The Dying Arts of Pleaching and Pollarding

Arborists prepare to cringe.  I am a huge fan of the effects created by two pruning techniques, pleaching and pollarding.  Both of these techniques are used widely in Europe; but even there I sense there relevance is seemingly fading.  For me they combine two of the most essential garden tenants I know of, form and sculpture.

Pleaching is the act of pruning the canopy of a tree up and providing a consistent height while also containing the growth on the sides and top of the plant.  This is often done with single stem trees but can also be done with multi-stem plants(see my last posting on the Ware’s garden, the trees against the wall are pleached Carpinus betulus fastigiata).  The results are marvelous.  Perfect for creating a screen or accentuating a site line with and allee.

pleached allee


Pollarding is seen even less often.  It is a much more difficult technique to properly perform.  Basically what you are doing is constraining the height and ultimate size of a tree.  I would say this all came about when someone planted a tree that began to get much to large for the space where it was installed.  In an attempt to keep the tree in check they started pruning away.  The results are a tree that is kept much smaller that its natural tendencies would allow.  As you can see in the picture the results with foliage in place are great; but the real sculptural presence comes into play when the leaves drop and you are left with the knobby clubs at the end of the branches.  So lets remember to look to our Garden Design History for ideas and inspiration and not forget the techniques used in the past.






Filed under Garden History, Pruning

11 responses to “The Dying Arts of Pleaching and Pollarding

  1. Landscape maintenance crews and some homeowners in the South pollard their Crape Myrtles.

    We call it Crape Murder.

  2. I’d hate it if every tree was treated that way, but in the right context …

  3. Wow, I am in the minority, I love these methods of training trees. This year I planted 12 Tillia cordata in two rows, making a “Lime Walk. I am not sure how many years it will be, before I need to start training them, but am looking forward to it. When I lived in England, there were many parks that had pollarded trees in them, I used to walk throught Kensington Gardens and pass a row of trees that were pollarded every year. I love the way they look at all times of the year, very architectural!
    I am loving your blog!

    Deborah at Kilbourne Grove

  4. Hello,

    As an arborist, I enjoyed reading your post. I have mixed feelings about Pleaching and Pollarding. The effects are beautiful in the right setting and when done correctly.

    Here in Arizona, we have problems with people “topping” trees indiscriminately and for no good reason.

    Thank you for a great post. I found you on Blotanical – Welcome!

  5. I have never seen a real life example of pleaching, but we saw pollarding done in Spain.

    We have the crepe murder here too, and I have often associated it with pollarding. Perhaps it isn’t the same thing, but it looks pretty similar.

    I am enjoying your blog very much.

  6. The tillias are aprox 6-7 feet high. I plan to start the first branch at 6 feet, then 8, then the top at 10 feet. I have seen them two different ways, first like Sissinghurst, where they are very thin, and I have also seen them with the top more rectangular, a bit like Hidcote. The skinny method, I have an idea of how to proceed, but not sure how you would train them to get more of a wider shape on top. I may not have enough room anyway. There is only 12 feet between each row.

  7. I have seen these techniques used widely in UK castle gardens and I think that they are not only beautiful but also magical.

  8. Troy

    Pollarding is a perfectly valid horticultural technique, its looked down upon by decent arborists because its long term effects are indistinguishable from topping if the plant is not pruned yearly (and properly), or if the variety used is not of the handful of traditional pollards, or if it is done to a large tree overnight as apposed to the tree being trained that way from an early age (or being gradually cut back so as not to shock the tree), etc., etc., It was perfectly healthy in the context of the middle ages because the trees were being grown for the yearly softwood and as such there was economic incentive to trim them yearly, now its a financial burden. Just like Bonsai there are some great examples of healthy pollards living well in excess of their unpruned brethren, but these are only in cases where they have been maintained by generations of competent caretakers.

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