Ponderings on pruning

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Pruned-back plants make for a bare look

My annual August ritual involves a great deal of pruning - a huge task that I need help with these days. Because I grow so many summer- and autumn-flowering plants from warm climates that would become extremely straggly if left to their own devices, they need a hard cutting back just before spring arrives, so that they are ready for another long season of growth. I fertilise and try to mulch them at the same time, as this is when it is easy to get in amongst the plants to carry out these chores.

Much of my garden looks quite terrible at this time, with many plants reduced to stumps or sticks, and I never want anyone to visit me in the months of August and September. As spring is supposed to be the time when gardens are at their best, this is difficult! I deliberately veered away from having a traditional springtime garden in my earlier gardening days, as I felt that spring flowers are over so quickly and our summer and autumn seasons go on so long and are so conducive for blooms of warm-climate plants, giving interest and colour over a long season. I avoided planting a lot of evergreen flowering shrubs as well, as they tend to have a limited period of bloom, and they would have taken up precious room that I wanted for my more exotic specimens.

The Murraya hedge provides permanent form

But perhaps because I am getting older and less sprightly, this year I have started to wonder if my ideas went too far in the opposite direction, as I feel the need for more permanent greenery and plants that hold their shape year-round, so that the task of pruning is less onerous. I seem to be craving more structure and am thinking of putting in some more evergreen shrubby plants to provide a bit more of a balance. I find myself drawn to the more permanent architectural features of the garden, such as the hedge and the dramatic foliage plants that remain in place looking handsome all year round.

The large amount of pruning we do results in a mountain of woody material that needs to go through the mulching machine. This is a good addition to the compost heap and breaks down quickly to form a useful organic addition to the garden, but also takes its toll on the mulching person, who is not getting any younger either and beginning to dread this task each year!

I guess we all change our gardening ideas from time to time; I certainly don't want to eliminate all my warm-climate plants, as they provide such colour and excitement in the warmer parts of the year. I just want a better framework for them, which can contrast with their changing form over the gardening year! A visit to a nursery may be in store ...