Shapely Trees

For this third post in the Experience it series we’re going to head out into the Garden and give you a couple of ideas that will help you bring a little bit of France into your yard.

Extreme Pruning

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Pollarded Platane trees at the Chateau de Chambord

Take a look at the picture to the right taken at the Chateau de Chambord. I’d ask if you noticed anything, but it’s pretty obvious: look at the branches of these trees, they look anything but natural!

It’s very common to see long rows of Platane Trees lining streets, parks and squares in France.    The platane is a large deciduous tree (it sheds its leaves) with maple-like leaves.  When allowed to grow unhindered, they can become huge! Don’t believe me, look at this one in the courtyard of a small castle near where my wife grew up, in Belgium (note a 6 year old Dominic playing beside it ).

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Platane or Sycamore tree in Trazegnies, Belgium: In 1998 it was estimated to be 270 years old and measured 4m60 (15 feet) in circumference, at 5 feet off the ground!

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In the countryside, it’s fairly common to see big sycamores like this, but in town, you can imagine the challenges of allowing such trees to grow unhindered.

Back to Chambord

If you look back at the first picture, you’ll note that the branches look more stubby and with a bit of a knob on the end. It’s from these knobby ends that the leafy shoots emerge. This method of tree pruning is known as pollarding.

Essentially, from a fairly young age, the foundation branches are pruned annually to the same length and not allowed to really grow beyond that. Each year, in an attempt to grow naturally, new shoots pop out and are allowed to grow, but only for that particular growing season, after which they are cut off. Over years of this cycle repeating itself, scar-tissue is formed (the knob) and the new shoots always have to push out in a slightly different spot, but always from the end portion of the foundation branch.

Form and Function

Although pollarded trees are not very attractive when void of their leafy foliage, during the summer growing season, they provide a clean, structured look. You can see the ones below have a uniform and full look to them.

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Pollarded Platane trees in Melun

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While the form is pleasant to look at when leafed out, there is also a purpose: they never have to worry about downed limbs on pollarded trees as the trunk and branches are very stout and strong and do not carry a great deal of weight. Fewer downed limbs mean less risk of unplanned power outages, among other things.

Bringing it Home

Want to bring a bit of France to your garden at home? Try pollarding a maple tree or even a beech tree in your yard. You don’t need to have your entire garden done “in the French style”, you could pick a single corner and call it The French Quarter. Have a single pollarded tree with a smaller topiary structure or two (not unrelated to pollarding, but on a smaller scale) to complement it, then surround it with a uniform grass or closely clipped shrub, as in the picture above.

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