A Topiary Garden

garden.jpgI have been planting pots for this client since 2005.  He really enjoys his garden, and I look forward to planting for him every year.  As for the landscape, it was not my favorite.  A circular drive court was planted round about with ink berry.  Over the years, the ink berry died out in patches, and what survived grew leggy.  The landscape did have to its credit a number of large arborvitae which had been pruned into shapes, and several espaliers.

garden-and-landscape.jpgThe rest of the landscape was a random mix of hydrangeas that did not bloom much, and perennials which asked for full sun and perfect drainage. The vast majority of the plant material was not happy where it was planted.  Moist shade is not a spot that asks for or welcomes thyme. Thyme is very small leaved, and grows but a few inches tall.  Placing it in the landscape effectively is all about a good understanding of scale.  An old, limbed up, and half dead maple tree was not adding much to the landscape either.

garden-and-topiary.jpgBut what was obvious to me was that this client truly enjoyed his topiary plants above all.  I respect and enjoy landscapes in which the structured plants are contrasted with a looser garden.  In this landscape, the contrast did not seem to work.  I so rarely take the time to critique.  In general, I think the energy it takes to criticize would be better spent in an effort to suggest a solution, or a better way.  I was sure this landscape did not represent what my client loved about landscape-so I persisted. It did take me every bit of 18 months to convince him to redo the landscape.

placing-the-boxwood.jpgClients are ready for change when they are ready. This is not unusual.  All of us are ready when the moment comes when we are ready. My client made a decision.  We moved on that decision. It did take but a half day to rip out the ailing ink berry. Another half day for the pink hydrangeas and company.  The shape of these beds made it very difficult to plan a formal design with topiary boxwood. I had 18 months to work out the placement.  I was ready.

topiary-garden.jpgMy landscape design is predicated on an arrangement of shapes and only 2 plants.  Specimen size 3′ by 3′ Green Gem boxwood, 15″ tall Green Gem boxwood, and Little Lime hydrangeas.  My client also has a big interest in contemporary design and art.  The house is an interpretation of classic French design.  I was after a landscape design that had its roots in classical landscape design, with a nod to a modern aesthetic.  I was also interested in the landscape representing my client’s love of topiary.

boxwood-spheres.jpgA pattern of offset 3′ by 3′ Green Gem boxwood spheres was alternated with blocks of 4 squarely placed  15″ Green Gem boxwood is a pattern that is repeated in stripes perpendicular to the house.  The round shapes contrast with the geometric placement.  This view down the drive is strong.

boxwood-garden.jpgWe had drainage issues.  I will not bore you with the problems associated with the drop from the street to the driveway plane, and how we handled the water.  If you search the above picture, you can see the drain pipe to the left of the boxwood planted on the left side of the walk to the back yard.  Providing for proper drainage is essential.  Handling the drainage gracefully takes lots of planning and work.

topiary-garden.jpgThis landscape renovation honored first and foremost my client’s love of topiary evergreens.  Secondarily, the landscape renovation reflects his interest in contemporary design. I was so interested that all of the spaces be simple and integrated.  The driveway and drivecourt is a much larger space than the landscape spaces. A strong pattern would minimize the visual draw of the drive, and maximize the visual attention to the green spaces.  That said, any landscape needs to challenge and enchant.  At the end, I feel sure that the reconstruction of this landscape is particular to the taste of my client.

topiary-garden.jpgEvery client is different.  A good landscape designer needs to have the ability to absorb and then design for different. Any gardener who has a mind to design for themselves needs to first and foremost listen to their own voice, then acknowledge the demands of the space, and be bold about a plan.

topiary-garden.jpgThe renovation of this landscape went well.  The soil was surprisingly good and easy to work. We dug and planted for 6 straight days.

topiary-and-espalier.jpgFormal landscape designs have their proponents.  Vis a vis this project, I am one of them. I like formal landscapes, when they are appropriate to a site and a client.  I like other than formal landscapes, given a specific situation.  Redoing a landscape is a big fluid situation-any designer knows this.  If you are a gardener who designs for yourself, I could offer this advice.  Take the time to figure out what you want first and foremost from your landscape.  Next up, dream and scheme.  At the last, make a move.  As for this landscape-it is all about the beauty of the topiary plants.

topiary-garden.jpgMy client likes what we have done. I am pleased with the finish.

