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The Three Arts in Training Evergreens Explained

Nov 25, 2007
The usual concept of pruning is to trim evergreens to maintain their natural lines, to remove dead wood, and to clip for the purpose of increasing the density of the plants. However, the heritage of a different type of training has come to us through the centuries. There are three definite methods other than the ordinary pruning procedure for attaining unusual, and in many instances, charming effects. These methods of training are espalier, bonsai, and topiary work.


The art of training woody ornamentals on a support such as a wall, trellis, or fence is known as espalier. In European gardens this practice stemmed from the necessity of utilizing every available space for planting purposes. Resourceful gardeners discovered that when fruit trees were grown against the friendly protection of a wall, the ripening process was hastened.

The accumulation of the heat of the sun on the wall, together with the shield it offered from chilly winds and late frosts, were found to be a special asset in regions where the summers were too cool to ripen fruit grown in an open location.

A lovely espalier can be developed by using evergreens: Yews, Hollies, Firethorn, Loquat, Cleyera, Euonymus, Photinia, and Holly Olive are among those that lend themselves admirably to this type of training. On expanses of high, broad walls the Southern Magnolia is also a good subject for espalier work, provided its large leaves and bold habit of growth are in proper scale with its surroundings.


The Japanese, with their deep feeling for the aesthetic and their love of plants and miniature gardens, have stimulated our interest in the ancient Oriental art of bonsai. Bonsai is the practice of dwarfing a plant to create a replica of an old, weathered tree in miniature. Various cultural means have been devised for carrying out this type of training. By growing the plant in a small container to restrict its root system, and by controlling its top-growth, it will eventually become dwarfed.

By this method, trees such as Pines become dwarf pot plants that can live for 1 or 2 hundred years, or even longer, under the skilled guidance of the bonsai practitioner. Great attention is paid to the distribution of the branches, and to the shape of the trunk. To simulate antiquity, the trunk and the branches are sometimes given a bend or a twist, which is held in place with a support until the plant grows naturally into its intended form.


Topiary is the practice of training woody ornamentals into various and unusual forms. According to this method trees and shrubs are clipped into formal designs by means of pruning. Plants can be shaped as bird baths, sundials, animals, statuary, globes, spirals, and pyramids; in fact any object is reproduced which the topiarist wishes to simulate.

The art of topiary is rich in historic background and is especially associated with the large, formal estates of bygone days. The early Romans used it on an elaborate scale, but the height of its popularity was reached during the sixteenth century - "The Golden Age of Topiary." In the early part of the eighteenth century its usage declined, because of the trend of the times to break away from the formal gardens.

In present-day gardens, topiary in its simpler forms has a definite place. One of the most common of these is a well-sheared hedge. This hedge, always faultlessly symmetrical, can be rectangular, rounded, or triangular in shape, or it can be pruned into a series of steps or of arches. Frequently only one arch will occur in the hedge, which will mark the entrance to the garden.

Grow some evergreens and then prune them using one of these methods one of these interesting methods.
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