Saturday 13 May 2017


One of the pleasures of writing this blog has been learning about the plants that I have photographed.  It has not been the botannical science that has piqued my interest so much as the folk lore and herbal remedies associated with the trees and flowers.  For it is the plant lore, and the origins of some of the romantic sounding vernacular names, that give such a fascinating insight into way our predecessors viewed the world. 

Twig of blackthorn laden with flowers
Blackthorn Blossom - 26 March 2017
Superficially very similar to the plum blossom, but without any leaves
and the individual blossom are slightly smaller.

Previously, in this blog, I have discussed how the name we use for a plant or flower alters our perception of it ( see my post 'Using New Eyes Part 3' ). I believe that the same is true of anything that we have learnt or have been told about something.  So after reading about the old superstitions surrounding some particular species, we can never look at it in quite the same way again; we see it in a  new light.

One bush that I will now look at somewhat differently is the blackthorn, a shrub that is easily overlooked in Milton Country Park as its white flowers appear just as the very similar cherry plum blossom is dying off.  It is very easy to confuse the two species, as I did in 2015 when I misidentified all the early white cherry plum blossom as blackthorn. In fact, there are only half a dozen or so blackthorn bushes in the park. 

The name 'blackthorn' is not a great revelation: it is simply a straightforward description of the bush, and suggests the means of distinguishing it from the cherry plum, which does not have thorns.

Blossom only visible a sparse white sheen over the hedge
Blackthorn Blossom in the Hedge - 17 April 2016
I took this photograph last year, but have not bettered it  since.
The blackthorn is quite lost among the surrounding the bushes.
Interestingly, by mid April this year, the blackthorn had finished flowering.

 What has changed the way that I look at blackthorn is learning that it is the preferred wood for making shillelaghs.  Apparently, wood from the blackthorn root is particularly suitable as it does not crack during use.  Shillelaghs were originally clubs used for fighting and self defence, and are still used in a form of martial art.  Now, whenever I see a blackthorn bush, I will inevitably think of it as the source of that most potent symbol of Ireland.

Beyond its Irish connection, and its use in making sloe gin, blackthorn has gained a sinister reputation over the thousands of years it has been known to man. It has been very heavily associated with witches and the dark side of their craft. Its wood was used to make a wand with thorns at its end used to cast spells to bring harm to others. The tree is also linked to warfare and death.

Other Flowers

This is my third post in a series on the subject of March flowers in the park. The first two in the series dealt with plum blossom and with daffodils.  Besides these and the blackthorn, there were a few isolated bushes in flower, a couple of which caught my eye.

Looking up into the canopy of berberis bush lots of yellow flowers among green leaves
Berberis - 23 March 2017
A single bush besides the jetty on Dickerson's Pit

The first was a large berberis bush on the banks of Dickerson's Pit.  It had clearly been established for a number of years, yet I had completely missed seeing it up until now. Though I am disappointed in my failure to spot the bush, in many ways, it is a very good illustration of the underlying philosophy of this whole project: there is a lot to gained by close careful observation of our environment, however familiar it may be.

A close up of a single branch of flowering current with racemes of flowers
Flowering Current - 21 March 2017

Then there are a number of flowering current bushes scattered around the park.  Their pink flowers providing a contrast to the prevailing whites and yellows of the other blossom in the park.

In the Garden 


Single blue hyacinth surrouned by red leaves
Blue Hyacinth - 12 March 2017
A colourful corner in the Sensory Garden
with a blue hyacinth surrounded by the red leaves of a bush I cannot identify

There was more colour in the sensory garden, which is at its prettiest in early spring.  But without any large blocks of colour, the interest was in the detail, like the contrast between this blue hyacinth and the red leaves surrounding it.

Low view of white polyanthus with pale green hellebores and daffodils in the background
White Polyanthus - 12 March 2017
In the background to these white polyanthus, growing in the raised bed in the sensory garden,
 are hellebores and daffodils.

I particularly enjoy photographing the raised bed, as it is very easy to get a worm's eye view and a just a few square inches of garden becomes a landscape filled with towering plants.

Close up of picture of purple and yellow polyanthus
Polyanthus - 15 March 2017

In the same bed are a number of other polyanthus plants.  I liked the way the flowers of this plant seemed to be being held in a protective cocoon of green leaves.

Further Reading

I found the following websites helpful:

Blackthorn Tree Lore: Blackthorn
The Magic of the Ogham Trees

Next: Unfolding Spring

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