Saturday, 5 January 2013

Hard Pruning Ornamentals

Flashy Gardening

      My wife and I went to a fancy dress party one new years eve many years ago. I had agonised what to go as and had finally settled on a flasher. Inspiration for this had come from an incident that had happened at work: I was a park gardener and we had recently experienced a number of reports of a man jumping out of the shrubbery and exposing himself to women. Two of the parks managers had resolved to put an end to this by catching the bloke, so they hid in the bushes close to his favourite venue, with the intention of grabbing him if he made an appearance.

      Unfortunately for them, the gardening staff were disgruntled with some recent management decisions, so someone phoned the police and reported the fact that two men were lurking in the bushes. The police - well aware of the flasher problem - responded with alacrity. The two bosses were crept up on, unceremoniously hauled out and caused to produce a red faced explanation. In the meantime, the flasher presumably covered his assets and sneaked off to pastures new, while the park  staff prepared to dine out on this delicacy for the rest of their careers.

Flasher deterrent (Rosa omeiensis pteracantha)

      Shrubs differ from trees only in that they tend to have multiple stems, so many of them can get pretty big, affording a flasher plenty of privacy. One way round this is to use plants which tolerate hard cutting-back annually. The smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria) is an example: cut back in March, it will produce much bigger leaves and better autumn colour. On the down side, this treatment means that the plant will not produce the flowers which give the 'smoke' aspect of its name, but you can't win 'em all. Stag's horn sumach and some of the coloured elderberries can also be treated in this way. Eucalyptus gunnii is yet another example - leave it untouched and the attractive blue juvenile foliage is replaced by elongated green leaves supported usually on a spindly trunk. In my experience, a cut-back every third year is ideal but that varies with the growing propensity of your soil.

Cornus sanguinea 'Winter Flame'

      A winter display of stem colour is another feature much improved by hard cutting-back (see the blog 'winter interest in the garden'), dogwoods and willows lending themselves particularly well to this. Only the new first year growth is coloured, so if you don't prune them they become far less attractive. Dogwoods (Cornus species) are so called because butchers used to make skewers from the hard wood of our native Cornus sanguinea, and these they called 'dogs' (file this under 'really useful information'). For attractive willow stems try Salix alba 'Britzensis' (orange), S.acutifolia (purple) or S.'chermesina (red). Of the dogwoods, Cornus 'Winter Flame' (see picture), C. 'Flaviramea' (Yellow) and C.alba 'Sibirica' (red) are some of the best in a wide selection.

Cornus alba berries (alba means 'white', referring to the berries)

      For a plant to make growth, it takes structure and nutrients from the soil, so, to make up this loss, always add a top dressing of well-rotted compost and handful of blood, fish and bone after pruning.

      Anyway, getting back to the fancy dress party: dressed in a dirty mac (which gave me the option of converting to Columbo, should the need arise), I rang the doorbell at the party house.Then, encouraged by my wife, dramatically threw my coat open to display my whispy swimming- trunk- clad body, as the door opened. This may have been jocularly received, had it been the right house. However, the stoney-faced lady who opened it simply stared at me for a moment before pointing down the street, uttering 'next door but one' and slamming the door. At this point my wife seemed to be having some sort of convulsion. It's a problem she has - a cross between shaking and crying. Anyway we hurried off to the right house and I joined about ten other original thinkers who had also turned up as flashers. So I became Columbo.


1 comment:

  1. I remember one flasher at that party who had a camera secreted beneath his coat and when he threw his coat open, he took a picture using a remote wire he had in his pocket. The actual flash that went off had everyone laughing but the Polaroid photos that showed everyone looking in a downward direction at the carrot he had attached to his undies was even funnier.