Draenen Ddu – Blackthorn – Shillelagh
by Wyn Rowlands (Nant Gwrtheyrn’s gardener)
April turned to May, and I only saw one swallow at Garreglefain. But this is how it has always been on this northern side of the peninsula. The swallow is late to arrive, and the chicks are late to leave.
This is also the case for the hedges at Nant Gwrtheyrn, where the Prunus spinosa flowers are wilting and the tree is slowly returning to the monotony of the hedge.
Prunus spinosa – or the blackthorn to you and me – is a member of the cherry family, and really that’s what she is – a small, insignificant plumb tree.
But for a month, she is in her prime – the flowers are a brilliant white and so attractive, this is the first of our native trees to blossom, a feast for the insects and bees, a hiding place for birds, creating a dense, shaded hedge for animals.
Even though environmentally important, there is little commercial value to the wood: for the Welsh it’s often used as a useful walking stick. But for the Irish, the Shillelagh has a much more mythical meaning. Who can forget the giant, Brendan Gleeson using the solid piece of blackthorn as a weapon to bash people’s heads in the film Gangs of New York.
So, as the Prunus spinosa’s time comes to an end – it will be the hawthorn’s turn to shine this month – another tree with white flowers and a nasty prickle. But her prickle isn’t half as bad as the blackthorn, and the blackthorn isn’t half as nasty as the Sea Buckthorn’s bite, but that’s another story for another time……