Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pruning, Belgian style

When we moved to Belgium, one local garden practice I was struck by was the pruning. I don’t mean the perfect hedges and little boxwood animals, although there are plenty of those here, but rather big scale pruning of large trees, or pollarding. Pollarding consists of cutting back tree branches either all the way back to the main trunk, or to varying degrees along the main branches (multi-knuckle pollard, high pollard, etc). This treatment is not very popular in North America, but it sure is here. It’s been practiced in Europe for centuries to keep tree sizes in check, control shape or harvest wood. In winter, when deciduous trees are without leaves, it is rather striking. Below is a picture taken in London, Reagent Park area, in early April before leaf budding. Personally, I thought these trees looked like scary monsters subjected to some sort of gruesome experiments, and which will come back to haunt their tormentors at night.

I wondered if this does not affect tree health, but apparently it actually increases lifespan by keeping the tree in a juvenile state and reducing top weight. Still, when I saw the tree below in the Leuven Botanical Garden, I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for it. It almost looks embarrassed by its nakedness – not even some branches to hide behind during winter.
In summer, the trees recover fully – below is the same tree from the Leuven Botanical Garden in summer. It continues to grow throughout the summer, and the canopy now completely covers all the branches in gigantic leaves, a side effect of the pollarding.
Hedge pruning is also extremely popular here, and taken very seriously. Check out these complex, perfectly pruned designs in front of two residential houses, representative of common front yard looks.
Back at the Leuven Botanical Garden, this conifer has perplexed me all year. It has been impeccably pruned every single time I have visited, which is quite often. When does it ever grow??? A lesson in pruning dedication.

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