Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day – Pruned shapes

This month I don’t want to focus on individual plants but on the forms created in the garden by pruning and pose the question is this natural?

A few years ago I would have answered immediately “No of course it’s not natural!”  How could it be – the gardener intervenes and cuts back growing points. this usually has the effect of encouraging two growing points instead of one and is a reason to think very carefully before you cut if you want the plant to grow into its ‘natural’ form.

Image result for box hedging photos

Formal parterres maybe the first thing one things about when discussing clipping and pruning – it is something I used to hate but over time have come to greatly admire.

We have all seen the results of plants ‘pruned’ by so called professional gardeners who come to work in your garden armed with a hedge trimmer!  This isn’t pruning!

What I want to discuss today isn’t really pruning as such either – it is sculpting the shape of a plant to a form that fits our needs or desires.  So, you say, the answer to my question is still “no”, it isn’t natural; but I’m going to disagree.  Nature also sometimes prunes in this way too.

Think about wind sculpted trees growing near the coast.

Image result for wind sculpted trees photo

Close to our favourite beach all the trees and shrubs have  been sculpted by the wind; the sight of all the mounds and tight ‘pruned’ forms was one of the inspirations for this post.

Think about grazing animals eating new soft foliage and leaving the older leathery leaves because they are unpalatable.

Someone with a hedge cutter couldn’t have done a better job of creating these fascinating shapes.

What about insect damage; I showed you an insect (Lachnaia sexpunctata, thanks for the ID AnnaMaria) that was eating the new foliage on the Quercus ilex newly planted last autumn, here they took most of the, obviously delicious, emerging leaves.  But now that new growth is much slower the insect has disappeared allowing the trees and shrubs to to grow a little, but it is a little because it is hot now and there is little or no rain (most years) so the plants have a decidedly ‘just been pruned appearance’.  Why isn’t the insect still eating the new foliage?  Apparently Lachnaia disappear when the weather warms up.

The thought processes behind the new planting in my own garden have been influenced by these natural areas.

View of the upper drive border (June 12)

View of the upper drive border (June 12) – just look at that green 6 weeks ago!

If you add some grasses into the mix, the effect is even more like natural Mediterranean areas (early June)

If you add some grasses into the mix, the effect is even more like natural Mediterranean areas (early June)

There are some plants whose natural form is quite a tight shape so it isn’t always up the the gardener to intervene.

To add your thoughts on foliage this month (in whatever way you wish) please just leave a link to and from this post; I would also be very interested in what you think.  Enjoy all the foliage in your garden, Christina





39 thoughts on “Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day – Pruned shapes

    • Not all mine are clipped either but it is too hot now, the plants would suffer I think. Thanks for joining GBFD, I always love seeing your beautiful foliage.

  1. Hi Christina, I don’t like the look of parterres much but like you I have come to think that pruned shapes are important in the garden, which isn’t an entirely ‘natural’ environment anyway. I often wonder about weeding even, it’s totally not natural, but some is required while plants are being established.
    One of the natural prunings I love is where cattle are grazing under large trees like willows and they trim all the lower branches to head height.
    Lately the sheep have been sneaking through my fence and trimming things. Since it’s winter they are mostly getting the weedy grasses under control, but one or two shrubs have been trimmed, and I’ve noticed that the pheasants have mowed back the dianthus to a nice even height.
    I grow quite a few Hebes which are a native shrub. Some of them grow in a pretty tight ball anyway, and I have one which was almost killed by when the cattle broke in last year which has turned into a perfect ball. If it’s not too wet I will take some photos tomorrow.
    I absolutely love the view over your beach, I would love for my plantings to look like that. Your garden is looking wonderful also. The grass makes a beautiful contrast.

    • Thanks for those examples of animal trimmed plants! Luckily I don’t have larger animals trimming my plants but even insects can do quite a thorough job. Aphids usually only attack new growth so don’t kill the whole plant unless it is new vegetables that have been newly planted out. I look forward to seeing your photographs if you are able to take them.

  2. I had never thought about the natural pruning but I understand exactly what you are saying. I still find the idea of containing the plants very difficult, especially when individual plants can have different growth speeds. I find it difficult to project what an area might look like in future seasons. Your natural Mediterranean area looks great. Amelia

    • It took me a while to realise about how plants are trimmed ‘naturally’. Pruning is, in a way a different thing, a way of maintaining a natural form but reducing the plant to a manageable size by for instance removing one stem in 3 every year which works really well for a lot of plants and helps them not be overcrowded and allowing air into the plants.

  3. Pruning is essential in my garden with box parterres, clipped box cones and balls all of which need to be kept in shape in order to make the garden interesting in Winter. But roses and other shrubs have minimal pruning and are encouraged d to grow tall then under-planted with medium sized perennials. But I’ve seen two town gardens recently where a lack of pruning has resulted in astonishingly romantic spaces. One owner had lost control due to a heavy work load and although she was enjoying the drama of her un-pruned garden much had been smothered and lost at ground level. Maybe that’s the challenge of gardening-knowing when to prune and shape, when to lift and divide.and when to let nature have a free hand.

