I’ve had a very leafy couple of days in the garden, despite this being the time of year when all the flowering plants start to really demand attention. Yesterday was all about pruning. I am gradually trying to tame the large evergreens we inherited when we moved here almost two years ago now – those we left, anyway! Along the back fence, in the north-facing border, we have a Bay tree, an enormous Griseliana littoralis, and a very pretty but rather lopsided Drimys lanceolata. I missed out on pruning these last year because by the time I got around to it we had a family of blackbirds in the Griselinia. The ideal time to prune them, according to my handy RHS guide to pruning, is late winter/early Spring, when they start back in to growth, or in the case of the Drimys, after flowering. Since I wanted to drop the height of all of them, I wanted to prune them altogether, which meant waiting for the Drimys to finish flowering. Except that I really wanted to make sure that I didn’t find the same thing happened as last year, and we had nesting birds. So last Autumn I pruned the front half of the Griselinina back hard, exposing the centre of the plant, making it inhospitable for nesting. I felt mean, but I figured by next year it will once again be providing a good nesting location. So I enjoyed the flowers on the Drimys…

Photo of lopsided flowering Drimys lanceolata

…and then removed the strange hump on the right hand side and cleared the trunk to turn it from a bush into a small tree. Suddenly I have gained a whole new planting opportunity. Although the border is north facing, the fence behind it is low, and the whole border gets a surprising amount of sun.

Photo of pruned Drimys and Griselinia

The Griseliana still looks appalling, one of the down sides of vigorous renovation pruning, but it had become a huge sprawling monster, in desperate need of taming, and thankfully it is already sprouting new growth from the base.

Photo of new growth on hard-pruned griselinia

These shrubs have a very neat habit, producing long straight growth from low down covered in bright green slightly wavy-edged leaves. The Drimys has a tendency to sucker, so I will have to work at keeping the trunk clear and remove shoots from around the base, but in the mean time I discovered a freebie, a suckered mini tree that I will be able to separate from its parent, pot up, and then give away.

Photo of a suckered Drimys lanceolata, a free new plant

One of the great delights in starting a new garden has been discovering new plants. I wasn’t familiar with either of these shrubs, but love them both. The only reason I know what they are is because when I first moved here I asked you bloggers for help in identifying them, and I am hoping that you can enlighten my ignorance again. While I was working in the back border I discovered a strange (to me) new plant emerging. Any ideas? I don’t recall seeing it last year, but there again this border was completely choked with ivy.

Photo of unknown plant

I’ve not finished pruning the back border, I still have to decide what height to take it all down to, and whether I can rescue a rather leggy and unhappy looking pittosporum that was being swamped by the griselinia. This is presenting me with an interesting choice. In the past I would have wanted to make sure I blocked off the houses behind us, and preferably the houses behind them too, so that all I could see looking out across the garden was plants and sky. Except that since moving here I have grown to really enjoy having a low fence at the back and gaps between which I can chat to the neighbours. Not to mention the fact that the more I drop the height of the shrubs at the back the more light I let in to the garden. So on the analysis that, like a radical new haircut, if I hate it I can always let it grow back, I am going to take the height really quite low, and not worry over much about filling the gaps between which I can glimpse the neaighbours’ gardens. We are lucky in that the way the three gardens all relate to one another means we are still very private when we are sat on our patio, but I like the more sociable side of lower boundaries.

Which brings me rather neatly to my other big leafy encounter. Which generated this:

Photo of a large pile of griseliana prunings

We have another Griselinia in what I call the park border, which had also grown quite enormous. Chatting to M, whose garden is one of those that backs on to ours, we discovered that he used to have a view of the sea out across our boundary fence from the step inside his kitchen. Over the past four years everything has grown up and obscured this view, and although we had already cleared enough of the wild ivy and self-seeded shrubs to restore some of his view, we also knew he would get an even better one if we reduced the height of the griselinia too. Since we have no issued with privacy between us and the park because of the way the land slopes, we decided to drop the height of it to roughly level with the top of the fence in the hope that it would give him a better view.

