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Kevin Myers: Beauty of the hedgerows is nature's great unsung gift

We are this weekend moving into the Great Unsung Season of the year, when the Irish countryside is at its most beautiful: these are the days of the whitethorn, when the hedgerows of Ireland resemble great big snowdrifts streaked with pulsing rose and thinning blood.

No other country has hedges like Ireland's, thousands and thousands of miles of banked gardens that erupt in the first week of June in the greatest floral display this landscape knows.

And the real beauty of the season is that it reaches its peak as the gorse comes into its first great summer-flower.

There we have nature at its most generous and uncommanded: not a tended garden, not a cultivar, but wild growths of violent gold colliding with sumptuous, swaggering walls of bright white summertime snow, and covering so much of the countryside.

The hawthorn in Ireland comes in two main varieties, (though there are in fact hundreds of virtually identical sub-species). One is native, the other an imported 18th Century intruder.

The latter flowers earlier than the Irish hawthorn; and it is the native which now erupts in such dazzling displays of blossom, which are remarkably unsung.

Almost no Irish poet effuses over the hawthorn's snowy banks, that turn the drab, matted black thornbush of the long Irish winter into a thing of mesmerising beauty.

It is as if we do not see the obvious: we are blind to the once-dowdy Cinderella in her moment of candied glory.

Even Goldsmith, who mentions the tree in a mere aside, fails to declare its loveliness: but merely records, "The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade", as if all it is good for is its theft of light.

But like the donkey slouching into Bethlehem, the hawthorn has its hour, and in the most unexpected places.

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North County Dublin is a vast wild garden at this time of year, best seen from the air. I was on a plane returning from France some years ago, and we were kept in the air for 20 minutes -- the most pleasurable 20 minutes of flying I ever experienced.

The French passengers were shrieking at the paradise beneath them, which was reaching as far as the horizon, and looking like the most intentional and magnificent of man's designs.

They could not imagine that Irish people simply do not see the whitethorn; and I dare say the Japanese, who turn the worship of cherry-blossom into a national fetish, would be quite astounded to hear that Bord Failte (or whatever our tourist board is called these days) does not even mention the early-summer hedgerows of Ireland as something special,

The whitethorn, or hawthorn, is a cousin of the rose, of which you'd be in no doubt this week. The blackthorn -- the sloe -- is the cousin of the plum.

The gorse, or whin, or furze (the great Kevin Danaher once drew a map of the names as they are used in Ireland, each location marking a different time of Anglo-Norman-Scottish- human-plantation) is a mysterious creature.

It presumably makes sense for it to invest so much energy in creating extravagant walls of flower for most of the year, churning out great wafts of banana and pineapple fragrance, while its hillside companions, the blackthorn and the whitethorn, content themselves with a week or so of flowers. (The blackthorn's blooms are delicate and shy, and it is easy to miss them, unlike the raucous, riotous hawthorn/ whitethorn).

There are a handful of days in the year when the Irish countryside, on even the doleful plains of Leinster, achieves a beauty beyond all others: when the light of winter is low and keen and falls on stark-black, naked trees: or when the snow and frost have hore-lined the branches with glittering, crystalline ice: or in autumn, for a week or so, before the winter winds strip those trees of leaf; and right now, for these few days, when the hedgerows of Ireland achieve a beauty that has been captured by neither poet nor artist, verse nor brush. They are there for all to see and to love.

This is also the time when the wildflowers that we planted at the end of spring finally emerge; lady's bedstraw, wild harebell, field gentian, forget-me-not, viper's bluegloss, comfrey, cowslip, yellow loosestrife, rosebay willowherb, bird's-foot trefoil, wood sorrel, common stork's bill, and sweet mallow.

These are the tiny meadowland blooms that flourished before the first seedsmen bred and crossbred and created the cultivars of the modern garden: and they are nature at its most virginally wonderful.

Seeds for these plants are extraordinarily expensive, but life is short, and so each spring I hoe the ground and plant them.

This year, I broadcast at least 20 different kinds of wild-flower seed: a pleasing duty which was promptly followed by three weeks of growth-free, freezing drought, while rioting birds feasted on my seeds.

Yes, I lost most of my lovely wildflowers; but three trusty wildflower friends, that always stick by me, through thick and thin, have again proved faithful. My meadow-garden is now a riot of nettles, dandelions and dock leaves, wildflowers all; though of fumitories, eyebright, field scabious and enchanter's nightshade, have I none.


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