The Darling Buds of May

I hope H E Bates will forgive me for purloining the title of his bucolic novel for my current piece. Hawthorn or may (Crataegus monogyna) is the third star in my spring play – first, blackthorn – second, gean – and now it’s time for the densely packed clusters of dished flowers bursting out of perfectly globular white buds. This handsome tree is probably the only one named after its month of flowering, and is beloved by painters including David Hockney and David Inshaw amongst others.

I love it both for its exuberance, and its distinctive cloying perfume – half sweet and half corrupt. And for the fact the trees are alive with bees and hoverflies while the blossom is out. Almost all wild trees have white blossom, but very occasionally you come across a blush pink specimen – like this one at Eype Down:

Rosy may blossom

Sports like this must be the origin of the pink and red cultivars grown in gardens.

“Ne’er cast a clout till May be out”

is a saying dating from at least the 18th Century, and it’s uncertain whether the “May” means the tree in bloom, or the end of the month. In either case, we need to keep our warm winter clothes on till then! Perhaps the weather used to be a bit more predictable when the saying was invented?

May trees on chalk downs

The flowers will be followed by a prolific crop of small green berries, slowly ripening to glossy red haws for the birds to eat in early winter. But let’s enjoy the spring without thinking of what’s to come – all too soon!

Haws in September