Returning to Trebah after not the best of bank holiday weekends, this English proverb could not be more appropriate!
I had always assumed it meant not to shed your warm clothing (clout) until the end of May but now I'm not so sure - I think it's probably referring to the Hawthorn.
Also known as the May tree due to its flowering period, it is the only British plant named after the month in which it blooms. The cutting of May blossom had great significance and symbolised the beginning of new life and the onset of the growing season. The flowers appear after the leaves whereas on Blackthorn the flowers appear on bare branches before the leaves.
Few trees can be as spectacular in May as the Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana), and the giant specimen at Trebah will literally stop you in your tracks. A native of China, the fabled Davidia was considered to be the Holy Grail of exotic flora and its introduction into Europe reads like a BoyÙs Own adventure story.
Ernest Wilson collected seeds of this tree after surviving a round trip of some 30,000 miles; surviving illness, escaping from bandits, held prisoner as a suspected spy and even being nearly drowned, travelling up the Red River, by a boatman high on opium!
The introduction of this ancient tree species in the 19th century was one of the most significant and now, as China's population grows, the Davidia's natural habitat has gradually been destroyed so it has become an endangered species.
A pyramid shaped tree with heart-shaped leaves growing to around 60 ft. It prefers a sheltered site in full sun or partial shade, in moist, well-draining soil. It may take 10 years to flower but will be well worth the wait.
On a final note, Alan Mitchell (the tree guru) used to insist it was called 'the Dove Tree' as they are too beautiful to named after something you blow your nose on!