic and chilled about it, perhaps with the aid of some kind of Buddhist visualisation technique, and so most likely become a better and more rounded person in the long run. What a plant.



  1. I love Hawthorn and had one in my last garden, maybe I should get one for this garden. I noticed the blossom from the train to London as well, there was so much that in the wake of an intercity the air was full of Hawthorn confetti

  2. There are lots of hawthorn on the fields near my garden here where I live in Kent near the Thames – they can be spiteful with their thorns, but are very beautiful in flower and the berries are good for the birds in the autumn

  3. One of my very favourite smells, just behind broad bean flowers. My wife thinks it smells of catpiss. I’ll tell her about your ‘wee films’ and see if she gets confused.

  4. I love hawthorn too. We have loads of it around the boundaries, some was here already, others planted by us. It has looked particularly good this May. I think the smell is good too, although traditionally it was thought to smell of death and it was unlucky to bring it into the house. Stuff and nonsense, I say.

    Please let me know when the guerilla quilting exhibition is on – that would be worth a trip back to Blighty!

  5. I like hawthorn too – though Blackthorn better. It’s lovely when there are trees on either side of the path, for then you can imagine yourself to be a fairy-tale bride being showered with confetti as you plod to town in your walking boots.


  6. Helen – what a pretty image

    Elizabeth – perhaps the spiteful thorns are the reason they arent more widely used as topiary: painful pruning. Havent had to cross that bridge quite yet.

    MarkD and Gilly – I went out today and sniffed it: nothing. In the lane on the way to school i sniffed some more: still nothing. From memory i would have said Mark’s wife is pretty close, but my nose seems unable to register. I will sniff my broad bean flowers soon, with trepidation.
    (PS Guerilla quilting retrospective starts next Tuesday, hope you can make it)

    Esther – how lovely. Am very glad I have planted it both sides of the garden now.

  7. ha ha ha i definitely remember saying to you on monday “irises really seem to be in this year”

  8. I’m liking the idea of a pleached hedge but isn’t it a bit spiky to train? Also, do you know how long it takes to form a decent height/structure.

    Crikey – just realised I have left a comment that is neither flippant nor mocking.

    I need to lie down.

  9. Love the sight of it, but hate the smell.
    It, like many shrubs and trees’ has been amazing this year. Driving home from seeing clients one evening last week in the dusk the thorns were lighting the landscape. Like snow in May! Not for nothing is it called May itself and full of ancient associations with Maytime festivities which make it englishness itself.

  10. Love hawthorn too: humble but special.
    I planted a few on the allotment a couple of weeks ago and some blackthorn too.

  11. Emma T – heh heh! I think I was thinking of you when I wrote that… But I did have the decency to scoff loudly, and to your face, so perhaps I’m not so two-faced after all…

    Sensible Dawn – I bought them as five small trees so they are already of the right height. Now I just have to train them outwards. havent actually reached the point of painful training yet, but a pair of stout gloves should do it. Also, they’re not so painful when young and sappy *Convinces self. Just.*

    Robert and Lila – So many hawthorn fans out there. They are beauties.

  12. Love hawthorn too, i’m slowly planting a hedge of it on my plot. The second most useful plant for wildlife after oak I read somewhere. Also the very best wood for a log fire or woodburner, burns hot and slow. You can also eat the young shoots, they taste salty. When I was on the farm and we put the cows out after winter our old lead cow Dreamcoat would head straight for the hawthorn hedge to have a good munch.

  13. A belated read, thanks for the pimpimg.
    Hawthorn reminds me of my childhood in the wilds of the country, the very fresh green leaves which you could nibble.
    Now, as you so eloquently describe it is the blossom. I walk across my local park frequently which has a mostly hawthorn hedge on the far boundary. From a distance it almost glows looking rather like the trail of steam from a passing train (I know, not many stem trains around these days!)

  14. Briad ben flowers when theyre at their top are te loveliest flower scent there is frankly. And hawthorn can be a bit like quince and autumn olive – get up close and smell and you’ll get nothing, but walk away and you’ll be in a cloud of it. Or you may have a shit one

  15. Simon, MsB, MarkD – well what an education blogging is. This morning I have nibbled on a hawthorn leaf (not especially pleasant, and with a proper manky aftertaste) and sniffed a broad bean flower (slightly pea-like, or – more specifically – broad bean like, which was a bit of a disappointment after the build up, but I’m willing to accept that they are possibly way past their best).
    Thanks anyway though!

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