How to prune and train plants to create striking winter sculptures

A winter garden can be a harsh place, stripped of its ornaments and exposed to the world. The silvery seed heads of summer flowers, the cobweb-like fibres of pumpkins, the recently cut hedges—what remains of winter say a lot about the bones of the garden. And the garden that sings in the dark moon soothes the winter melancholy.

There are many plants that glow in winter and there are whole books on the subject. However, the best gardens do not rely solely on winter flowers and berries, but also on plant structure. Accomplished through training. The obvious choice here is box and yew. The cool clean lines of boxballs and low hedges, the whimsy of peacock topiary, or the wildly dark background of yew hedges around borders are all classics for a reason.

There is another kind of winter pruning – pruning of deciduous shrubs and trees. Gardener Jenny Barnes, whose work can be seen at places such as Cottesbrookhall and Gardens in Northamptonshire and Astall in Oxfordshire, is known for his extraordinary work taking rose pruning to a whole new level. I’m here.

With her watchful eye and incredible perseverance, she turns ramblers and climbers into undulating, organic structures that coil and arch like serpents, or curve around walls in Rococo fashion. can be bent into any shape. Sometimes she gathers several roses together and weaves them into a huge border orb.

Not only are the results of dedication, but also because they are fleeting, the results are substantial. You can enjoy it all winter long before the summer foliage turns into a shaggy hairstyle. All this manipulation has other advantages. Each time the stem bends, hormones are pushed upward from the underside of the stem, causing more flowers to bloom.

Jenny Burns’ painstaking work with roses creates a giant orb at Cottesbrook Hall and Gardens

This arduous task — which requires tying each stem multiple times to manipulate its shape — is “not for everyone,” Burns says. , lasts forever, but I believe anyone can do it.” She has a few tricks for those ready to give it a go: Don’t overload your plants. “If you double it, the understory will be shaded and die back in the summer,” she says.

Rumbling roses are preferred. “The climber works, but it’s more limiting, especially with the David Austin variety, which has a very thick trunk.” Prune the old rambler heavily during his first year to maximize new growth. It may make sense to

“If you’re scared of pruning, you don’t have to. You can’t kill a rose by pruning,” she says. If one year doesn’t work out, be more modest the next.

Burns begins the process by removing the leaves that are still on the rose so that the entire structure is visible. She then cuts a stem no larger than the size of a knitting needle back to her two buds. Then she starts detangling. “You have to be guided by roses,” she says. “Each stalk tells you which way you want to go,” Barnes says, leaving enough space between each stalk and cutting off the lateral branches.

Roses may require patience, but the end result can be achieved in a day or two. Pruning a fruit tree to reach the same artistic height can take as long as a decade. But there’s value in anything that can accentuate the bare bones of winter, yet hint at the idyllic nature of summer with thick buds, says Sylvia Travers. “It’s like giving a garden some really good cheekbones,” she jokes.

Travers oversaw the construction and planting of Paradise and Kitchen Walled Gardens at RHS Bridgewater, Salford.

“It’s still a bit of a dark art,” she says. “A lot of people have dabbled in growing vegetables, but growing trees is still a mystery to many.” Her Mr. Travers wants to change this situation. “There is a huge amount of skill, but there is also satisfaction in this kind of pruning.”

Travers affirms that the final product cannot be purchased and must be created in the garden. Fruit trees can be trained to be “fans” against walls, fences and trellises. Here the branches form a fan from the lower trunk. “espaliers” whose branches are horizontal. A “cordon” where branches are cut in close proximity to a tall, straight trunk.

Boxballs and low hedges add structure to the garden

Box balls and low hedges add structure to the garden © Del Buono Gazerwitz Landscape Architecture/Marianne Majerus Images

There is also a simpler “step over” suggested by Travers. A short trunk not exceeding 50 cm high has his one long horizontal branch on each side, forming a low fence. Suitable for small gardens, it bears fruit in two to three years after training as a maiden.

She also recommends a “Belgian fence,” in which a trellis of intertwined trees creates a diagonal lattice.

However, if you want to be seen as a serious gardener, Travers says you should opt for a “statuesque” espalier, a “walled garden classic.” But don’t ignore the simpler wedges. This works best for “not-too-do-good” drupes.

This shape is also suitable for soft fruits. “If your walls are low and you can’t help it, especially if you’re facing north, you can try gooseberries,” he says Travers. But what she likes most, although she says it’s not for the faint of heart, she uses the French Lepage system, and the end result is wood lines that look like waves or shell patterns. is.

Books can teach you a lot, but this kind of pruning is best learned from a master. Travers teaches a day course in Fruit Growing and Training Fundamentals at West Dean College. The course she starts in early January. This is the perfect New Year’s resolution and perhaps learning the art of cropped shapes.

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