Saturday 16 December 2017

Hardy hawthorn is here

Hawthorn is easy to train, and makes a fine, weather-resistant garden tree
Hawthorn is easy to train, and makes a fine, weather-resistant garden tree

Gerry Daly

For a few weeks now, the hawthorn, thorn quicks or May bush has been remarkable. Foaming heads of white flowers have covered every branch on most bushes, and across the countryside, the bushes have outdone each other to produce a display not seen for years.

The reason for this abundance was last year's remarkable growing season when the flower buds were laid down. Under such good conditions plants just keep going until the weather calls a halt and last year growth went on into early winter. But not just for hawthorn, it has been a remarkable spring for every flowering bush and tree, including lilac, cherries, laburnum, pieris, magnolia and rhododendron.

It is likely that there has been a good set of flowers on the hawthorn and heavy berry-load will develop later in summer. The weather was dry during flowering for the most part, but it was somewhat cold on many days for pollinating insects to be on the wing.

Hawthorn is a decorative small tree for a garden, and a good wildlife support. It's not much planted in its basic form with white flowers, as seen in hedgerows, but there's no reason why not. It's a tough native species, and is strongly weather resistant.

In gardens it stays a reasonable size and can be trained nicely on a single stem or several stems. However, to many people's eyes the plain hawthorn is too wild in appearance for garden use. As the current trend moves more towards a natural style of gardening, it is very likely that more specimens of the white hawthorn will be planted.

Currently, the wild white hawthorn is used for boundary hedging around gardens, especially in rural areas, where it looks well. It is deciduous and does not offer as much privacy in winter as evergreen hedges but it can be planted in a mixture with holly and beech.

An occasional pink form turns up in the native species and there are some pink and red selections for garden use, if the white form is too plain. The best known is 'Paul's Scarlet', which carries a big show of double, dark-pink flowers. 'Crimson Cloud' has very large flowers of rich dark crimson with a white centre. 'Plena' has double white flowers that age to pink before the petals fall.

These are easily accommodated in any reasonable soil as long as it drains well and is not too wet in winter. Very rich soil can make the trees grow rapidly and look a bit gangly but some judicious pruning can be carried out to improve their shape.

My new tree fern is all wilted!

Q: I HAD a new tree fern planted in January. Unfortunately I was away for two weeks during the recent dry spell and its leaves have wilted. I have watered well and new fern leaves are growing. Should I cut away the old withered ferns and should I feed now? P Somers, Dublin

A: Continue watering each week until there is good, new growth. Tree ferns do not need feeding, just a good mulch of decayed leaves to keep moisture in the soil. Leave the dead fronds to offer some shelter to the new leaves. Tree ferns need good shelter and mild conditions, tolerating only light frost.

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