The 2013 Espaliers

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It is no secret that I am very fond of espaliered trees.  Espaliers?  These are trees or shrubs which are pruned to a 2-dimensional shape.  Though the practice dates back many centuries, a French monk, Fr. Legendre, published a book in 1684 entitled  “Palmette Legendre”.  He detailed his method for drastically pruning fruit trees so they could be grown against the monastery walls.  This made it possible to grow many more trees, and harvest more fruit, in a small space.  The French word espalier is derived from the Italian word “spalliera”, meaning “something to rest the shoulder (spalla) against”.  These fruit trees rested their shoulders against the wall.

unloading-the-espaliers.jpgFr. Legendre discovered that fruit trees that were subject to this kind of hard pruning, and enjoying the warmth generated by the wall,  produced better yields.  The growth generated in the third dimension would be cut back to the fruiting spurs. The first espaliers were pruned to encourage long horizontal arms.  It seems that horizontal branches bear more fruit than vertical ones. This horizontal shape is known as a cordon, and is quite similar to how grapes are pruned.

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Eventually, many different styles of pruning emerged.  Some styles are just as decorative as they are utilitarian.  The tree pictured above has been trained into a classic fan shape.  All of the primary arms radiate outward from the trunk in the shape of a fan. This shape is great for a wall that is both tall and wide.  Blank walls in the landscape are a perfect spot for an espalier.  The pattern of green, light and shadow that the tree creates provides interest in a spot that is otherwise empty.  Should I under plant an espalier, I like like a short growing plant.  Part of the beauty of an espalier is being able to see the entire shape, from top to bottom.

espaliered-trees.jpgEspaliers are traditionally created from fruit bearing trees.  Though apples prefer a sunny location to fruit well, a pear tree is fairly tolerant of a shady location.  I am partial to pears.  Their glossy leaves are beautiful, and they seem more resistant to fungal problems.  Many fruit trees require another tree for cross pollination.  If you want to grow an espalier for fruit, be sure you grow a pair, or pick a variety that is self pollinating.  All  fruiting trees are beautiful when they bloom in the spring.  An espalier fruit tree in full bloom is especially gorgeous, as the white flowers dramatically detail the geometry of the shape.

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These four espaliers are Kieffer pears, trained in the candelabra form.  It is easy to see here that an overall form has been determined for the large branches.  Once a horizontal branch reaches the width desired, the young branch is turned towards the sky, and tied to a form.  That branch will require support until it gets enough to stand on its own.  Pear wood hardens off quickly.  If you are training an espalier, be sure to make any change in direction when the branch is still very young.  Barely visible at the top of this picture is a horizontal fish line.  The branches are tied to this to keep them vertical, and keep them the desired distance from neighboring branches.  We have secured the branches in this manner for display only.  Once they are planted against a wall, galvanized steel eyes will need to be installed in the mortar.  The branches will be tied to those eyes using a flexible and expandable landscape tie.

espaliered-rose-of-sharon.jpgThough a fruiting tree is a traditional subject for an espalier, lots of trees and shrubs readily take to this kind of pruning.  Pictured above is a white rose of sharon, trained into a fan. The picture is not the best.  Imagine many branches emerging from the soil in a line., rather than a mass.  Any branch which emerged from the ground outside of the line-either to the front or back-was removed.  The fan is created with many branches, rather than just a select few.  This shape of this shrub reminds me of fan coral.  It will be a solid mass of green, in leaf-and a solid mass of white in flower.

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A Belgian fence is a series of espaliered trees that are planted equidistant from each other. Each interior tree has a single trunk which comes up up out of the ground about 18″.  Years ago, that trunk was pruned down to 18″.  A pair of emerging side shoots were trained at a specific and repeating angle.  The collection of trees produces multiple diamond shapes.  Ideally, each diamond is the same size as its neighbor.  Maintaining the diamond shapes requires faithful and regular pruning.  The larger and simpler the diamonds, the easier the care.  This group of trees are Calloway crab apples.  They have a beautiful cinnamon colored bark, and flower and fruit like all crab apples.

