Last weekend, armed with my trusty secateurs, I braved the icy winds and ventured out of the big city to West Dean Gardens near Chichester in W.Sussex. Thought I’d booked myself on to a pruning course, but in fact the ‘Training trees and shrubs’ course encouraged only a minimal use of secateurs when working in the garden.
Through scientific explanations and a series of botanical slides, Paul Templeton introduced the whys and wherefores of training trees. By mid morning tea break, brains were whirring as different training methods were described which could replace the overuse of secateurs, encourage fruiting and restrict growth on trees and shrubs. Mind blowing, but totally making sense at the same time. It’s a vast topic and I hope I can fully reflect how exciting and thought-provoking the day was. Above in both pics is a fruit tree (pear I think), trained into a Quincunx form. What a beautiful thing! Only a few snips of a secateur are required to form this impressive shape, and the rest is done with timely manipulation of the tree stems into different directions to control all growth and fruiting.
Above is another pear tree trained into the 12 Apostles form. Paul explained that as branches are carefully coaxed away from the vertical into 45 degrees or the horizontal, the tree’s growth is turned from juvenility into its reproductive stage, hence slowing down growth and producing more fruit. Finally turning a branch straight down towards the ground should halt all growth, without a pair of secateurs in sight.
Each time the stem of tree is cut, 5 new stems will appear and unless carefully managed, either by training or removing new growth buds with your thumbs, unwanted new stems will grow. Subsequent pruning to control this new growth will cause the end of the branches to proliferate into a bushy mass. I know, as I’ve done this many times before! By reducing pruning, less new growth is encouraged and the tree produces more fruit.
I asked Paul what I could do with a mammoth Choisya that I’m forever reducing in size by pruning, and therefore constantly encouraging new bushy growth. He advised pruning the roots, or underground branch system, instead. Normally these underground branches will spread twice as wide as the crown of a tree or shrub. The reduction of these underground branches should cause above ground branches to cease extending. A very good thing to know and a practice I shall most definitely be putting into use come spring and summer.
Other methods to control growth and encourage fruiting that we touched on were ringing, notching, snapping, bending and tying down. Having attempted these amazing techniques on pieces of willow, a little more practice may be needed before being let loose on other people’s gardens, but practice and perfect I will do, as alternative methods to pruning seem an eminently sensible way to go when looking after your trees and shrubs.
More excitement followed as we started to discuss the charming nineteenth century Pomologist (fruit tree grower-lovely word) Thomas Rivers and his methods of growing fruit trees in fairly small (18inch) pots. From his very readable book ‘The Miniature Fruit Garden’ (available free to download), a publisher quotes Thomas Rivers as saying “It must be recollected that pears on quince stocks are strictly garden trees, and not adapted to orchards” and follows on by adding, ‘Those who only have a limited space and wish to grow pears, apples and other fruits, can, by the system of pinching and root pruning combined, keep as small as pot specimens’. Music to my ears (as a spaced-starved Londoner) and with bare-rooted fruit trees still available until March, I’m now planning my own miniature fruit garden starting with pear and quince trees in pots. Each year the tree is removed from the pot and the roots are pruned by 50 per cent. The tree is then replanted with fresh soil and as this is repeated year after year, the fruit tree can always remain in a small pot but will continue to produce plenty of fruit. Fantastic!
And as if that wasn’t enough, there were more discussions on root stocks, dig/no dig, whether trees should be planted directly into soil without any additional compost or not, summer as the best time to prune ALL trees, and Paul’s absolute belief that mulching with manure and compost is a bad thing. The course was then rounded off with a session of training trees and shrubs by bending and tying down (easiest when at their most pliable) and a little light knot tying. What a day!
There’s still more which I haven’t managed to squeeze in, but Paul has a tree training website with much more detail on it and most definitely worth a visit.
Looking forward to visiting West Dean again later in the year to see how these trees develop and fruit throughout the seasons. Heard there’s an ace kitchen garden too, so doubly worth another trip out of London.