Gateway to the Classics: Trees and Shrubs by Arabella B. Buckley
Trees and Shrubs by  Arabella B. Buckley

Hedgerow Shrubs and Trees

There is no country in the world where the hedge-rows are so beautiful as in England. Whether we look at the neatly trimmed hedges round our gardens, or the roughly-trimmed fences between the fields, they each have their beauty. Perhaps the most delightful of all, to look at, are the hedges which are not cut more than once in six years. But these are not good for the fields.

Let us look first at the garden hedges. Have you ever thought that these are all made of young trees, clipped so that they remain only branches and leaves, and do not grow tall trunks? A box hedge is made of box trees closely cut. The holly hedge, whose prickly leaves are so useful in preventing the cattle from breaking through, would grow into tall trees if left alone. I know a garden in Devonshire where there are holly trees thirty feet high, growing here and there in a holly hedge.

The hawthorn fence is the same as the May-tree which grows on the lawn. The beech hedge is made of beech trees, kept well clipped, and the dead leaves hang on it in winter, as they do on young beeches. The yew hedge is the same as the big yew tree in the churchyard, and it is well to be careful how you plant it anywhere near cattle and horses, for in a hard winter they sometimes eat the poisonous leaves and die.

But each of these hedges is made of only one kind of tree. They are not nearly so interesting as the mixed hedges which grow between the fields. There we find blackberries and nuts and all sorts of curious fruits and flowers.

Do you know the Blackthorn bush, whose small white flowers grow on its black stem, almost before winter is over and while it has no leaves? If you do, I expect you know that you will find purple sloes on it in the autumn, under its small dark-green leaves, and you can gather the fruit to make sloe syrup or sloe wine. The blackthorn is not a good hedge plant, for its roots wander far out into the field, and it often grows into a tree and so leaves a gap in the fence.

The Hawthorn or May is much better, for it grows into a thick quickset hedge, if it is properly cut, and the cattle do not break through it, because of its thorns. But you cannot use the fruit of the hawthorn, you must leave the haws for the birds.

Then, in the hedge, or the wood, you will most likely find the Crab-apple tree, with its spreading branches, often covered with thorns. It has oval leaves with sharp points, which are downy underneath when they are young. Its rosy pink-and-white blossoms come out in May, and in the autumn you will find the red crab-apple in their place. This fruit is sour and bitter.

Another hedgerow tree is the Wild Cherry, whose fruit feeds the birds in the summer, and helps to keep them away from the corn. It is a bushy shrub with a red bark and blue-green egg-shaped leaves, very much notched round the edge. Its flowers grow on short stalks four or five from one point like our garden cherries, and the fruit, when it is ripe, is a bright red. If you live in Wales, or the middle or north of England, you may find another tree called the Bird-cherry (1, p. 56), whose flowers grow along a thin stalk, and its fruit is black. But be sure you find the right one with long, drooping flower clusters, for many people call the wild dwarf cherry by this name.

The blackthorn, hawthorn, crab-apple, and cherry all belong to the rose family, which, you remember, has so many fruit-bearing plants in it. So does the pretty Rowan tree (plate, p. 51), often called the Mountain Ash, because its leaves are cut into leaflets very like those of the ash-tree. You will find the small white flowers of the Rowan tree (see l, p. 51) open in May. But you will like it best in autumn when the clusters of beautiful red berries are ripe. Perhaps you have one over your gate, for they were often planted there when people believed in witches, as they were supposed to keep them away.


Rowan Tree

I must find room to tell you of two more hedgerow shrubs. One is the Guelder Rose (2, p. 56), which has dark-green leaves cut into three or five points with a jagged edge. These leaves turn a lovely red in the autumn. Its white flowers grow in a flat cluster. The outer ones are large and have neither stamens nor seed-box in them. Their use is to attract the bees and flies, which come to the smaller flowers in the middle to fetch honey. These middle flowers are perfect and so the insects help them to form seed. The guelder rose has beautiful coral-red berries in the autumn.

The other bush, which grows about five feet high in the hedge, is called the Spindle tree (2, p. 51), because its wood is used for making spindles and skewers. It has a smooth, grey stem and narrow, green leaves, which are very poisonous. You will scarcely notice its small green-white flowers in May. But in the autumn it has a lovely and curious fruit. Four red seed-boxes grow together in a clump on a short stalk. They look very quaint, and if you open them you will find that the seed inside is covered with a bright orange-coloured membrane.

Find the flowers and fruit of the blackthorn, may, apple and wild cherry, rowan tree, guelder rose, and spindle tree.


Bird Cherry

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