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