Haws on my hawthorn – tree following, September

It’s been a madly busy summer but things are finally beginning to calm down, on every level except the weather. We have had some gorgeous days, though – really autumnal ones, too, with mist gathering in the dune slacks first thing and a definite nip in the air. I took my chance on one of them and went up to visit ‘my’ hawthorn. It was much windier up at the top (dur – logical) though the sea was surprisingly calm, but clouds were beginning to gather.


There was a marked drop in temperature when the sun disappeared behind the clouds, but there were some splendid seascapes as the sunlight was blocked and revealed: quite stunning and impossible to photograph. There is no doubt whatsoever that the views of the landscape up here were critical to the Neolithic people who set up the chambered tomb (right next to the hawthorn and vaguely visible about as that sort of lump in the middle); study after study has shown how clear the alignments of such monuments are, and how rooted they are in the environment. Ahem.

Despite all these foreshadowings of autumn, I was still quite shocked to see the huge change in the hawthorn, at least on the windward side. Leaves, what leaves?

haws but no leaves

Well, OK, there are some – but very few. The landward side of the tree is a different story but, though the leaves are hanging on the branches somewhat more, they are still very tattered and brown. I didn’t think it had really been that stormy in the month’s gap since my last visit – perhaps this is a consequence of the stormy weather even earlier in the season?

Unsurprisingly, the haws on the windward side are showing signs of battering too:


but there are plenty of them. You only need one to produce viable seed and survive – now, I wonder if I could… hm. Well, it worked with the birch; I’d love to have a child of this hawthorn. I must have a crack at it. There’s an excellent short video from Monty Don with a useful tip on checking viability – better get back up there before the birds scoff the lot.

Some of the lichen is peeling off in great chunks, but a lot still remains.


I’d been wondering about the peeling maybe having, er, assistance – and this time I found evidence:


There are hairs caught in it.

Cows are kept up here, but this year it’s been mostly sheep (and the occasional wild billy goat). This hair is too high for either sheep or goats unless they rear way up, plus it’s the wrong colour for these sheep. There was plenty of dried cowshit around as well, so we may have a clue. Scraching? I wonder – I’d have said it was too low and branchy and cluttered under the hawthorn for cows to be comfortable, but I don’t know cows like I know sheep (and I have no desire to know the wild goats at all; far too chancy and if I want something temperamental and male and hairy and smelly in the garden I know where to find it anyway).

Looking at the tree again made me think about it in a completely new way.

I had a art tutor once who made us draw the spaces between things – some of us thought it was mad, some of us thought it was interesting, and some of us went ‘wow, man’ and fell off our stools. I fell, boringly maybe, into the middle category – and I’ve never forgotten what he said about spaces. Looking at the hawthorn against the temporarily blue sky I felt a strong desire to draw the spaces:

So now I want to get up there with a sketch pad (and a bag for some haws). It’s not raining, and today is set aside for cleaning the house, so what am I waiting for, I wonder? And it’s not just the shapes; it’s the colours as well, and the particularly autumnal quality of the light:


Fat chance of being able to capture that. And, as a gardener, I’m not sure I should be given bracken that sort of attention anyway. Ripping it out brutally sort of attention, yes.

It’s been very interesting following a tree that isn’t immediately easy for me to visit, and I will see it through to the end of the year, of course: I love this tree. However, I just haven’t been able to give it the sort of close attention that I gave to the downy birch in the garden last year, and I miss that. I’ve not spotted so much insect life, for instance – does that mean it isn’t there, or am I just not seeing it? (Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as archaeology dons are very fond of reminding their students.) OK, there’s life which I wouldn’t want to have in my garden – the wild goats and cattle, mainly, and the picnickers I found up there one time – but I miss the shield bugs and the interesting butterflies. I shall have to think about this for next year…




12 Comments Add yours

  1. Cathy says:

    One of the advantages of not seeing your tree for a month – definitely noticeable changes when you do. When you have drawn your spaces and collected your hips you could always try growing one as a bonsai for a permanent reminder…hmm, that’s a thought, as I am hoping to catch a seed from my witch hazel and am now wondering about trying to grow THAT as a bonsai although I need to get seeds to germinate first… 😉

    1. kate says:

      It’s all in the germination…

      My downy birches were surprisingly easy, though I did sow about 50 and got 3. I have a feeling that the hawthorn may present more of a challenge, but I’m giving it a go anyway. If Monty Don can do it, I can. So there. Good luck with the witch hazel!

