No name – yet

It’s funny, that thing when you notice or see something for the first time, and then it pops up everywhere, as if your attention has nourished its multiplication.  Some new model of car comes into your awareness, and you start to play with the idea of buying one, and they’re suddenly everywhere you look.  What is that?

Anyway, so it is with table-top pruning, or what I’d called, for want of a better term, ‘plateau pruning’.

A client (born in France) asked me about whether we could prune some earlier-planted plane trees to create a flat canopy like those he’d known as a kid.  He asked me if I knew what he meant, and I said I did.  I genuinely thought I did.

But then, very soon after, I was travelling through France and stumbled on a courtyard in the outrageously picturesque medieval town of Sarlat (right).  Then I knew that I hadn’t known what he meant.  Now I knew.

Then I started to see this sort of pruning everywhere, mostly planes, but the same thing done with limes (Tilia) in Domme (below).

The following year, I found similar things in Italy, Belgium and The Netherlands.

Young planes in The Netherlands

Looking back on the pics now, I see that some of these trees are not much different to the regular pollarding that used to occur outside my Aunty Lois (pronounced Loyus, mind!) house in Northcote, Melbourne back in the 60’s.  They’re not so much flat as bulbous, simply with the leader removed.

Planes in Stresa, on the Italian Lakes

But the very best of them, particularly in The Netherlands, were thin, and perfectly flat.

An unnamed maple in The Netherlands. There’s four of them, surrounding a central table

Part of the clarity of the above is simply that they’re young trees.  Obviously any tree pruned like this is going to shoot into a forest of verticals from spring onwards, and the skeletal structure, no matter how disciplined, is going to fuzz over summer.  In larger trees, like those in the first pics, this growth will just be allowed to let rip until the following winter.

Quinces with a raised canopy, leaders removed, in The Netherlands

But the point of all this is that now I’ve found them here.

Just this week I was wandering through Warner’s Nursery (for the first time since 9/11 – I have vivid memories of being glued to ABC radio the whole way down, and being reluctant to get out of the car), and caught a glimpse of a stand of bone-coloured, unbranched ‘whips’ about 2.4m tall.  I dashed around for a better look, and confirmed that they were what I thought – London Planes.   My mind went mad, thinking of all the ways I could use them.  Soon after, I was being driven around by Andrew Smith, the sales manager, and I asked him what their intent was with those young trees.  We swung around a corner, and there was the same stock a year or two further advanced, in pre-training, with small flat tops.

So we need to coin a term.  Warners called them their trees ‘living pergolas’, which is very self-explanatory, but way too utilitarian.  When you see old trees pruned like this, the last thing you think of is something as prosaic as a pergola.  I’d thought of it as ‘plateau pruning’, and a friend I was talking to last night called it ‘tabletop’ pruning.  They’re descriptive terms, but both give a sense of looking at the finished effect from above, when the whole experience is of a thinish, flat canopy overhead, and the stunning dappled light below.

arthritic, knuckly pollarded planes, on the banks of Lake Como. ‘Umbrella pruned’ perhaps, in this particular case?

We’ve got to come up with something catchy, but appropriately elevated so as to give these trees the lofty position they deserve.  What do you reckon?

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18 thoughts on “No name – yet

  1. A few years ago I stumbled across a tiny double fronted cottage in Geelong West with two wonderfully curious flat-topped ‘parasol pruned’ trees on either side of a grape arbored path. I hope they are still there. So much planting packed successfully into a stamp-patch of garden.

    • I hope so to. About twenty years ago there was a cottage in Prahran with a HUGE Dracaena draco out front. It umbrella-d the entire front yard with its canopy – absolutely flat on the underside and gently and symmetrically domed on top. One day I drove along there to admire it again, and couldn’t find it. I drove up and down over a wider and wider section of road, until I finally had to face the fact that it had gone, and that I couldn’t even see where it had been. I hate that.

  2. umbrageous plateau s , plateau pollarding , umbal podiums, podial pruning, proximal furcation, furcative pollarding
    Ok I will stop swearing, good fun though!

  3. Plateau pruning ?
    Plateau is usually a highland or ‘tableland’ (just a rough description)
    Tableland – table pruning
    What do you think?

    • Yeah, Robyn, I could see that fault in the ‘plateau’ notion, but I think table pruning shows a similar weakness. Both miss the idea of canopy – of this idea being something overhead, rather than over-looked.

  4. Identify completely with your experience of an almost sudden awareness of something that seems to appear everywhere, particularly with the ‘brolly trees’ in France. For me, this type of revelation was coupled with an almost irrational and obsessive need to seek out such a tree for oneself … nothing else mattered, I must have one.
    Following a short time in the Luberon region of France, I became consumed with an obsession for ‘Mûrier platane’ (Mulberry Plane tree) ; later learnt was Morus kagayamae, grafted on a stock of probably Morus alba. Kagayamae’s habit is most brolly-like and is ‘plateau pruned’ to encourage an even flatter form. A sterile form is popular for planting on la terrasse, typically the south side (northern hemisphere) of the house where the brolly tree offers a perfect place to be on balmy summer evenings. I must have one !
    Fuelled by a determination to have a Mûrier platane on our terrasse, the return to home saw countless phonecalls and emails with dead-end leads. A dear old fellow in NSW had once experimented with some stock he managed to import but he had since passed away, taking his knowledge (and stock, it seems) with him.
    Sorry this short story is cut way too long but I need to tell you I ended up planting a young white Mulberry and worked to train it into a flat-top using all sorts of odd methods from strapping young whippy side branches to horizontally-placed bamboo poles, which in turn were tied down to stakes as well has hanging upside-down terracotta pots on the ends of the longer branches to encourage them out, rather than up. Gardening friends visiting over the years have asked what on earth am I trying to do with that tree ? It’s not a Mûrier platane, but have enjoyed some beautiful fruit from this Leunig-type tree. Have since moved onto many other plant obsessions but now, learning from your fabulous blog that Warners are doing brolly London Planes, oh dear, think I can feel another plant obsession coming on…

  5. Remember seeing trees like this in Switzerland and remembered how odd it seamed because they didn’t have height restrictions and wondered why they would do this – obviously to keep them at a certain height. Have seen crepe myrtles pruned like knobs, but I must admit that I’m not a fan – sorry. Much prefer pleaching, but that’s for another reason.

    • So clearly you’re not just a general hater of tree-interference, or tree-torture, as such. The very best example I’ve ever seen of this is in a book that I no longer own. It showed four plane trees surrounding an old well (from memory), and the branches overhead had grafted into each other. The dappled light beneath was sensational. I’d defy you NOT to sit out there with a cuppa, straight away, should you find yourself there…

    • Maybe, like milk and eggs, we need to place the same product in several different places in the market, with different branding. Your Brolly branching for one, and Abri plat for the other.

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