I think trees should pull their own weight in the gar­den, don’t you?

I mean, it’s all well and good to be tall and green, pro­vid­ing all shorts of cool­ing shade and places for the bugs and birds. But if you can do tricks, like make berries and flow­ers to brighten things up a bit, you’re a really spe­cial tree, yes?


That’s why I like the Win­ter King Hawthorn. Many peo­ple have never heard of these trees. In fact, two sea­sons out of the year, in par­tic­u­lar, the Fed Ex and UPS dri­vers, the elec­tric com­pany meter reader and who­ever else wan­ders down our long dri­ve­way ask me what kind of trees these are. That’s because in those two sea­sons, the trees are putting on a show to grab your attention.

They are Win­ter King Hawthorns.


In the spring, the trees are cov­ered in clus­ters of white flow­ers. In the fall, red berries hang on for weeks after the leaves have dropped, look­ing like tiny Christ­mas orna­ments. They hang there until the birds devour them. This year, it was the Evening Gros­beaks that cleaned off the trees–and made my day!


I had never heard of the Win­ter King Hawthorn before these trees arrived in my life. Six years ago I was a novice gar­dener and was hard-pressed to tell you if a tree was an oak or maple. But an enter­pris­ing and charm­ing nurs­ery­man con­vinced me that I needed not one, not two, but TWENTY of these trees, since they only grow to about20’to35’in height. He showed me a very unim­pres­sive spec­i­men in the nurs­ery but dragged out books filled with pic­tures of flow­er­ing and berried trees to con­vince me to pull out my checkbook.

The first cou­ple of years they after they were planted I won­dered if they would even sur­vive in the not very hos­pitable envi­ron­ment next to the driveway—hard clay soil, com­pet­ing trees, a hay­field and a not very care­ful equip­ment dri­ver of the hay har­vest­ing equip­ment were all hazards.

Then we had sum­mers with drought. Since the hoses can’t pos­si­bly reach that far and I don’t have a water tank on my farm pickup truck, I have shut­tled bucket after bucket after bucket of water up and down the dri­ve­way to keep them alive.(I did not go to the gym those days, but checked off both car­dio AND weightlift­ing in my daily diary.)

Now, six years later, only two of the trees have gone to the great for­est in the sky. Both were vic­tims of Rudy, our tobacco chew­ing farmer who har­vests the hay.

Now that I know the trees will, indeed, sur­vive, I feel more com­fort­able clip­ping a few branches to bring indoors. Today’s arrange­ment includes a small South­ern Mag­no­lia branch that was hang­ing too low and always got caught in my mower.


As beau­ti­ful and use­ful as these trees are—creating flow­ers and yummy berries for the birds—they can be dan­ger­ous. They put the “thorn” in “Hawthorn.” These thorns are nearly2”long and are as sharp as nee­dles. Flower arrang­ing with these babies is not a feat for the faint of heart.


But oh, what a sight. It’s truly a king of trees.

Inter­ested in Win­ter King Hawthorns? Check out the fab­u­lous birds they attract here.


Garden and food writer Robin Ripley is co-author of Grocery Gardening. Her new book, Wisdom for Home Preservers, will be released later in 2014 from Taunton Press.

Bumblebee is about her life in rural Maryland, her garden, cooking, dogs and pet chickens. She also blogs about food and chickens at Eggs & Chickens. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Thank you for visiting.


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