Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Christmas wreath

Sincerest apologies for this rather Blue Peter, WI-ish subject matter. Normally, it would never have crossed my mind to devote an entire post to the making Christmas wreaths, but the recent subject coverage on Gardeners' World and in most gardening glossies, leaves little choice. Not a question of jumping on the band wagon, but rather more an alternative to the always suggested quantity of gadgets (e.g. wire/natural/oasis rings) and material (moss) that is seemingly required to make wreaths. Far from being an additional expense, these gadgets are unnecessary and the result is often rather unnatural looking.

Therefore, in the spirit of current economic austerity, especially after the conjectured loss of trade revenue with Europe, as Sarkozy and Merkel are in a huff; here is a cheap but effective way to make lovely seasonal wreaths, with nothing but old newspapers, wire and one's own garden green foliage.

Yesterday's paper is really all you need
In terms of foliage, or 'herbage' as Carol Klein so aptly calls it, you can use anything you have growing in the garden. Personally speaking, for best results use a combination of conifer type leaves and sturdy leafy greens such as bay, ivy and holly as these will last easily into January without wilting. In the spirit of Christmas, and following the advice of the Queen of Christmas Kitsch; Nigella, some degree of sparkly tat should probably be added. There is after all, nothing as camp as Christmas...

Making this wreath is really easy. And note, this comes from someone who is absolutely hopeless at art, and whose proud creations during junior arts & crafts classes, resulted solely in a series of rather unfortunate, deformed ashtrays, destined for parents who don't smoke. Trust me, its easy and rather satifying. 

"Here's one I made earlier...."

To make the wreath
    1. Spread out the pages of old newspapers on a flat surface. Depending on the size of wreath one is after, generally speaking 1.5m or so wide. Layer the papers to ensure even coverage. 
    2. Roll the newspaper steadily into a roll and squeeze to ensure it maintains its shape.  Link both ends either by overlapping or working one end into the other and fix in place with some wire. Voila, your DIY wreath ring. Shape it to ensure the desired circle or oval shape. Don't be alarmed if it does not stay in place and is looking rather pathetic at this stage.
    3. Take a long piece of wire, fix at one end and wind around the paper wreath to strengthen.
    4. Hold the paper wreath steadily in your hand, and choose your starting point. Start inserting the leafy twigs around the wreath, into the wire bind. Long twiggy cuttings are good as they provide the solid structure and help fast track the coverage. Make sure you keep turning the wreath to ensure you have completely covered the area with green material and tie in with wire.
    5. From that point, continue to add more material, turning the wreath as you go to ensure good coverage, wire in and so on and so on until you are left with a chunky green wreath.
    6. At this stage, look at the type of hook you have on the door, or where the wreath is to hang. Very much in the order of planting perennials, look at your wreath and decide which way round (front/back) it looks best, and decide where your top point is. Once decided, make the required hook from the same wire to ensure that it will hang properly on your door.
    7. Start adorning with leafy greens; bay, holly, ivy etc.. Ensure you start working either from the top or the bottom, and ensure consistency and maintaining the wreath shape.
    8. Further adornment from here is really personal choice, be it with more green material or sparkly Christmas decorations. The resulting wreath shown above is heading to the front door of my in-laws' rather smart London address, so have opted to keep it natural. Normally though, some Christmas kitsch is added.

      Monday, 28 November 2011

      Book Review: 'The Art of Creative Pruning' by Jake Hobson

      It all started with a very dishy pair of secateurs....

      Through his Japanese garden tool business, I first came across sculpto-anything-green man; Jake Hobson. Trained as a sculptor, Hobson developed his fascination for Japanese tree pruning to his distinctive naturalistic east-meets-west, free-form pruning style. Some may remember his brief appearance on Carol Klein's Life in a Cottage garden series, where he was commissioned to cloud prune the newly established box hedge. Having admired his cloud pruning expertise with much intrigue, I was delighted to find his words of wisdom fully exposed in his new book entitled, 'The Art of Creative Pruning: Inventive Ideas for Training and Shaping Trees and Shrubs' (Timber press, 2011).

