Here in Yorkshire white-flecked hedges mark out meadows, pastures and wheat fields. There are even mayflower woods clinging to hillsides. Where the hawthorn hasn’t been trimmed beside the roads, it grows into low trees waving bouquets of tiny-petalled flowers.
When Marcel Proust described these hedgerows in the first part of his series of books in search of lost time (A la Recherche du Temps Perdu) they brought back childhood memories of country walks when they seemed like a series of flower-bedecked chapels. Close up, the flowers are minute, almost mean-looking, with the faint odour of cat’s wee in a back alley.
I once arranged some branches of mayflower with blue lilac in a vase in my college room. Friends who saw what I had done told me that mayflowers inside a house brought bad luck. I removed them and left the lilac on its own.
Hawthorn sprouts profusely from its roots, is stout and fast-growing and ideal for keeping animals in a grazing area and interlopers out. The small shiny leaves and tiny flowers are visually alluring but almost as numerous as the short, sharp thorns they mask. Hawthorn bushes do not rot because they are alive. So they are more resistant than fences. Everywhere in this part of Yorkshire they line roads enclosing fields and, if left untrimmed, grow into small trees, often beside chestnut trees which are now flaunting their white or red candle-shaped flowers.
So why did those early English settlers sail for the New World in a ship called the Mayflower? For them, it must have seemed the harbinger of a new life to come. The visual birth of a springtide of growth, of a life they could cultivate and harvest where and how they wished untrammelled by demanding landowners in the old country and unaware of the inhabitants already in the one they are sailing towards. A new life of hope rarely treads the path one imagines into an unknown future with an uncertain aroma and thorns hiding behind a profusion of white flowers.