Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A-Pollarding We Go

It is possible that K and I pay more attention to trees than
the average bear.

           K studied horticulture in college, before microbiology sang its siren song to him. As a result, he is a gardener of some skill as well as an ace tree pruner. So he pays attention to trees. And after having been married to him for a quarter of a century come April, so do I. We spend a lot of time going places and noticing the trees. And talking about the pruning of trees.* And so, because this picture, taken a couple of years ago in Copenhagen, not only illustrates an interesting pruning practice, but also gives me the opportunity to use a really cool word, today's post will be a short disquisition on

          Pollarding is a way to both limit a tree's height and provide an ongoing supply of new wood for either firewood or animal fodder. It is started when the tree is young by pruning selectively to establish the shape or framework of the tree. In the photo above, the framework is Y-shaped. Then, on a regular basis, all new growth is cut back to the framework, and the next season's growth sprouts in "witches' brooms" from the framework.  It's quite pretty, both when the tree is bare, with all the twiggy delicate little witches' brooms contrasted against the stout framework, and when the tree is in leaf and looking like your normal tree, perhaps possibly a little tidier.

          You see pollarded trees all over Europe, often in plantations like the one above, or lining walkways in parks and whatnot. It has been used since the Middle Ages, and it gives a lovely, structured framework to gardens and parks. Not all trees can be pollarded. Conifers, for instance, excepting a few, like the yew, cannot be pollarded. Many deciduous trees, though, make nice pollards: oaks, beeches, maples, black locusts, hornbeams, lindens, plane, horse chestnuts, mulberries, redbuds, trees of heaven, and willows.

          Why am I so pollard-crazy? (Aside from the fact that it is a satisfying word to say, and looks beautiful typeset, with the descenders on the first and last letters balancing the ascenders in the middle of the word, and all the lovely round or semi-round letterforms coming at rhythmic intervals?) **

          I am pollard-crazy because I come from a place where it takes much work, many years, and a lot of irrigation to get a tree to mature size. Every tree you see in the arid west is the result of a substantial investment of time and effort on the part of someone, so when I see evidence of a similar investment of time and effort reflected in a tree—in its shaping, its pruning, its placement, its age—I feel a thrill of kinship with the person or persons who have invested their time and effort in that tree. I feel I have found a peer, however anonymous—someone else who believes that Trees Matter.

*Yeah, well, each to his own. At least we're not inflicting our inexplicable interest in forestry on anyone but each other. And now you, I suppose.

**Warning: typography geek crossing.

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