Laburnum in Ceredigion
I don’t know that it is true but the story that I was told when I was young growing up in this area is that the Laburnum came here in the 1860s from Spain. It was used as ballast and was then used as cheap fencing posts. It took root. There are many hedges where the Laburnum trees are about 9′ (3m) apart which is just the right distance for fencing. Ceredigion was one of the last areas to be enclosed (the process which ended the traditional rights of peasants such as mowing meadows for hay, or grazing livestock on common land formerly held in the open field system). Also there are several Welsh names for Laburnum here that have a Spanish connection – Coed Sbaen (Spanish Wood), Bedwen Sbaen (Spanish Birch), and my favourite Meillion Sbaen (Spanish Clover).
The main area of planting of Laburnum is South Ceredigion but there are outlying pockets in North Pembrokeshire & West Carmarthenshire. I like to think that maybe a farmer had a relative or friend on a different farm and recommended the fencing posts. At that time lots of farmers would have been making their own Oak fencing posts as wood would have been easier to come by than money.
Anyway, whether that is true or not the legacy of these hedgerows is lots of the most beautiful wood. Laburnum is a dense wood that is naturally self lubricating so used to be used for cogs before more exotic woods became more standard. The heartwood of Laburnum is a greenish brown when fresh which slowly on being exposed to sunlight turns ever more chestnut or rich chocolate brown. Laburnum sapwood is much lighter giving a beautiful contrast to the bowls with a natural edge. If the wood is felled in the winter when the sap is not rising it is possible to retain the bark as well, giving yet another contrasting colour. However, as I don’t fell any wood deliberately for turning I am dependent on other people and cannot dictate when the trees are felled. The Laburnum hedges are regularly cut down by the farmers as they shade the fields too much. They happily grow back and it is this regular coppicing that keeps these hedges so healthy. This also means that I can use the wood happy in the knowledge that the tree not only still lives but is healthier for its pruning. A win-win situation.
Laburnum does not usually grow to a big diameter. It tends to star shake once it gets to a few inches, slowly becoming hollow in the centre. Lots is then useless for most jobs but can be very effective for ornamental bowls.