Growing stakes

It can be difficult to dispose of hard woody prunings, if possible I try to reuse them. Otherwise I chop them up and send them to the Council recycling centre, as my own compost bins are too small to break them down in less than 5 years.


Rose prunings are good to place on newly dug ground to deter a visiting cat, but having served their purpose they too are consigned to the Council compost bin. Larger trees and shrubs provide stakes and supports. Bamboo makes perfect stakes, but they can be softer than those you get in the garden centre, it’s best to let them dry out well before using them.

Our Sambucus Nigra ‘Black Lace’ is a beautiful plant but it does outgrow its space and so it needs to be pruned quite hard every year. Last summer I reused the Sambucus prunings as stakes for my broad beans, they were very suitable, strong and straight. However as the beans grew up I noticed that the stakes were beginning to sprout. By the autumn when the beans had produced their crop and were ready to be composted most of the stakes had a good fringe of fresh new leaves. At the end of the season I saw that they had sturdy roots and I potted them up.

I shared these new plants with two friends and kept one myself. They are deciduous so they remained as bare sticks over the winter. Now it is spring and most have survived in our three gardens and are putting on beautiful new wine-red leaves. I will try to grow this one in a large pot as a specimen and try to keep it small.



Woodland tangle

Nearly twelve years of enthusiastic planting has turned a tabula rasa (the blank space of our back garden) into a woodland thicket. It’s time to reclaim the space, or to lose it in a tangle of vegetation. Lack of light at ground level and woodland conditions are changing the character of the area. I have fallen into the most common of gardener’s errors: planting too many specimens and underestimating the growth habit of trees and shrubs. I love most of the planting in this section, but it needs to be thinned out and not allowed to grow so tall or it will become unmanageable. Many smaller more delicate plants have been lost due to the absence of light.

This autumn I was resolved to start on the pruning regime. The weather made it difficult to make much progress, but I have begun the task. The raised border at the eastern side has two large trees that will tolerate hard pruning, Sambucus Nigra “Black Lace” and Viburnum Bodnantense “Dawn”, a large Hydrangea, two unnamed climbing roses, a pale pink and a rose pink, Pernettya with pink berries, a large white Phlox, Mahonia, and a spreading Hellebore. Underneath there are Cyclamen, Astrantia, self seeding Aquilegias, and a host of spring bulbs. I do not want to take the trees out, I have pruned them back severely and I hope to keep them in check. The two roses have climbed vigorously, sending long thorny arches into the neighbouring garden, I prune these every year, but I think they need a heavier hand.

At the back wall, running the length of the garden to the south there is a large holly supporting the rampant rose Rambling Rector, and offering protection to the delicate Acer “Orange Dream”. Roses Zéphirine Drouhin and an unnamed white dog rose, and Clematis Montana Rubens scramble along a sturdy timber structure, a strong thorny Pyracantha “Red Column” holds its own, and a Viburnum Tinus “Gwenllian” crouches underneath. Behind the bench the white dog rose continues and tangles into the Clematis Viticella Purpurea “Plena Elegans”. Beyond the bench is the slow growing Magnolia “Leonard Messel”,  a large Hawthorn, brought from Cork as a cutting, with Honeysuckle “Lonicera Belgica” growing through it, Bergenia tucked in under it, and two Potentillas flanking it, one yellow and one pink. Purple flowering heathers, daffodils, crocus, snowdrops, and other spring bulbs are planted underneath.

First step was to raise the space under the plants by pruning lower branches, this allows light in and a Ruscus under the holly has produced red berries for the first time in years. I still need to reduce the height of the holly. The Rambling Rector rose has climbed to the top of the holly, into the heights of the Sorbus (Mountain Ash) and into a large Damson tree growing outside our garden wall. With its abundance of white blossom it looks amazing for two to three weeks in June, but this vigorous rose will have to be kept to a more manageable height, up to now I have been nervous of killing it, but I think that’s unlikely.



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