      Hobson's book is remarkable, providing both inspiration as well as practical advice on a vast array of pruning styles & techniques from around the world, for an assortment of tree and hedge plant varieties. 'This book is not about topiary, not in the normal sense' explains Hobson, and this is certainly true. Topiary pruning (blobs, balls, wedding cakes, pyramids, spirals, cones) is certainly included, but there is much more to this book than that. With great care and detail, Hobson explains pruning techniques for; hedges (buttresses, battlements, crenelations, arches, mazes, pleached hedging, raised hedges and hedge sculpturing); and trees, including common techniques such as pollarding but also the more unfamiliar such as thinning (a la Japanese), pine pruning, branch training, Tamazukuri and Fukinaoshi. Note, those looking for advice on creating animal shapes will be sorely disappointed. Hobson draws the line at animal topiary, which he amusingly defers with; 'If that upsets you, write your own book'.


      Detailed explanations and diagrams ensure that all forementioned techniques can be applied to any garden, either in their true form or 'applied' to local surroundings. Just think of Tom Stuart Smith's 2008 Chelsea Show Garden where he used cloud pruned trees (Fukinaoshi) to achieve that Japanese feel, yet he did so using the very non-Japanese, native Hornbeam trees. The book is simply crammed with examples of extraordinary pruned topiary, hedges and trees in gardens all over the world, such as Marqueyssac in the Dordognes, Jacques Wirtz's garden in Belgium, Levens Hall in Cumbria, Pearl Fryer's garden in California, Korakuen in Okayama, and Konpuku-ji in Kyoto, but also examples from local neighbourhood gardens, tea plantations, museum gardens and even the garden at his family home in Dorset.

      Prior to reading this book, my knowledge of Japanese pruning was embarrassingly limited. Bonsai was about it really and admittedly without much enthusiasm as I'm not a fan of this form of tree torture. Hobson has certainly taught me to recognise the value of Japanese gardens and pruning techniques. Most interesting is the reasoning for pruning in Japan as opposed to the West. It is true that East & West, prune to keep plants under control, maximise space, and/or if the case of fruit trees and/or (flowering) bushes, to enhance their yield. However, as Hobson explains, in the West, pruning tends to remove plants from their natural state, whereas in Japan, the aim is to manipulate and enhance their natural state, to reflect the landscape (mountains, forests, waterfalls and rocky coastlines). European traditions therefore involves control over nature, whereas Japanese traditions aim to working with nature. In Japan, plants are therefore pruned to look 'more' like plants, or as Hobson explains 'to create caricatures' of the plants themselves.

      Our garden is sadly severely lacking in topiary pruning opportunities so one is a tad parched for this form of gardening amusement. Hobson compares his excitement for pruning to the buzz that Lou Reed feels when turning on his amplifier, so one can only conclude that we are seriously missing out. Now more enlightened, I realise there are additional opportunities in the form of (increasingly nervous) hedges and trees. Many years ago though, in my parent's garden in the Netherlands, I have indulged and certainly enjoyed wielding the pruners. Reading this book, I now understand what went wrong. Despite that sounding as if it was a horrendous disaster, I'm not too bad a maker of fancy 'blobs', but there was one project that despite much attention failed miserably. In the garden was a lovingly cultivated, enormous box cube which we kept very trim at all times. Hobson explains that for these modern shapes to work, they must not be cut straight but left to slightly swell at the bottom. When cut straight, the bottom does not get enough light, becomes thin and eventually straggly. All that time spent trying to cut the perfect shape, we were in actual fact killing our beloved plant. Hobson is certainly to blame for its demise, as he could have decided to pen his book a few years earlier.

      Despite his enthusiasm, there are many forms of pruning that will never see the light of day in our garden. Wedding cakes, battlements, mazes will remain as illustrations on the pages of this book, but the idea of a long cloud (or as Hobson refers 'organic) pruned hedge may be on the cards. Despite looking like a rather daunting task, creating one sounds rather satisfying in that time and nature provides its character. Starting one is exactly the same as planting a normal box hedge, explains Hobson. The difference is that one lets the hedge develop at its own pace, embracing the differences in growth rate and character of the individual plants. That is, some will grow more vigorously than others, some may die. Hence providing the cloud hedge with its distinctive shape, where these differences are exploited through careful pruning. The book provides details as to short cuts and creating this organic form from an existing hedge, but the idea of starting from scratch sounds rather appealing. We may need to start taking some cuttings.

      Unless one is looking to create a topiary zoo, this book belongs on every gardener's (bulging) book shelf. Not just informative and inspirational, but also a cracking and amusing read.

      Oh, and Hobson's secateurs aren't too bad either....
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