Saturday, October 16, 2010

Artistic endeavors in pruning.

It’s just all too easy to dismiss or make fun of something that you may not understand.
Horticultural pruning seems to be one of those subjects.

If a heavily sculpted or renovated tree or shrub was seen in a middle class neighborhood one might say it was “butchered, devalued, defaced or just bad horticultural practices”.

But what happens when the same plant is severely pruned or cut back for renovation and it is at a world class horticultural institute ? Then it is not snickered at and upheld as good horticultural craftsmanship

This smacks of ignorance , or at the very least a lack of understanding.

Example :
Is this poor shearing or creative slight of hand ?
One see’s this type of shearing in many middle class neighborhoods.
This example happens to be at Filoli Gardens in Woodside CA
From random photos

How about this ?
This is a type of renovation pruning but some who may not have the experience to understand this type of pruning would mistake it as a hack job.
This is how you renovate a very old Taxus baccata .
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These are the same Taxus (yews) The light grey sheared tree in the front left and far rear centers are sheared olives at Filoli Gardens. When I worked at Filoli I was involved in a major renovation project of the Taxus hedge in the foreground. We cut it back to little stubs and within 3 months it was leafing out. It took a year for it to completely fill in.
From random photos

A residential middle class homeowner showing their artistic horticultural side is Tsck tsk’ed
From random photos

But this is acceptable . Silly isn’t it.
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Japanese cloud pruning is especially prevelent here in California.
If seen at Botanical garden it is upheald as art.
If it is done by a gardener in a commercial or residential setting it is devalued.

From random photos

From random photos

Would snarky remarks be made if you saw this residential garden ?
From random photos

How about this ? Surely the peanut gallery would find something to cackle about.
Now inform the ridiculers that this garden is going into a national trust for its artistic vision.
From random photos

From random photos

From random photos

Horticultural bullying is really not that attractive.


ivette said...


I am a HUGE fan of Jaques Wirtz!

I have to admit to making a snarky post about a public garden in Merida, Yucatan, where trees were sheered into big boxes - but I would NEVER do that again. I am disappointed that I allowed myself to be so judgmental just for a laugh.
I find it disturbing that professionals in the garden industry are laughing at the work of those who maybe aren't as "clued in" as others are. Call me crazy, but I find no value in bringing down others to make yourself look smarter. If the goal is teaching people how to care for plants, surely there is a better way than making fun of them. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and it makes everybody who chimes in seem mean.
To each his own, I guess! I think there is room in the garden world for extreme plant pruning - I mean COME ON ... it's all aesthetics, which is variable and subjective.
Thanks again, Michelle, for calling it as you see it!

phrago said...

Thanks Michelle, for posting this study of the art of fine pruning. Beautiful pruning examples and landscapes! Certainly the other side of the coin, especially Pearl's magnificant Garden. Who could not be wowed by that property. Interesting that every plant in his garden he picked out of the trash of a local nursery, all disgarded and half dead. That last photo of Jacque Wirtz's garden is unbelievable. What vision! Last year Garden Design mag had a wonderful spread of a garden that was made almost exclusively of fastigiate trees that were topped at a certain hieght and pruned into cylinders. Very handsome. Amazingly, "Fine Garden mag has decided to honor the snarky side of pruning with a new collunist who specializes in finding humor at the expense of other peoples' pruning. Such a down grade. Maybe they would be better served to offer a collum that teaches people how to prune instead, which is a very satisfying practice if one has the proper traing and is willing to learn. Awesome post...

Desert Dweller said...

You bring up a good point, challenging convention and "accepted practices" in certain "cliques".

My main issue would be thoughtless pruning for the sake of doing it or copying something else, that disregards a variety of aesthetic, functions, owner needs, and plant health issues. Only to be turned into something providing more harm than any of the intended benefits. Then it dies in a horrible submission.

Thanks again for stimulating more careful thought on not just pruning, but aesthetic intent, communication, etc.

Rainforest Gardener said...

Its just as one would criticize art. If an amateur does something daring and innovative but lacks the skills, then for the moment its a hack job. The reason why the masterpieces in those first few photos are amazing is because of the inherent understanding of the plant's growth pattern, and the time, vision and planning that went into it. Here they literally take chainsaws to crape myrtles and call it pollarding, when real pollarding is painstaking and well thought out, and using trees that have demonstrated to respond well or at least tolerate the treatment.

Tree sculpture as art takes decades. Tree sculpture as hack jobs can be done in a weekend!

Susan aka Miss R said...

Thank you for this. Aesthetic pruning and topiary training have been much maligned lately. We are in the midst of loving all things natural and we forget that there is room and indeed should be room for all.

Just because something isn't at the height of current fashion doesn't make it just makes it different from what is currently in vogue. Those who critique gardens that are out of 'vogue' should read Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class...perhaps meadows and natural gardens are a sign now of 'conspicuous consumption' --a phrase he coined in 1899--rather than a reaction to sustainable practices...just a random thought.

rebecca sweet said...

If we lived a bit closer I'd come over and plant a big kiss on your cheek right now, Michelle. Thank you for writing a thoughtful post about this need to ridicule some yet applause others. I truly believe there's room in this garden for everyone.

Pam/Digging said...

A wonderfully thoughtful and provocative post, Michelle. I'll be thinking about this one for a while.

Liz said...

I liked this post, because I sometimes am quick to judge formal pruning jobs--they really are artistic, not clueless. I remember once seeing a hedge pruned back to stubs and thinking, "What in the world are they doing?" It came back glorious looking.

Mary Kay Chicoine said...

In viewing all those photos I was surprised the feelings each brought out. Some I just absolutely love, others I did not appreciate, some just made me smile. I am not "in the garden industry" so I don't know what is ok and what is not. For me it is just "in the eye of the beholder"!

Melanie said...

There's a great pair of shrubs (ilex vomitoria? Boxwoods? On of the two...)on a corner where a friend lives...pruned into a teapot and a cup. I'll try and get a picture the next time I'm by there.

Deviant Deziner, aka Michelle said...

Thanks to everyone that left their written thoughts here.
To me your thoughts hold great value and appreciate the different perspectives.
It's all about education and acceptance.
The more one is clued in, the more we can all see the depth and breath of the situation and work towards a better place to live in.

Thank you ,

Scratch the hostile fay said...

You had me up until the Waffle House photo. I'm not sure Burt's Chili reallt goes with that type of landscaping...but oh well..

I suppose if you present it as "art", no one can really complain can they?

I prefer natural shapes though. Looks more.........natural ;)


Julie said...

Love it! I, too, am afraid I've made some snarky comments about overly pruned landscapes...and ooh'd and ahh'd over Jaques Wirtz. Still, I will never be OK with the butcher job my neighbors do on their poor crepe myrtles. My youngest child learned to point out all of the "crepe murders" in our neighborhood...guess I should have kept my mouth shut! I am chagrined. Thanks for sharing these gorgeous photos--love the Waffle House landscaping! Who'd have thought??!

thistleandthorn said...

I love how you always pull out that mirror and make us really look at ourselves, Michelle. Always one to stick up for an unpopular view. Thanks for that!