Tag Archives: pruning

Up the ladder

Just one view of Mark’s pruning efforts this week

In a garden with many trees, ladders are a part of our life. While our son, Theo, and I have been down in the park clearing the ponds and the stream of invasive weeds (lots of heavy raking), Mark has been up the top doing a round of summer pruning. Particularly cherry trees which need to be pruned right now, since summer is already morphing into autumn. You can see the extension ladder up Prunus Pearly Shadows to the right of the photo.

I am always in awe of how much material Mark can remove when pruning, without it showing except to the most discerning eye. This is a high level and under-appreciated skill though he does say it takes him a great deal of time looking before he ever makes the cuts. And he is forever up and down the ladders to look again from all angles and locations. For you cannot glue a branch back on if you get it wrong and find that you have just destroyed the shape of the tree by taking the wrong piece off.

Mark, being an agile and wiry man with very good balance, has given me the most alarming photos of how not to use ladders. Do not try this at home. He would like a disclaimer added that he is not stupid. He only does this with the ladder in a stable position and with something firm to hand that he can grab should anything go awry. Never with the chainsaw. He is extremely mindful of safety and caution with the chainsaw when mistakes can be fatal.

Because ladders play such a role in our lives, we were pretty interested in this permanent ladder structure seen attached to a tree in a tourist park in Jinghong, near China’s southern border. Presumably this tree is climbed regularly to warrant the construction of a ladder, although the reason why was not clear to us at the time. It can’t be that good for the long term health of the tree to have the wooden pegs bored into its trunk but at least they are not nails.

Who needs ladders, anyway? A friend shared this link via Facebook this week – how a Vietnamese tactical police unit climbs the outside of buildings with just a length of bamboo. No, it does not involve pole vaulting. We were pretty impressed, I tell you, and it has given Mark a new range of jokes about how we can dispense with ladders here and follow their lead. Who needs aluminium ladders when we have a wonderful resource of bamboo growing here? It would solve the problem of the oft-asked question here of where the ladders are when one of us need one and there are none in the shed.

Tikorangi Notes: Friday 19 June, 2015

017I have a new camera and while I am still learning to use it, I doubt that I could have captured the monarchs on the montanoa with my old one, even before it decided to shuffle off the mortal coils and go where digital cameras go to die. I mentioned the Mexican tree daisy last week, asking for identification. Such are the wonders of the internet, it took less than 20 minutes for the botanical name to be supplied to me – Montanoa bipinnatifida. I am attempting to commit this to memory, although I keep getting sidetracked onto bipolar manatees which won’t do at all.
024It was a comment left on this site that had me heading down to check out the montanoa on a sunny mid-winter’s day, to find it positively dancing with monarch butterflies. “It’s a natural food source for monarch butterflies, as it also comes from Mexico”, the reader said. Given that monarchs are recorded as self-introducing to this country around 1840 and generally produce two generations a year, that means at least 350 generations have passed since the Mexican connection so I think the montanoa is perhaps better described as being an “indigenous food source for monarch butterflies in Mexico”. But a source of winter nectar, it certainly is. It was a joy to see.

The felling of the Waitara riverside pohutukawa yesterday – the ones that we had fought so hard to save – followed by heavy rain today have thwarted my plans to complete the clean-up on the second block of large Kurume azaleas that I also mentioned last week. But as I hauled away multiple barrow-loads of prunings, it occurred to me that the spending of maybe two weeks’ sustained work to complete a task that nobody else (other than Mark) will even notice has been done, represents fairly high level gardening skills. For much has actually been done. It is greatly improved but there is little evidence to show that.

From the point of view of the gardener, the hard hack and slash approach may be more rewarding in the short term – you can see exactly what you have done and it is a quick result. But as far as the garden goes, a gentler technique which leaves the overall scene refined but visually similar, masking how much has been taken out, is a different skill set. There is “cutting back” and then there is what I have heard called “blind pruning” – which is cutting back without leaving a visible trail of destruction. It takes more time and skill but is worth the effort for intensively managed areas of the garden.
056I was so discouraged when I left the scene of institutional and bureaucratic vandalism that was the Waitara pohutukawa that I had to take refuge in scenes of nature that are beyond the reach of the desecrators. I have been enjoying the sight of red hot pokers (kniphofia) on the road verges. Just an African plant that has adapted to its role as a roadside wild flower in New Zealand – a bright splash of colour in the gloom.
109And at home I raised my eyes upwards to drink in the sights of our trees. We have many large trees here, evergreen and deciduous, native and introduced. While by no means the largest of our trees, this scene of magnolias, silver birch and Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) soothed my soul.

