Small trees as hedging plants

by James Alexander-Sinclair

[...] It is an example of a 'husband and wife tree'. This is quite a well-documented phenomenon, which can occur when trees are planted very close together, and grow up entwined.

Hawthorn and blackthorn trees entwinedOnce upon a time, many years ago, there was a field hedge near my house. A hedge consisting of about 60% hawthorn, with other shrubs added to make up the difference. At one time it was laid, trimmed and maintained but today just two trees remain, entwined together: a hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and a blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). This is a rather wonderful accident of nature, as the 'tree' flowers twice. The blackthorn begins in about March and the hawthorn takes over in May. In the autumn this tree will have two sorts of berries: blue-black sloes and deep red haws.

It is an example of a 'husband and wife tree'. This is quite a well-documented phenomenon, which can occur when trees are planted as whips, very close together, and grow up entwined. Their root systems become inseparable. Very romantic. I engineered a similar occurrence here by planting three birch saplings together and then plaiting them: now, 12 years later, they have grown into one rather singular tree.

If I might wander off in a new-age, hippy-dippy direction for a moment, the hawthorn has always been strongly associated with fairies. All sorts of wispy spells and incantations deploy hawthorn, including those for the healing of a broken heart. It is also bad news for vampires, as the best sort of stake for impaling them is made of hawthorn wood. The tree is so powerful that the felling of a tree at the wrong time of year is said to have caused the failure of the De Lorean Motor Company. I may be an old cynic, but that is perhaps going a step too far.

Blackthorn is a bit more straightforward and a bit short on folklore. It is, however, really important as it provides food for a lot of moths including the delightfully named mottled pug and lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing. The wood is used to make shillelaghs (Irish cudgels) and the sloes add an excellent flavour to gin or vodka.

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Gardeners' World Web User 10/05/2010 at 18:57

I came across a tree that had two types of blossom.... bemused by this I investigated and found that the larger tree with white blossom was wrapped totally around the smaller tree with pink blossom. They both flower in spring and I look forward to the happening each year :) It's magical......... xxx

Gardeners' World Web User 11/05/2010 at 14:45

There is a 'husband and wife tree' at Chettle House in Dorset, it has both yellow and pink flowers dangling down together.

Gardeners' World Web User 16/05/2010 at 21:30

Am just about to take possession of some spare, bare rooted blackthorn and hawthorn bushes for the allotment which a friend didn't need. Hoping they will act as a good wind break. Can't wait, love them both and there is nothing like home-made sloe gin.

Gardeners' World Web User 13/06/2010 at 12:48

I have a plant that has turned up in my tiny garden and I don't know what it is! It's really quite attractive but need to know what to do with it. Looks like it belongs to the carrot family but its not a carrot - I have pulled some up. Not as spiky as Love-in-the-mist and no sign of any flowers yet. I'd like to post a photo but not sure how. can anyone help? Thanks.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:40

I have found it impossible to grow hawthorne/blackthorne in may garden via cuttings though they both grow in the wild abu.dantly nearby. Is there any means of creating a h/b hedge other than by berries, peat and sand overwinter?