    • In the climate here large deciduous plants suffer in the summer, if they are smaller they do a little better but it is the evergreens that are my mainstay in summer as they are for you in winter. I’m intending to let things grow more in the new shady woodland and hopefully create that romantic look.

  4. I can’t disagree with the notion that the pruned look is important in a cultivated garden. I’ve never been a fan of the formal hedged look, though I admire the artistry involved if done properly. Thanks for the look and reminder that pruning–instigated by natural forces or the gardener–has a place in our gardens.

  5. Christina yo comparto su poda natural. Dejar a las plantas crecer libremente y podar las que se desmadren. Crear un jardín natural, ecológico, como la bella foto de la playa. Saludos de Margarita.

  6. It’s funny that you mention this. I just read an article on coppicing, a practice I’ve long looked at with a jaundiced eye. However, the article’s author makes a good argument for using the technique to invigorate plants, promote bolder foliage and more intense variegation, etc. I’m considering giving it a try myself to breathe new life into a few old shrubs I inherited with the house.

    • Street trees are often coppiced here and I like the way they look. I also saw mulberries coppiced in Tuscany so the fruit was at a height to be easily harvested.

  7. Love the wind-pruned, sculpted masses of foliage near the beach and your clipped hedges in your own garden. So sorry I don’t have a foliage post today but I spent about 6 hours out in the miserable heat pruning and weeding. My side garden had exploded into a weedy mess and I hand-pruned the two main shrubs in that area, cutting back for size and leaving it loose and natural. Once I got into the rhythm it was pleasurable. Perhaps not the best time to give it a big pruning, especially now that the rain has snubbed us, but it needed to be done. (David admired your silver vase on Monday–said it looked like a painting.)

    • You did well to work outside for so long, I couldn’t do it! With the hot weather even most weeds have stopped growing here, an advantage of the non irrigated beds. There are weeds in the cut flower beds and the vegetable garden.

  8. I think this style of gardening is well suited to mediterranean gardens like yours. And you do it so well. I was first bowled over by the sculpted garden when I saw La Louve in Bonnieux, France. This fabulous garden relies on clipped shapes and foliage texture for its impact. Lovely. Here in the UK, I am not keen on flower beds coralled into box hedge cages. It has become a a bit of a cliche.

  9. Interesting ideas about foliage and pruning, we left some bushes in the front garden in their natural state & we’ve been really pleased with how they look.

    • I’ve always preferred shrubs to have what I believed was their natural form and I still do but I wanted to challenge the idea that a clipped form was always unnatural

  10. Great article Christina. I love the animal pruned image. I guess sometimes we need to control a plant to keep it within the confines of the garden space but I do hate to see plants hacked. I find the sight of a very neat clipped box ball for example amongst natural looking grasses and perennials very pleasing as it adds order and contrast to the scene, the net result of which is to improve the look of both.

    • I agree about hacking and when a plant on cut like a he’d when it should be pruned by removing complete stems. I also like the contrast between box (or similar) clipped hedges and free planting.

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  12. Pruning is my all-time favorite gardening chore! Gardens greatly benefit from good pruning. The secret is selective pruning for individual plants, according to its needs and the gardener’s esthetics. Too many gardeners, including “professionals” apply the same, cut-straight-across-the-top technique to all plants. I also use only had pruners, as electric trimmers tend to shred the leaves and promote unnaturally thick, tough growth at the tips.

  13. No electric pruners for me and I try and hand prune to make shrubs/trees look natural…but the best as you have shown is the natural sculpting. I can see how this has beautifully influenced your garden which is stunning in the views you shared.

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  15. Penso che la potatura non impedisce ad un giardino di avere un aspetto naturale, perché, come hai spiegato tu Christina, la natura stessa opera in questo senso. Io lo vedo anche nel mio giardino dove con fatica riesco ad ottenere elementi alti, forse proprio a causa del vento. E’ poi uno strumento del quale si serve il giardiniere, a seconda di quello che vuole ottenere e la si può usare con equilibrio ad esempio per mettere in collegamento il giardino con il paesaggio che lo circonda. Le diverse altezze delle potature ti consentono inoltre di usare con dinamismo la stessa pianta, evitando una certa monotonia come faceva Nicol de Vèsian con le lavande. Un abbraccio!

  16. Love the wind sculpted plants. For me box hedging has a place in the garden but not every garden and remember it is not without work! I have used box in a variety of ways within the garden, delineating the garden and lawn, as a small hedge around my pergola area and as curving hedges within what was a japanese garden. My next post will feature some of these as I have just completed the annual clip (a little later than normal!)

  17. cloud pruned by nature.
    On our coast the shrubs (and small trees) are beautifully shaped by the prevailing Southeaster. Cloud pruned by nature.
    I prune slowly. As in, a little every week or two.
    Aiming for a ‘tidied by browsing herbivores’ look.

    That sharp edged look is not for my garden – but I do admire it in a cared for formal garden!

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