On a recent trip to Ireland, my Mum and I spent some time at a garden centre trying to find hedging plants. Having been poisoned by cherry laurel once, and having professionally removed a lot of it, that was not on the agenda. Instead, I was looking along the lines of a good old conservation hedge mixture, with an eye on the local ecosystem.
Northern Mayo is dominated by species like birch, hawthorn, rowan and willow. At the garden centre I was impressed by the beds of saplings where bundles of hawthorn or beech were available for the cost of 1 Euro a whip.
What interested me was that hawthorn wasn’t actually available whereas ‘whitethorn’ was. Don’t be confused for too long, as this is the same species: Crataegus monogyna. The woman who ran the garden centre didn’t understand me quite a lot of the time and then thought we were American. That’s a new one! Either way, we bought 10 whitethorn and 4 potted hollies (Ilex aquifolium) for two separate areas of hedging. Again, these are two species native to the landscape they were being plopped into. This is not an ethno-nationalist statement, it’s considering what will take in the soil, hydrology and what will benefit local wildlife most.
How I plant a hedge
I have been planting native mixed hedges since 2011, usually on public land like parks or nature reserves. I don’t go in much for extra things like plastic weed matting or anything like that.
The hawthorns were going into an area that had just been cleared of bramble, nettle and hogweed by my uncle. We’re fairly sure this area might have been used to grow potatoes by previous residents.
I began by breaking up the ground with a mattock, using both sides of the head to break the soil and to axe through the roots of nettle, bramble and hogweed. When I use a mattock I don’t wear gloves as it gives better grip. The mattock should be directed between the feet so as not to take a chunk out of your shin.
I laid the whips out (with help from my Mum) and planned to put 5 to a metre, but it ended up being about every 12 inches. I’m not fussed on doing this perfectly, the main thing is they survive. When the roots are in and covered by soil I press with my hands, not feet, as sealing the ground can block the space for gases and water to move through, potentially reducing oxygen to the plants.
Hawthorn in Irish folklore
Whitethorn, as they call it in Mayo, is a significant tree in Irish culture. This article by Marion McGarry tells you a lot about hawthorn’s place in Irish culture. Unfortunately it is seen as, well, unfortunate.
Then again, if it’s bad luck to cut them down it must be a really good idea to plant so many of them!
Thanks for reading.