Three months have passed since the oiled blades, sharp shears and precise pruners got busy on the Taxus hedging and overgrown shrubs in the Sears Swetland Rose Garden, Topiary Garden and Alleé at Cleveland Botanical Garden…and what I hear you cry has been the result? Well, despite the seemingly never-ending cycle of winter/spring/summer that is NEO weather, with drifts of snow, torrential downpours and blasting hot humid days, theses wonderfully robust plants have started to shoot back and already have a sheen of green. A relief you may say to see recovery from such a hard prune, but, knowing these qualities about a plant allows Horticulturists to manipulate, train and renovate in order to achieve the desired effect of a garden’s original design…and to keep that design looking as sharp and defined as it did in the early years with an added depth only delivered by maturity.
Last week we returned to the gardens for a first trim following renovation. It’s easy to see the shoots we missed first time round which have grown up quickly, but also visible are masses of new bursting buds and where gaps are already starting to infill. We managed to trim the entire garden in a morning – a job made so much easier now the shapes are as we would like them to be. I would think one or maybe two more trims are required this year in order to catch these long shoots and really focus energies of the plant in the direction we’d like. In future years biannual trims will suffice.
I do find it endlessly fascinating that new shoots can burst from wood which looks old & gnarly. When the very top bud – the apical meristem – is intact, hormones released by it ensure all nutrients are delivered right to the tip. Hence, a plant will typically continue growing a single shoot unless someone (or something) intervenes. Removing the apical meristem dominance allows dormant growth buds a chance in on the act by distributing food along the remainder of the stem according to their own hormonal requirements. The result? Many new shoots will be brought out of their torpor and erupt from seemingly nowhere to give not only the pleasant and reassuring green but form a multiple branching structure of many shoots which can in time be trimmed…and the process repeats again. Over the years a dense hedge is formed with the added bonus of this internal woody structure. Thinking waaaay forward to the next renovation, this internal structure will allow an even quicker response and coverage. Horticulture is often (maybe always?) about playing the long game. You can also consider this apical meristem dominance in other plants eg Roses – without good pruning they shoot up just a few stems topped with a flower. Prune to a goblet form for shrubs, or fan train climbers on a wall, and you will be pleasantly surprised with the mass of flowers held on the side shoots.
You will also see the team have been busy mulching around the Rose and Topiary gardens in advance of sowing annual seeds in drifts. Cosmos and zinnias will be a pop of color against the deep green and offer a long flowering season allowing time to continue planning and sourcing new specimens for these spaces. Talking of new specimens, I toured the Nursery with Ethan Johnson, Plant Records Curator, and Margeaux Apple, Plant Recorder, to review unusual conifers which have been growing on for some years. Conifers are not known for their speedy growth rate so patience is required – there’s the long game again!
Stay tuned for Phase #3.
Vice President of Horticulture and Collections
Caroline began her career propagating perennials at Coton Manor Gardens in Northamptonshire, England, voted the UK’s favorite garden in 2019. Designing gardens for shows and clients took her all over the the UK, until 2018 when she was selected from a global pool of candidates for the year-long residential Fellows Leadership Program at Longwood Gardens in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.