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Notes from a Head Gardener ~ Musings on Pleached Hornbeam

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Pleaching is the art of entwining branches to form a hedge. A pleached hedge will usually be clipped above bare stems so that the hedge appears to be on stilts. It is a marvellous way of screening a view, adding grandeur and giving oneself an awful lot more to do in one’s garden. Having said that, I do so enjoy the October hornbeam trim.

It is astonishing how quickly a happy hedge can establish. A contented plant can romp away and fool you into believing that it has always been there. This is exactly the case with the pleached hornbeam hedge in a rose garden somewhere, teetering on the edge of the Cotswolds.

Rose ‘Wollerton Old Hall’ set against the pleached hornbeam backdrop

This row of six pleached hornbeams (Carpinus betulus) was planted in winter 2013 and has done that ‘romping away’ thing most successfully. A chance stumble across a photograph taken in Summer 2014 shows six knobbly-kneed youths. They have now grown into sturdy-legged young adults and give me an enormous amount of pleasure. My hard work over the last six years is starting to pay off.

Summer 2014 ~ spindly stems just seen at the rear of the rose garden

Every Autumn, I scale the lofty heights of the enormous Japanese tripod ladder to entwine, tie-in and coax the lateral branches of each tree against heavy-duty horizontal wires. More mature tree branches can even graft onto each other so that they truly become one entity. Side shoots are trimmed back to a leaf or leaf bud and, gradually these bush up to form a screen.

Bulking up to form a screen is what is finally happening with these youngsters. They are looking smarter and more cohesive with every Autumn trim. I feel like a proud parent receiving the school photograph proofs and being mightily relieved that there is no breakfast on the uniform. They grant a sense of poise to the rose garden that will only increase as these young adults become respected veterans.

2019 Autumn trim complete