Photo of another pruned griseliana

I’ve not finished with it yet, but I wanted to take some time to decide just how narrow to go with this one. I quite fancy aiming for a quite formal rectangular pillar effect, to counter the wilder plants around. I rather enjoy pruning, but I am glad that we are close to finally getting on top of the larger shrubs we inherited, it was hard work getting to grips with these monsters, and generated an enormous pile of prunings – which happily TNG has already shredded. Of course it would have been easier if the blade hadn’t jammed in our wonderful reciprocating saw. Or if we hadn’t lost the heavy duty loppers. Which of course I promptly found again once I was just about finished!

Not really a conventional celebration of all things leafy, so I will leave you with a selection of the foliage in my garden that is making my heart sing at the moment, and encourage you to pop over to Christina’s blog and check out the other posts about foliage.

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41 thoughts on “GBFD April 2014 – some brutal pruning

  1. Thanks for joining in this month Janet. Very interesting post, I haven’t had time this morning to absorb it all so I’ll be back again later.

    1. I’m glad I managed to get my act together Christina, though it was strange to wind up talking about pruning rather than rhapsodizing over all the lovely new foliage in the garden!

  2. That’s a nice collection of foliage there Janet, a celebration of spring! You’ve been very busy but it will pay dividends. They may look unsightly now they should fill in nicely later on, especially as it’s still so early in the season.

    1. Thanks guys, that’s my hope, though to be honest I expect it will be next year before it all really starts to look tidy again. Had to be done though…

  3. It’s amazing how some shrubs can spring back from a vicious pruning job. Martyn vandalised one of our camellias which is now flowering again after a cou[le of years. The trouble is that this has encouraged him to want to repeat the treatment to another one.

    1. Oh dear, it does get rather addictive Sue, particularly if you get to play with power tools as well! I think the secret is to stand back and take a long hard look regularly, or you find you are left with a tiny stump…

  4. How nice of you to consider your neighbor’s view. I am certain he will appreciate being able to see the sea again when you get the plants low enough. I have a couple of plants I’ve been considering hard pruning like this – they have gotten completely out of hand. Thanks so much for showing that new growth on the cut back part. You have given me the courage to cut my two big holly bushes back hard. Is your mystery plant some type of paeonia? Hard to see, so it may not look like one at all in real life, but whatever it is, it looks like something fun!

    1. Go for it! It is amazingly satisfying once you get in to the swing of it, and provided you remember that the harder you cut back the more vigorous the regrowth. Always counter intuitive when you are trying to even a plant up.

  5. An interesting, and informative, post with good photos.
    I know that many people don’t like to hard prune but it really is worth doing as you’ve shown here. xx

    1. Thanks Flighty, it is well worth doing when you have something really over grown, we caught these just in time, another year and we’d have needed a step ladder…

  6. What a nice neighbour you are, I’m sure he will appreciate getting his view back. Your plants probably are glad of a good haircut, you have worked hard. The mystery foliage looks very like a paeony to me, it will be nice waiting to see what colour it turns out to be.

    1. It was fabulous, going round to check if we’d cut back the right plants, to hear him exclaim when he saw the sea again. Just a sliver, but it does make a difference. I’ve been conscious of how public our front garden is ever since we moved here, and therefore aware of wanting to make it “work” from the side path too, but this was a much more personal side to gardening with an awareness of others.

      I wondered if it was a paeony, but it seemed like a daft place to plant one. Am now rather excited…

  7. What a hugely satisfying enterprise, Janet! I absolutely love a bit of pruning with the benefit of a tidier garden afterwards, especially knowing that the trees and shrubs will benefit (eventually). The griselinia in the bottom photo is an interesting shape – they tend to be rounded so I’d be tempted to lift the canopy on that one, leaving a nice rounded shape at the top and let some light in underneath. Is that a Cotinus to the right of it? It makes a nice colour combo! I agree with the other commenters about your mystery plant: my first thought was that it’s a paeony – one of my favourite perennials. You’ll have to let us know as it grows!

