Monday, 7 March 2011

Blackthorn in Hayes

Blackthorn bush in Hayes
Blackthorn bush in Hayes
I had heard of sloe gin, but as I grew up near Newcastle I had never seen the plant the sloe came from. Much later, driving down to London in the spring, I saw masses of white-flowered shrubs by the roadside. Later still, I learned the connection between these two things.

The blackthorn makes the first big show in the wild hedgerows in the south of England. Of course, there are cultivated garden shrubs that beat it into blossom or equal it, but they don't grow in the wild.

Someone has tried to tame this example. It grows in a hedgerow by a roadside in Hayes, and at people height it is kept pruned because it would otherwise invade the footpath. It doesn't have "thorn" in its name for nothing. In that respect it is rather like the hawthorn, another hedgerow shrub. Also like a hawthorn, it can grow quite large; more like a small tree than a shrub. Up above, all attempts at taming have failed.

The blackthorn's mass of white flowers is a very cheering sight at the beginning of March. This one is only just coming into bloom and has a mixture of flowers and buds.
Blackthorn flowers close up
Blackthorn flowers close up.  Fresh, white, essence of spring.
You can see that the leaf buds are only just starting to open.

The fruit of this bush is the sloe, small and dark, normally called a berry but technically a drupe. Sloe gin is made by soaking the berries in normal gin.

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