What could all this mean?? Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring, all will be revealed.
Topping and lopping are pretty much the same thing; it’s a technique used to control the height of a tree. We use it mainly on conifers, spruces and cypresses like the Leylandii, (the trees people love or hate – a bit like Marmite). It doesn’t always look pretty, but sometimes it’s the only option. Too often, people plant Leylandii to ‘screen’ off the neighbours, but then forget to prune them (the trees, not the neighbours), or they sell the house and leave the trees to grow. Before you know it they’re 40′ tall…
I try to avoid topping/lopping other types of trees – it just looks awful and destroys the natural character of the tree.
Espalier. What’s that then? Can you say it? If not, don’t worry…it’s French. If you put on a vaguely French accent, it’ll sound right. You need patience to Espalier – it is the ancient agricultural practice of controlling woody plant growth originally for the production of fruit. By pruning and tying branches to a frame they grow into a flat plane, often in formal shapes. It’s best to train the trees against a structure such as a wall, fence, or trellis. But as I say, it takes patience – it’s not something done over one or two years. It can look fantastic when done well. It’s usually done to fruit trees, but some Acers and Magnolias can look amazing using this technique.
Coppicing is rarely done in urban gardens. If you have any Hazel, Beech, Hornbeam, Alder, Willow, Ash or Sycamore that are getting a bit too big, instead of taking them out completely, you can cut these trees almost down to the ground at the stumps. This will encourage new growth around the base which in turn, can be coppiced in the following years (depending on the type of tree). It can look really lovely, adding extra visual features to your garden.
Pleaching is an odd term…again, not often seen or done in urban gardens anymore – nowadays it’s used more as a way to lay a hedge, to set a boundary or to fence in animals. Pleaching is the technique of interweaving living and dead branches through a hedge. Sapling trees are planted in lines, the branches are woven together to strengthen and fill any weak spots until the hedge thickens. Branches in close contact may grow together to form a natural graft. It can be seen in some formal gardens – the French and Belgians seem to like it. I saw pleached Horse chestnut trees in a park on my last visit to Brussels, so anything is possible. The Belgians are an unusual lot aren’t they? (Nice chocolate though).