Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Rose pruning at Sissinghurst I

Monday 28th Jan
Weather: Cold, sunny & dry in the morning. Then moody and windy later on.


I have heard much about it, but this was my first time to Sissinghurst, the ex-garden of Vita Sackville-West - poet and garden writer. The place had a magical air about it especially in the glimpse of a rare early morning sun. It oozed its own character, maybe from its history and the way it has been used. One of the things that we did was view the garden from the tower, which also housed Vita's writing room. It made me feel that everyone should have their own tower so that they can always have an aerial perspective of things.


The hedges were a very different affair here. Tall and incredibly straight I was told that a spirit level was used to get them so linear, and that newcomers had a practice bush first and had to prove their capability before they were and allowed to be unleashed on these. You can appreciate just how sharp the edges and smooth the surfaces are when you particularly view them from above.

One of the amazing sprawling mass of roses, the type that we worked on. 

I have never seen roses trained in this way before and what better time to see it then the heart of winter when everything is pared back to its bare bones. I worked with Jo who showed me the ropes of how it was all done. Several clumps of roses are tied and trained to hazel benders coppiced from their own nuttery. First we undid all the ties. Then 'snibbled' away all the dead & weedy bits and lengths of roses that were not very long or so good for training down to two or three buds.


'Snibbling' is a special Sissinghurst term coined by the well known head gardeners Pam and Sybille who looked after the garden during Vita's time and after. When we had untied and snibbled all the lengths of roses, we made fresh benders by shaping them into stakes at one end with a billhook. Then we pre-bent the hazel so that it would be flexibly ready when we stuck them in the ground.

The whole process is less rigorous than one might expect and is more like sculpting as you go along. But it is one where experience helps develop the eye and intuition to see good shapes and ways of tying it together.

Essentially, we strategically placed the benders where it would allow the the roses to be trained as a guiding structure at its best shape, and set about tying each long stem to the bender or to itself or another rose, whichever was most appropriate. It was like placing arches after arches on top of each other. Height was important, but shapes need to somehow look quite 'natural' and not too awkward. And you had to think ahead all the time, how would one stem affect another, and leaving long ones at the end, so that you had these to play with to help fill any gapingly obvious gaps. The stems themselves helped inform how they should be best bent and placed where, although there were always the odd ones that you had to manipulate a bit more to fit them in better. You can also start see how the stems can start supporting each other, so that it holds itself together and the likely chance of it springing out is almost nil.

String is an easy commodity to use too wastefully in an exercise like this. So its always good to be thoughtful about how much one is cutting for its purpose. The knot we used was like a figure of eight one to prevent rubbing, if the stems were to be tied to the bender then we would attach it on with one that was similar to a cloves hitch.

1 comment:

  1. More photographs of the detail would have helped. We're trying this for the first time with our Charles de Mills and Tuscany Superb, and a little more visual input would have been good.

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