Then in we went, to the garden glorious
Like to a place, of pleasure most salacious
With flora paynted and wrought curiously
In diverse knottes of marveylous greatnes.
Anonymous (reprinted in “Up the Garden Path” by Laura Stoddart.
It is quite recent that pleaching has become synonymous with a hedge or row of trees on stilts. Technically, pleaching is the interweaving of adjacent plants on a relatively two dimensional plane. There is a school of thought that it dates back to animal proofing hedges by making them more dense but the sophisticated version came into European gardens as much as 400 years ago – the elegant, grand allees of trained, matched trees which give architectural structure.
Think of it as a dense espalier where the horizontal branches are trained and interwoven. However it is more likely these days that what is called a pleached avenue is simply limbed up trees which have been allowed to merge together on the upper storey and are then shaped as one – in other words a hedge with bare legs. I am pretty sure that is what is being done in this street scene I photographed in the little French town of Vernon. It appears that a hedge trimmer may be used to shape the canopies to something resembling cubes and over time, when the trees join together, it will create a flat plane. These are tilias or lime trees.
If you want a pleached avenue, the advice I have seen is never to go less than 2.5m spacings. You can’t magic these creations up quickly. The trees take time to grow and the effect relies on generous spacings which allow each plant trunk to shine in its own right. Otherwise, you are just planting a hedge.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.