We have a small number of hazel bushes (Corylus avellana) at Cressing which we coppice on a rotation to provide us with strong yet flexible poles for bean poles and branched twiggy sticks for pea sticks and plant supports. Now is a good time to coppice and on a beautiful, fresh but bright January morning what could be a better task.
Bushes coppiced on a 5-7 year rotation.
The finished stool after coppicing. Cuts are made to slant away from the centre to allow water to run off.
Hazel has been an important resource for the past 6000 years, its foliage being an important source of cattle food and the whippy shoots for making houses (wattle) and fences (hurdles). It was one of the first species to recolonise Britain after the last Ice Age and its survival and spread has been ensured by its continuing usefulness to man. It can be split lengthways and twisted and bent at sharp angles without breaking, enabling it to be woven, bent back on itself and even tied in knots in the making of warp and weft lattice work for wattle and daub and as thatching pegs.
Hazel nuts are the other great harvest from this plant and cobnuts have been a useful food stuff since prehistoric times. The Celts were particularly keen on them, seeing them as an emblem of concentrated wisdom, something sweet, compact and sustaining, enclosed in a small hard shell – in a nutshell!
In 1826, the owner of Hatfield Forest complained that ‘as soon as the Nuts begin to get ripe…the idle and disorderly Men and Women of bad Character from (Bishop’s) Stortford….come…in large parties to gather the Nuts or under pretence of gathering Nuts to loiter about in Cowds…and in the Evening…take Beer and Spirits and drink in the Forest which affords them an opportunity for all sorts of Debauchery.’ No such problems at Cressing but we rarely get our hands on any nuts before our locals, the squirrels, do!
In the walled garden we grow two sorts of hazelnut. Corylus avellana, the Kentish cobnut and another cultivated form popular in Tudor times, the white filbert, Corylus maxima. ‘Filbert’ is named from St Philibert’s Day, 20th August, when the nuts were usually ripe.