Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


Last column I discussed the pollarding of trees, the pruning of large trees to form smaller round topped forms. There is also another treatment of trees, and this is pleaching. As with pollarding the aim is to control the shape and size of the tree and this is done by training the branches. The branches may be trained in one plane to create a hedge, or in the case of fruit trees, espaliers. (strictly speaking an espalier is the frame onto which the tree is trained) Trees that exhibit long slender water shoots are often considered for this form of training, popular amongst these are lime Tilia europaea, hornbeam Carpinus betulus and beech Fagus sylvatica. Young supple branches are trained along a frame work to form the basis of the shape while others are cut out. Once the frame work is established, the laterals can be pruned out every winter, and a light prune in the summer keeps the whole in control. There is a famous example of this method at Sissinghurst Castle Kent in the UK. Here Lime trees have been pleached as standards, holding their hedge of foliage at head height.

All this has been done before of course by the Chinese and then later by the Japanese. However, in the Orient, their objective was to emulate nature, either as a true representation or symbolically. Specimens were collected, often from the wild and then trained into shapes mimicking those found in nature, frequently these were wind swept and knarled. So we have the bonsai, in all its many forms and those are almost boundless.

On walks around the island are many examples of wind swept and stunted trees and shrubs, most common I would say would have to be manuka Leptospermum scoparium, growing in tortured formations. The wind swept look is achieved simply by the windward buds continually being burnt off, leaving the leeward buds to grow consequently leaving the tree and with a rakish lean. These walks, while not just being good for me, also replenish and inspire me. Whether it be a different combination of plants or the relationship between plants and their natural environment with a sharp eye, it is interesting what you will discover. It is from the patterns and juxtapositions of plants animals and the elements that are exciting. On one recent walk I discovered the perfectly preserved skull of a seagull, amazingly undamaged for the frail thing that it is. Ah, if only my garden was so perfectly formed!

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


A few more thoughts on light in the garden. Light as we all know is essential for the sustenance of a healthy plant, for all plant must photosynthesise to produce food. With this in mind it is important to consider the position of plants in the scheme of things horticultural. This is to say when planting your vegetables, try to line the rows up so they run north south, and there by preventing one row over
shadowing another, this is also the best way to align a green house.

My garden lies on a northerly facing slope, so in the winter it attracts all day sun which is wonderful for getting things away to an early start. The problem arises in the summer when this blessed little suntrap bakes my poor plants and saps the ground of moisture. The solution hopefully is to let the hedge on the westerly side grow a little taller there by providing summer shade in the afternoon and also allowing the Indian bead tree, Melia azedarch to grow on a tall trunk there by creating light shade also for the summer. Morning sun is preferable for plants as the ambient temperature is cooler in the morning. The westerly hedge provides shade in the summer as during the winter, the sun passes across the sky and sets in a more northerly quarter.

The same works for our deck, at present the sun floods onto the deck in the late afternoon, which is wonderful at this time of year, later as the summer comes on, the bamboo hedge to the west of the deck shades the it in the late afternoon sheltering us from what would possibly be a wee oven. So when planting and planning where to plant trees it is important to consider how the sun and light moves through the seasons.

Another thing to consider is the type of foliage a tree or shrub has, as this will determine the intensity of the resulting shade. A large spreading tree on the southerly boundary may be alright providing heavy shade in the summer when the sun is over head but allowing the low winter sun to penetrate beneath. I have another tree, the name of which I don’t know!! It has a vigorous growth habit, clothed in drooping pinnate leaves. Before the onset of winter I prune this tree heavily, so it doesn’t cast its long shadow across the top terrace. It does
create a partial screen from the rest of the house and garden and so is important in that way. In the parks department, when I was completing my apprenticeship, we used to go annually into the streets to prune the trees; the practice is called pollarding and is widely practiced in Europe. Popular trees for the method are; London plane trees, Platanus X acerifolia, lime trees, Tilia X europaea, English elm, Ulmus procera
and English oak, Quercus robur. This method of managing trees ensures places which are limited in space may still enjoy the green world of nature. In this country more and more, city councils are alowing the trees to grow to their full potential. Certainly there is much more to tree pruning than this, may be next time.