    1. Hi Caro, I saw some Griseliana with raised crowns at Plays Newydd, and have wondered about doing that, but I also saw some immaculate for formal shapes too, though more like a pine cone shape than a pillar. More thought required! The purple foliage is actually a hazel, and one I wanted to create more space for, glad you like the contrast. I have been wondering about branching out into paeonys, so am rather chuffed that the consensus appears to be that I have one…

  8. Oh I love a good prune – creating space and light and forming a good shape. Was that a peony you uncovered?

    1. Pruning can be really rewarding, can’t it! I think it must be a paeony, which is exciting, wonder if it will flower…

  9. I’m sure your shrubs will do fine. I like what you’ve done with the Drimys. Like you I inherited quite a few out of control specimens and sadly for them I also enjoy pruning. Most do respond. Although I went a bit mad with a yew which is back to bare branches and just a couple of little shoots poking out from the bottom..

    1. Thanks Jessica! I remember you posting about some vigorous pruning and thinking you must be a kindred spirit. Bet your yes looks great in a few years. And so satisfying to give it a new lease of life.

  10. Loved your foliage show! Your pruning really made a difference! I need to do the same with a few shrubs. It always seems like such a major job, but is so rewarding when it’s done. I agree with Holley–the mystery plant looks like it might be a Peony?

    1. Thank you! I do love a vigorous pruning session, it makes so much difference to the background structure of the garden. I am thrilled that the consensus is that I have a paeony, now I need to read up on them…

  11. I have also inherited lots of unruly shrubs and find it hard to prune them satisfactorily… glad you have managed to get a lot cut back – a lovely leafy post Janet! (Oh, and I also think that could be a peony).

    1. Hi Cathy, it can take a while to work out how to tackle monster shrubs, can’t it. I am lucky in that mine are, at least, inherently tidy in habit. I’ve never managed to grow wiegla in a way that I found satisfying.

  12. Along with others my first thought about your mystery plant was a peony. I think it’s lovely that you feel less of a need to hunker down behind your plants and the idea of chatting to your neighbours over the fence is fantastic. So lovely too that you’re thinking about improving a neighbour’s view of the sea. I’m very envious of the neighbourliness going on up there. :)) When we come to prune anything Wellyman needs a lot of encouragement to be quite ruthless. It can be hard and of course the danger is go the other way and get a bit too lopper happy and step back to find very little plant left at all. ;) You’ve inherited some fabulous plants there. Hope the camper van MOT went well. Have a lovely weekend.

    1. Hi Louise, I’m rather excited about having a peony, wonder if it will flower… This is a much more neighbourly area than where we used to live, which was much more commuter belt. In fact we moved out still not knowing the names of the people in three of the seven houses in our cul-de-sac! If we suddenly collect annoying neighbours I will just have to let it all grow up. You are so right about the danger of over pruning, a bit like the terrifying attempts I used to make to trim my own fringe, the attempt to even things up made it get shorter and shorter… Hence I took ages and did lots of stepping back, and have still not finally committed to the finished shape. I do enjoy it though. We’ll have a good weekend as van passed MOT, now we just have to sell it! Have a great one yourself.

  13. Janet a good and informative post, I like the way you have made a shrub a tree, it looks so much nicer like that and as you say opens up further planting areas, how thoughtful to give your neighbour his view back, chatting over the fence with neighbours really depends on the neighbours, glad you have nice neighbours, and of course pruning, shredding, means mulch next year, couldn’t be better, Frances

    1. Thanks Francis, we are very lucky with our neighbours, and its great to have more planting space.

  14. I love the crimson of fresh acer foliage, though our leaves are dancing horizontally in the current strong winds, so I suspect will be a little frazzled for the season ahead. Pesky wind.
    Brutal pruning is very satisfying. And how lovely to discover an unknown paeony in your border, I hope it blooms well for you. Our red one has some delicious fat buds just showing a peek of colour, each year there are more flowers as it settles in.