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The large espaliers in this picture are lindens-old lindens. The cordon espaliers in front of them-Bradford pears. Both species are ornamental, and tolerate hard pruning. These trees may also be allowed to fill in between the horizontal layers. This would result in a solid thin wall of green.  They could be grown against a wall, or as a freestanding green wall.  Any espalier which is grown as a fence will need lots of support and direction in the early years.  Big bamboo stakes are prefect for this.  The bamboo you see on the foreground trees was attached to keep all the branches in place during shipping.

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This espalier has been grown in a goblet shape. The change in direction from a horizontal to vertical is a gently curve, as opposed to the right angle of a candelabra style.  As the main arms are fairly well established, we only needed to secure the tops of the branches to keep the tree representing its intended shape.

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These fan espaliers are apples and pears of various varieties.  A whole orchard could be grown in a relatively small space.  Training espaliers is an art form, but a form that can be learned.  As slowly as trees grow, you would have time for your knowledge to grow.  A large caliper espalier is an investment, mainly due to the years it took to get it to size.  This particular grower does not sell any trees unless they are at least 7 years old.  Over the course of that 7 years, he waters and feeds, and keeps the yellow bellied sapsuckers from drilling holes in their trunks.  He has trees that have had a major arm die back-heartbreaking this.  But once an espalier is established, they are no more care than any other tree or shrub.  Some nurseries and garden centers carry 1-2 year old plants.  This makes it easy to give one a try.

Those Who Grow

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I fancy myself a gardener.  That is, my life revolves around making things grow.  A landscape design evolves from an idea, to a schematic plan, to a garden that gets planted.  Once it is planted, there is a gardener who will see that it grows.  A small tree grows up, and creates an atmosphere all its own. A perennial garden takes hold,  gains weight, and blooms.  Pedestrian ideas die on the vine, and are replaced by those that have lively quality to them. Those who grow-I instantly think about all of the gardeners it has been my pleasure to meet.  But those who grow professionally are gardeners of a different sort.  What and how they grow is not only an inspiration to gardeners.  From start to finish, the life of a landscape is the story of its plants.  Outstanding plants are not only irresistible, they are unforgettable.  

The entrance to this nursery speaks volumes to the point of view of the grower in charge.  The paving stones set horizontally in the drive are an invitation, a request to slow down.  The cloud-pruned yews spilling over the edges of the drive-stunning.       

This nursery is devoted growing a select group of plants.  Woody plant material painstakingly pruned into shapes.  Not every plant responds to shearing.  This gardener has a special interest in those plants that handle this kind of pruning with aplomb.   

These plants are beautifully grown.  They are spaced such that every one gets its fair share of sun and air.  Each boxed tree matches its neighbor-the branching is the same distance from the ground from the first to the last.  Each box is pruned to the same size, tree after tree.  The boxwood cubes are no different.  The size and shape is utterly uniform.  Alternately the trees and the shrubs is not only exquisite to see, it makes the most efficient use of the space. 

Growing yews like this takes many years, enormous skill, and incredible patience.  Unlike a nursery where the stock turns over quickly, this grower has invested lots of time and a lot of land to the cultivation of a few great plants. 


Even in climates with long growing seasons, plants of this stature take years to grow.  The pruning is an ongoing process, a little at a time.  The yew clippings on the ground-no longer than 6 inches.  Even the clippings are uniform in shape and length. 

Some of the hedging plants are grown in sections.  I am sure when the section is dug, each individual plant is labelled as to its position in the row.  The overall shape made by the group-striking.    

A collection of individual specimen evergreens grown in boxes makes the transportation to a new home somewhat easier.  Just to speculate about what one might do with one, or two, or 4 plants of this caliber-a pleasure.  

These carpinus are being trained into arched shapes.  The fact that they have foliage all the way to the ground suggests that the training began when they were very small plants.  Trees in ground like this are regularly root pruned, which makes the task of transplanting easier.  Pruning the roots means a dense fibrous mass of roots will help keep the root ball intact when a plant is dug.  Though it may seen counter intuitive, moving a tree the first time is the most harrowing move of all. The roots that get cut eventually sprout multiple roots at the cut.   Every successive move is easier, as the development of a dense root system aids in the transplant process.

The ability of a plant to make densely fibrous and compact rootballs plays a large part in whether it is commercially grown.  Certain types of junipers are difficult to transplant, as their rootballs have a tendency to collapse.  Even container grown roses need to be transplanted with great care, for the same reason. These topiaries and espaliers are grown from just a few species-yew, boxwood, carpinus, and beech.

