“N’er cast a clout til May be out”.
If the recent plummet in temperatures has had you reaching for the thermals again and reluctantly turning up the heating, then this old saying might be one worth noting! Since at least the 15th century, the word ‘clout’ has been used to describe a number of terms; a blow to the head, a clod of earth, or a fragment of cloth, or clothing. The second part of the saying is not as clear, however, as to its meaning. Many people are taken with the notion that the ‘May’ refers to the month of the year but another interpretation involves the Hawthorn tree. Hawthorns are virtually synonymous with hedges; as many as 200,000 miles of hawthorn hedge were planted in the Parliamentary Enclosure period, between 1750 and 1850. The name ‘Haw’ derives from ‘hage’, the old English for ‘hedge’. The hawthorn tree gives its beautiful display of flowers in late April and early May, earning its name the ‘May Tree’ and the blossom itself is also called May. Using that allusion, ‘til May is out’ could mean ‘until the hawthorn is out in bloom’.
In Britain, it was believed that bringing hawthorn blossom into the house would be followed by illness and death, and in medieval times it was said that hawthorn blossom smelled like the Great Plague. Botanists later learned that the chemical trimethylamine in hawthorn blossom is also one of the first chemicals formed in decaying animal tissue, so it is not surprising that hawthorn flowers were associated with death!
Despite this, hawthorn has huge benefits from a nature conservation perspective, capable of supporting more than 300 insects. It is the food plant for caterpillars of many moths; its flowers are eaten by dormice and provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects; the haws are rich in antioxidants and are eaten by many migrating birds such as redwings, fieldfares and thrushes, as well as small mammals, and the dense thorny foliage makes fantastic nesting shelter for many species of bird including wren, robin, blackbird and song thrush.
Last month, I shared a short video clip of our resident hedgehog in The Enchanted Wood, which ties in nicely with Hedgehog Awareness Week 2017. Hedgehog Awareness Week is organised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and runs from 30th April to 6th May 2017. It aims to highlight the problems hedgehogs face and how we can help them; this year focusing on garden strimmer awareness. The Society was founded in 1982 and offers help and advice to those with sick, injured or orphaned hedgehogs as well as maintaining a list of rehabilitators in the UK. As well as checking areas in our gardens before using strimmers, there are other things we can do to help too:
- Ensure there is a hedgehog access in your garden e.g. gaps in boundary fences / walls
- Move piles of rubbish to a new site before burning it
- Check compost heaps before digging the fork in
- Stop or reduce the amount of pesticides and poisons used
- Cover drains or deep holes
- Ensure there is an easy route out of ponds and pools
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) is a registered UK charity, dedicated to helping and protect hedgehogs native to the UK. If you would like some more information on hedgehogs and how you can help them, please go to www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk.
Finally, a wonderful day was enjoyed by all who attended The Carrick Easter Eggstravaganza on Good Friday. Participants eagerly hunted for chocolate eggs in The Enchanted Wood, which was followed by a nature trail quiz. The highlight of the day was a visit from Animal Man’s Mini Zoo where an amazing collection of animals was on show and children and adults alike were able to get up close and personal with creatures such as a giant African land snail, hissing cockroach and a Tarantula! The day ended with a colourful and exciting rubber duck race on the River Fruin, cheered on by a crowd of spectators and thoroughly enjoyed by all; thank you to everyone who helped make the day such an enjoyable one.