    1. Your poor Acer! I’m lucky, our Acer is in the most sheltered space we have, not that I can take credit for it. I’m excited about the peony, am definitely on bud watch…

  15. Definitely looks like a Paeonia to me. Wow, you’ve been up to some serious backbreaking work. It’s always better to prune regularly before things get out of control. I learned this the hard way myself and try to avoid it in future. Very enjoyable foliage, all of it!

    1. Agreed, Annette, the whole garden was really badly neglected when we moved here 18 months ago, this was the last serious pruning required, though we still have some plants to get rid of. I am really enjoying what feels like my first spring here as I now have lots of plants I have put in to enjoy, you always hope you know what you have in the way of combinations but it is lovely to see it for real.

  16. Well done for showing those various shrubs who’s boss, Janet! The extra light and view makes such a difference, doesn’t it? It’s good that you are well on the way to solving all the mysteries that your garden holds – and like everyone else your plant looks like a paeony to me too! Lots of lovely foliage too – using Flikr is something I intend to investigate when I have time.

    1. Hi Cathy, I think the extra light will be really important given where the greenhouse is now, and the fact that the wretched sycamores are leafing up. Go for it, flickr is a great way to save loads of photos, of garden or anything else, I really should use it more.

  17. I have little to prune in my garden – my Spanish broom has gone, my roses too. The apple tree needs a bit of trimming from time to time but the bay tree is now too tall to reach. I wish I had more to hack away at – it can be so satisfying, both the process and the result. I’ve been trying to pretend snipping off the stems of lavender flowers left over winter in case birds or insects took an interest in them (I don’t think they did) but it’s really not the same!

    1. Hi Esther, I suppose lots of people would congratulate you on your low maintenance garden! But I can understand you missing annual pruning, it can be immensely satisfying, and another one of those seasonal markers. Our bay tree is verging on being too tall to prune which is one of the reasons I wanted to lower the height, I am happy for most trees to grow as tall as they want but want to keep that back border manageable and limit the shade it gives. At least you don’t generate lots of shredding by pruning lavender…

      1. I doubt many congratulations would be due. The pruning element in my garden either died or turned out to be too big to be manageable. I have romantic and unpractical ideas about what will fit in here and thrive. There are several gardens – the real one and those in my brain/imagination which are bigger and more interesting than the one I really have. So when it comes to planting real plants in a garden that looks different in my head . . . it doesn’t always turn out well!

  18. Gosh I bet you ache all over after all that ! I love the pruning bit and find it very satisfying and always good for the plant AND the garden as a whole. The bit I hate is the gathering up and moving of the prunings !

    1. Hi Jane, its the weeding that did for my back! I too hate the clearing up. Happily for me TNG gathered it all up and shredded it all before I even started psyching myself up!

  19. I do love to see everything come back looking so healthy after a hard prune back, although I’m not the one who tends to do the pruning in my garden, David tends to do it here. Having said that, I am planting more shrubs this year, and so I think I may have to take on some of that role, too! If your mystery plant is a paeony, it is a lovely find.

    1. Hi Wendy, sounds as if you are going to have to embrace the pruning! I do enjoy it, but not so much the clearing up afterwards. At least we have a good shredder now. I am excited about the peony, though I think I will need to move it if it is to flower successfully.

  20. I love how you have no fear with pruning. I have gotten better and sort of go with it as I prune especially our dwarf willows which I was able to prune in early spring this year. They are just getting leaves which is weeks behind…..I need to do more pruning myself but not now….it will have to wait.

    1. Hi Donna, I have to admit that I was pretty nervous about attacking the griseliana last year, its not a shrub I know well, so it was a great relief to see the new growth appearing. I think the hard thing with major pruning is being patient with how long the rejuvenation takes. Worth it to save something that has got out of hand though. Hopefully come Autumn you will be well again, and the slower pace of life and more time for gardening will come together and free you up to embrace pruning too.

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