      1. Cathy says:

        Hmm, 50 hawthorn berries might be possible, but 50 witch hazel seeds? They only come in 2s so that’s a lot of little hairnets I would need to cover the seedpods with… 😉

        1. kate says:

          But how cute they’d look in the meanwhile! 😀

  2. leafencounterwp says:

    I wonder if the lack of insect activity is due to how exposed your quickthorn is – flapping flimsy little wings in blowy conditions must be quite difficult. Mind you, I remember being surprised at seeing a butterfly at Penmon Point whilst on holiday in Anglesey a few years ago. A butterfly on the beach? I’ve never seen it before or since! It wasn’t so much flying as being flung about on a stiff coastal breeze! Wild ‘n’ windy wouldn’t explain non-flying insects, granted..

    1. kate says:

      I’m sure you’re right – I know it can be calm up there, occasionally, but it never seems to be doing anything other than blowing a hooley when I’m hanging around with my camera.

      Impressed by the butterfly actually ON the beach. I’ve seen plenty of activity very close to the beach itself at Harlech, but in the dune slacks (and the dunes between the slacks and the actual beach are so big that you expect to see Omar Sharif on a camel come riding down one – oh, OK, I’m exaggerating, but only a bit).

  3. Hollis says:

    I also haven’t given this year’s tree as much attention. Ten minute drive, ten minute walk … or a 30 minute bike ride … doesn’t seem like that much. But I didn’t visit as often as I had hoped to. Still, I think I will give it another try next year … some neat trees out there!

    1. kate says:

      I’m glad it isn’t just me who’s being a bit of a wuss about that – my journey is similar and it really isn’t that far. What I’d not really taken into account was that I used to nip out and have a good look at my birch more often than once a month, because it was so easy. Lunchtime? Close laptop, make lunch, make coffee, take mug outside to birch tree, get camera if anything exciting was happening. Take general look once a month, yeah, but…

      (Incidentally, and re your tree – it would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast with the setting of my own – and yet they both have to cope with stressful locations. Just very differently so!)

  4. hoehoegrow says:

    Goodness … so autumnal! I guess it is due to its exposed position. A lovely gnarled tree,

    1. kate says:

      It looks rather as though all the other trees are beginning to catch up – what a comparatively short season we’ve had this year…

  5. Oh, yes, grow your own!! Love the wild landscape and the lichen, bags of character. But I do know what you mean about the extra challenge of following a tree further away. After all, I haven’t been back to mine since April!!

    You’ve got me pondering what the burial chamber at Lligwy lines up with. Ah well, guess I will have to go back…

    PS I think it is fine to admire bracken in its natural habitat, and then viciously rip it out when it encroaches on the garden. The one balances the other, very ying and yang.

    1. kate says:

      I am considering bracken hurling as a possible rural sport – after all, if we can have bog snorkelling, then we can have anything.

      That chamber will line up with something, or almost – sunset or sunrise at one of the solstices, and some prominent local landmark. I’ll look it up…

      Mine – well, you know what I mean – is almost aligned on the end of Llyn to the north west, and it also has a slightly different alignment with Moelfre inland. If you ever get the chance to be at somewhere like Newgrange in Ireland or Maes Howe on Orkney at the right time of year, it’s quite something. I think, rather more locally, that Bryn Celli Ddu is also notably impressive, but I don’t know it myself.

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