I think all of these plants are beautifully sculptural-I would have any of them.  But whether or not formally pruned trees appeal to you or not, the care, committment and vision with which they are grown is obvious.  Yes, these trees are expensive-just any other gorgeous one of a kind sculpture.  Where do you find trees like this?  Anywhere you find a grower with a big love for growing.  No small part of their beauty is how they suggest that any gardener with a small plant and an equally big love for growing could create one of their own.  

 

The 2010 Espaliers


I have been awaiting with great anticipation the delivery of a group of espaliers from the West Coast.  Even in photographs, I knew they might be among the most amazing trees I had ever seen.  I buy only a small amount of nursery material every year; those plants that have the potential to organize and electrify an entire landscape particularly interest me.  A few weeks ago, I did write about these trees, and post pictures of them from the grower. But today was the day I would finally lay eyes on them. 

The pictures did not really prepare me for what came off that semi-truck.  I was star struck.  They are very large caliper trees, whose years and years of training have produced an entirely unique and compelling living sculpture.  The intersection of nature and man can be a disaster, but in this case-breathtaking. 

Of great concern to me-the travel.  Thousands of miles these trees were trucked- under refrigeration.  Spring weather can be unpredictable-a warm journey across the country could cook the emerging foliage. A truck ride is not the smoothest-those of you who travel in trucks regularly know from whence I speak.  My eyes were on the rootballs before I even looked at the plants.  A broken rootball will kill a tree.  These rootballs were solid as a rock; the balling and burlapping the work of a consummate grower.  I breathed a big sigh of relief.

Plan A was to ship the trees via the rail as far as Chicago, and truck the last leg.  This plan depended on the grower being able to dig the trees well in advance of any leafing out. Fields too wet from spring rain prevented them from digging the trees early-we had no choice but to go to plan B-a truck coming across the country, carrying trees in the process of throwing leaves.  There is worry attached to this plan. A long trucking siege challenges and wears away at trees already stressed from the process of digging, balling, and burlapping.  Nursery people understand how much the trucking cost influences the price of a tree.  Unless you are buying trees and shrubs grown next door to a nursery, a chunk of the eventual price is very much influenced by the cost of transport. I know of no grower in this country growing espaliers of this caliber, so I shut up, and I  paid the freight.   

Seven of the trees are katsuras-Cercidiphyllum Japonicum, for those of you who want to know precisely what tree to which I am referring.   A katsura does not have showy blooms-I would describe it as an unusual tree, very architectural in form.  The leaves sprout red, grow large, and somewhat heart shaped, and mature with a decidedly blue cast. Mature trees are densely foliated, and sculptural.  In this group, I would put the beeches, the dawn redwoods, the weeping Alaskan cedars, the lindens-I am talking green sculpture when I talk katsuras.  

These katsuras have been grown and pruned with strong and precisely spaced lateral branches.  What does this mean?  In leaf, each tree will provide a green wall every bit of 10 feet tall and ten feet wide that takes up not 24 inches of width, in ground.  A living wall of green of astonishing size and very modest footprint-amazing.   If beautiful plants have the ability to astonish you, feel free. 

How these leaves survived a a week in a black, cold, and irregularly vibrating box-most plants have a huge will to survive.  This instinct served these trees well.  The katsura group of 7 weathered the storm like troupers.  The linden group of 7 are just budded-they had a much easier trip.  In my landscape practice, I try very hard to do no harm, to not impose.  How nature works is a miraculous event that needs little in the way of suggestions from me. 14 trees of astonishing provenance came my way today.  In short, thrilling.    

We soaked these trees immediately after delivery, but they had in fact been well prepared for their trip.  I sat on 6 randomly selected rootballs today-I could feel the cold, and the damp.  The rainy weather and cloudy skies the past few days-a better than good re-entry.  I made it my business to go out to see them 4 times today; every gardener understands what it is to be responsible .    


Here is a picture of my group of fourteen espaliers-are they not incredible? Barely leafing, like a crowd of teenagers, I see so much ahead for them.  Some time ago I wrote an essay about the provenance of espaliered trees-Palmette Legendre-should you have an interest.  I have a big interest in outstanding plants-this drives just about everything I design.  These espaliered trees-my only hope for them is that they have thoughtful gardeners in their future.