Sunday, 28 January 2018


Around the fringes of the wood the hazel is in flower.  One tall tree is crossing branches with the neighbouring holly, its yellow tassels looking especially bright against the dark, shiny leaves of the holly.  Gardeners easily succumb to dreadful snobbery.  If the hazel was an exotic import, difficult to grow, fussy about having exactly the right soil moisture and acidity, almost impossible to propagate and correspondingly rare and expensive, people would be queueing up to buy one.  As it is, when it gets a mention it's generally in the context of growing your own pea sticks.

As we have all these hazels we should in theory have had some nuts, but I have never managed to pick a single nut that looked ripe and ready to eat.  The squirrels and mice get there first, the evidence plain to see in the shattered nut shells that collect under every hazel tree.  The squirrels are messy eaters, breaking their shells into irregular pieces.  Mice gnaw neat holes.  In principle you can tell from the tooth marks whether ordinary wood mice or dormice have been at work, although when I have reminded myself of the telltale signs and gone out to look at some hazel shells I have never found any signs of dormouse activity.

It's a sign of how popular the nuts are with wildlife that small hazel plants pop up all over the place, where jays or squirrels have stashed them for later.  They do the same with acorns, and we even have a steady supply of seedlings of the evergreen holm oak, despite the fact that the nearest mature trees are in a garden half a mile up the lane.  The fruit may indeed land close to the tree, but where it gets to after that is another matter.

Before the tree gets to the nuts stage, the catkins are a valuable early source of pollen for the bees.  By this stage of the year they are starting to raise brood, and need to consume pollen as well as nectar, in order to be able to make the secretions they feed to the developing larvae.  Which is another reason to plant hazel, apart from the fact that it is pretty, a good doer, and obliging about being coppiced so you can keep the size of your tree under control if needs be while producing a supply of pea sticks.  If you had room for several you could call it a nuttery, come over all Vita Sackville-West, and underplant it with polyanthus.

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