The Blackthorn Winter

Rosie and I popped along to our favourite nursery this morning - Marchants Plants - to replenish a few winter casualties and rootle around for a few extras, and found Graham Gough (the owner and plantsman extraordinaire for those that don’t know) in his usual chatty and informative mode. As well as suggesting chalk-loving plants, discussing the depopulation of frogs and toads locally and the virus afflicting aquilegias, he said the current chilly winds were all down to the blackthorn winter. What? Apparently ‘Beware the Blackthorn Winter’ is an age-old country expression borne of many years of observation because, once the blackthorn is in full bloom its pale blossom is often matched by frost-whitened grass or snow covered fields and almost invariably bitter north easterlies.

And to prove the truth of this, the Cuckmere Valley is awash with blackthorn trees in full throttle and winds so bitter that they have banished the summer shorts that I happily wore a week ago when the blackthorn buds were first appearing.

It prompted me to google blackthorn winter when we got home: I discovered that nightingales favour dense thickets of blackthorn for nesting, that blackthorn should never be brought into the home lest certain death would follow, that if blackthorn spikes (long and sharp) puncture the skin it will lead to poisoning and the crucifixion’s crown of thorns was almost certainly blackthorn. But don’t confuse blackthorn with the much more amiable hawthorn which blooms later with prettier pale pink blossom and is a much better harbinger of summer than its duplicitous cousin.

Talking of harbingers of summer, the first swallows arrived here today. Rosie heard the familiar twittering while she was kneading the dough for her hot-cross buns and immediately popped outside to see and there sure enough, were three of them (swallows not hot-cross buns) flitting hither and thither to check that they’d arrived back safely. Their return is more than enough to counter the chill of the blackthorn winter.