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Pruning has been the predominant task for the Formal Gardens team over the last couple of weeks, and its no surprise when you count the number of plants that need pruning during winter. We have seven wall trained figs, five big Wisteria, an orchard full of apple trees, not to mention hundreds of roses! Although all these different plants have their own specific pruning requirements, the general principles tend to be the same:
Prune plants like figs, vines, Wisteria, apples and roses in the winter when they are dormant and the sap has not yet started to rise.
When pruning, make your cut just above a bud. If you cut too far above the bud the stem will die back and look ugly. Ideally the cut should slope away from the bud to prevent the bud from rotting when it rains.
Prune to a bud that is going in the right direction, usually upwards and outwards. Its not good to prune to a bud that is facing a wall as the resulting stem will only get damaged.
Remove completely any dead, diseased or damaged stems. Crossing stems should also be avoided as they may rub against each other and cause damage.
Avoid touching any cut stems as this may infect the plant with pathogens.
Ideally, sterilise your secateurs with white spirit inbetween pruning each plant as this will reduce the spread of diseases.
Wisteria sinensis - the Wisteria you see growing at Hestercombe today are probably the original ones planted when the Formal Garden was built in the early 1900s. The new growth should be cut back to two or three buds. Wisteria also needs pruning in summer, when the long whippy growth should be taken back to about five leaves. All of our Wisteria are wall trained so we also tie in any new stems if there is a gap, or if an old stem needs to be removed and replaced with a younger stem.
Above left: Young Wisteria stems tied into place. Above right: Wisteria spurs will hopefully produce lots of flowers!
Above: Before and after pruning.
Ficus carica (Fig) - You will normally see figs grown as shrubs, small trees or fan trained against a wall, but at Hestercombe our figs are grown slightly differently. This is because we are growing them for the leafy foliage rather than for the fruit. The figs are grown against the walls of the Formal Garden and the stems go straight up (instead of going diagonally or horizontally as they would for a fan trained fig). The new growth is then pruned back to about four buds and any new stems are tied in, see below.
Apple trees - The orchard below the Formal Garden had some new additions last spring. Some of the old trees were removed and replaced with young trees. The orchard now boasts a range of spur-bearing, tip-bearing and cider apples. The spur-bearers we have include 'Charles Ross' (see photo), 'Golden Pippin' and 'Egremont Russet'. We prune all the laterals (or sideshoots) back to three or four buds, whilst the leader of each branch is just cut back by about one third. The general shape of the tree should resemble a goblet by having an open centre. We also have some partial tip-bearers including 'Blenheim Orange' and 'D'arcy Spice'. The leading stem of each branch is reduced by a third and then only the laterals that are more than 30cm long are pruned back. The young cider apples, for example 'Kingston Black' will be grown as a spindle bush (or pyramid shape). In this case we shortened the leader by one third and then shortened the laterals to a downward facing bud.
Roses - The rose pruning has only just begun, but already some of the Rosa x odorata 'Pallida' are starting to come into leaf. Generally, the number of rose stems will be reduced by about one third and the height of the remaining stems will be reduced by one third. An open centre is also needed to give good air circulation. Any fallen rose leaves should be removed from the soil surface as these can spread black spot fungus into the soil.