I admit I probably took eleventy thousand photos of the monarchs this week

I admit I probably took eleventy thousand photos of the monarchs this week

Pruning and shaping

Ulmus Jacqueline Hillier after pruning. For the avoidance of confusion, this plant is only 3m by 3m, not a forest giant.

Ulmus Jacqueline Hillier after pruning. For the avoidance of confusion, this plant is only 3m by 3m, not a forest giant.

I am married to a master pruner. I recognise his skills are hugely greater than mine. This was reinforced when he pruned the Ulmus Jacqueline Hillier at the weekend. This plant is meant to be a dwarf but it is looking less and less dwarf-like in our rockery and needs attention most years to keep it to a suitable size for that location.

At the end of the better part of half a day, he asked me how I thought it looked. In fact it looked very similar to how it had looked when he started. It is a plant with a lovely characterful shape and fan like sprays which hold the tiny leaves. There was close to as much lying cut off on the lawn as there was left on the shrub but you would not pick that. It had been reduced considerably in size and scale but had lost none of its form or shape. That is good pruning, dear Readers, as opposed to the butchery carried out by lesser mortals.

There was almost as much on the ground as left on the plant but you could not tell that by looking.

There was almost as much on the ground as left on the plant but you could not tell that by looking.

Such dedicated and meticulous pruning takes time, skill and sharp hand tools.

We joined a garden tour in the north of Italy some years ago and anyone who has visited those grand Italian gardens will know that most are clipped and shaped to within an inch of their lives. In fact they are so heavily clipped and groomed that plant health is often not that great. It is all about form and shape and very labour intensive.

Similarly, we have looked at the meticulous bonsai specimens in the Chinese gardens in Singapore. These are tended constantly by people with nail scissors, I kid you not. It may not be nail scissors exactly, but they were definitely nipping and snipping with scissors of some description. Surgical precision and detail. Again, labour intensive.

We lack the personpower here to carry out that sort of heavy clipping and shaping. Oh, to have a small army of serfs that we could upskill and then reward with a hovel in which to live and the occasional sack of spuds. But even then, we would not want a heavily contrived and clipped garden, preferring instead to go with some degree of natural harmony. It is all about degrees, however. Gardening involves a whole lot of management and manipulation to get desired effects.

Once the initial shaping and training is done, it does not take huge skill to maintain it. These are just camellias used as shapes in the garden.

Once the initial shaping and training is done, it does not take huge skill to maintain it. These are just camellias used as shapes in the garden.

Getting the initial shaping on plants is the skill, or bringing an over-sized specimen back to a more manageable size and shape. Once it is done, it only takes a moderate level of skill and care to maintain it.

I have watched Mark bring a wayward plant into line and that is why I am happy to concede his skills are so much greater than mine. He takes his time and he concentrates. He is up and down the ladder repeatedly (despite this playing havoc with a dodgy knee joint), viewing the plant from all angles at all stages. Major cuts are very carefully considered because you can’t glue a branch back on if you make a mistake. It is all about finding the natural shapes within the plant and highlighting those.

Frankly, it would often be faster to cut a plant out, even if it then involves major work removing stumps and roots. But if one forever removes plants when they get some size and maturity, then there is never a chance for them to develop character and the garden will remain perpetually juvenile.

All this comes back to the fact that we use plants as features and focal points in our garden, not ornaments. We prefer to clip a strategic plant here and there than to paint the outdoor furniture a different colour or place an urn.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Lifting & limbing – the before and after of careful pruning

1) This garden aspect is generally all right but you would not look twice at it. The large tree is a weeping cherry, Prunus subhirtella pendula. The fact that the left hand tree, a malus or flowering crabapple, has no leaves on it in high summer is a bit of a giveaway. It is dead.

2) The malus is showing fresh growth at its base but as we knew it was a grafted plant, this is just the root stock growing away.

3) Spend some time working out which branches need to be removed. You can’t glue branches back on and it is surprisingly easy to make a mistake. We are taking off the lower branches and a few higher ones which extend too far over the adjacent gardens. We used a squirt of paint to mark the branches destined for the chop.

4) Make an initial cut underneath the branch. This prevents the branch from ripping off and damaging the bark when you cut from above.

5) Cut close to the trunk or main stems. Don’t leave ugly stumps which resemble protruding coat hooks. There are different schools of thought about whether wounds need to be painted with an antibacterial paint. In this case we have coated the wounds but we don’t usually bother.

6) The dead malus has been removed entirely, even the main stump. If you can get most of the root ball out, it reduces the chance of honey fungus or armillaria getting established on the rotting roots and potentially spreading to surrounding trees. The cherry tree now has a more pleasing shape and it is possible to see beyond the tree and to notice other garden features in the same view. Successful pruning is often discreet – quite a bit of material is removed without it being obvious where it has come from.