Illustration from ‘Pretty Deadly’, written by Kelly Sue Deconnick, art Emma Rios, colors Jordie Bellaire, Image Comics 2015, (007-002). Straight-up classic art, whether oil painting or illustration, like these two pages from a graphic novel that I find beautiful, involve ‘craft and, an understanding of one’s materials and techniques, that are necessary for any artist to create work. In illustration, like this, the art must resonate with the story to be successful. Horticulture and pruning are no different.
Plants often present pruning challenges to the gardener. I’ve already introduced the issue of understanding ‘why’ you are choosing to prune, the physical structure of a ‘normally’ growing individual and how it will respond to the cuts you choose to make. There are several good books out there that discuss how and what constitutes a ‘good’ individual cut and what approach you might take with different types of growers…it should be the goal of any gardener to understand the technical details of pruning, so that they become ‘natural’, reflexive. (In an earlier posting, I discuss pruning tools and provide an introduction to what constitutes a ‘good’ pruning cut.) Like all artists we develop a style that may distinguish us from others. Even understanding all of this and possessing the technical competencies there are the ‘aesthetic’ decisions the gardener/pruner must make. Two different gardeners can prune in the same landscape and it can be obvious when they are finished that they have very different aesthetics. The results can be ‘disjointed’ or harmonious. Every plant, every branch, every internode, presents a choice and because each individual plant of a given species or variety, though it may grow following a shared genetic code, will grow uniquely in response to the physical conditions it faces…and the damage and pruning it has received over its life. Like most things in life our control of a plant is limited and the more we attempt to control it the less like itself it will be. Continue reading →
This Fagus sylvatica has been in this pot around 20 years. I grew it from seed 30 years ago from a mother tree in Sellwood that has a canopy 100′ across. It is approximately the same age as the trees pictured below.
I’ve heard it said often enough that trees and shrubs got by just fine for millions of years before we started pruning them, so why do it now? That’s a good question and if you can’t answer it, you shouldn’t be pruning. Horrible examples are all around us. Trees repeatedly stubbed off their natural branching form and elegance destroyed. Others sporting long scars where someone removed a branch with a single top cut causing the branch to drop pulling a long tongue down the trunk where it was still attached. Still more with split trunks and scaffold limbs where multiple sprouts, vying for dominance fail and tear down. Poor pruning has lead to the collapse and premature deaths of many trees and reduced many shrubs to inelegant space fillers jammed up agains buildings. The first thing you should ask yourself is, ‘Why I’m I doing this?” Continue reading →
(This is a slightly edited version of the same article published a few years ago in the HPSO Bulletin.)
The Pruning Series, 1
If you garden you will need to prune. Pruning is necessary not only for garden aesthetics but for the health and survival of plants in your garden. Gardens are our own inventions. They are infused with our intentions while the natural forces at play in any landscape work toward their own conclusion. We gather plants from disparate places around the world, put them together on soils in climates they did not evolve with, in intimate relationships we impose. We will have to be involved in an ‘editing’ process that is ongoing within the ebb and flow of plant growth and death that will include shuffling, removals, additions and pruning. Gardens are dynamic. Whether we make ‘good’ plant choices or not our continued involvement is a given. If we are good observers and modify our actions accordingly, we can move our gardens toward a balance that will require less of us. If we have aesthetic priorities that we are unwilling to relinquish, we will have to work to assure they continue. If our knowledge of how the plant will perform on our site is less than perfect and we fail to take all of it into consideration when we planted, we will have to intervene, maybe regularly.