Pruning is my least favourite job in the garden. It makes me nervous, I worry about killing a plant, about inhibiting blossom, and about ruining the shape. I have two books specifically on pruning and I watch YouTube videos before embarking on a pruning task.

I now feel fairly confident with the fruit trees. I prune the apples, pear, plum and damson in summer to keep them small and I do another trim in winter to tidy up the shape. I take out dead, damaged and crossing branches as well as those growing inwards or downwards, or at an acute angle to the trunk. I cut back the annual upright soft growth. Three apples trees, one of them a crab apple, are trained as a cordon on a wooden frame and they need to be pruned to shape and tied in to the frame.

We have two clematis, the early summer flowering Montana Rubens and the summer flowering Viticella Purpurea Plena Elegans. The Viticella is pruned down to the base in spring just as the new growth is starting, but the Montana is pruned in June after flowering. Both are very vigorous and I find it quite hard to prune the Montana as it twines itself around other climbers and it’s easy to cut the wrong plant.

Rambling and climbing roses are beautiful while in bloom, but can be a nightmare to prune afterwards. Our Rambling Rector swamps all around it in spring when it puts on thousands of buds which cannot be cut back until after flowering. The stems are strong and thorns vicious, and many times I’ve ended up scratched and bleeding from it. However, the short-lived blossom is so glorious that I forgive it everything. It has even begun to grow up the nearly Mountain Ash and Sambucus Nigra ‘Black Lace’, sometimes drowning its beautiful pink blossoms, which flower at the same time.

The Philadelphus is another vigorous grower and it plans world domination each spring. Its woody branches grow to more than twelve feet and scrape the paint from the roof of the shed and the palisade. Its blossom is magnificent and the perfume wonderful, but it has quite a short season and it gets destroyed in the wind. Part of it needs to be cut to the ground each year.

We planted a small Laburnum Watereri Vossii ‘Golden Rain’ as one of our first trees, but it needs to be pruned each year to keep it from outgrowing the garden. Originally we pruned it in late November or early December when it is dormant, but the garden centre recommended waiting until February when the worst of the winter is past so that dead and damaged branches can be easier to identify. Its abundant yellow hanging flowers make it a joy in late May and early June.

Some plants take pruning and cutting without any bother, especially those that can be used as hedges. Our fuchsias, hawthorn, pyracantha, and flowering currants are clipped regularly and are forming a mixed hedge in the front garden.


Hawthorn prunings


First blossom

The frothy blossoms of ornamental cherry trees in spring first gave me the desire to have a garden. While I still love flowering cherries, we have two, I have come to appreciate the blossoms of fruit trees even more as they hold the promise of greater bounty.

In our garden the plum and damson are the first to appear: delicate pink and white flowers hardly able to withstand the cold winds and frosts. This is our second plum tree, the first succumbed after I strangled it with a tree tie. All gardening books and TV garden shows warn about the dangers of tree ties that grow too tight. I was watching for this very problem, but I still missed one and it did irreparable damage.

The pear tree kicks off next with its profusion of white flowers, followed by apples and crab apples in shades of pink. The flowering quince ‘Chaenomeles superba’ is a great delight with its intense red blossoms against the bare wall.

L to R: Plum, Damson, Pear, Apple, Crab Apple, Quince.

All through summer the fruits swell and by September and October are ready to harvest. Seasons vary and affect the harvest; in early September 2011 a very bad wind storm, the tail-end of Hurricane Katia, brought down unripe apples and the entire pear crop; 2016 was a great year for pears, while 2015 gave a miserable four fruits. In 2016 the crab apple ‘Gorgeous’ got a nasty disease affecting leaves and fruit, so no crab apple jelly! This spring, 2017, the new leaves look bright and healthy and it is flowering well. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a crop this year.

When fruiting is over, there is still one act to play, many of the trees put on a lovely autumn colour before revealing their stark sculptural shapes for winter.

These beautiful hard-working trees also come in sizes small enough for most gardens, by careful pruning they can be kept at a manageable size for years. Some will even survive and fruit in pots on a patio or balcony.