Lest there be any misconception, the beginner is me. So if you are in need of expert advice, this is probably not the place to linger. Cloud pruning is highly fashionable at the moment, but not being a person of fashion, I hadn’t given it much thought. On the other hand, I did have a problem:This is a very ancient juniper – I have no idea which species – growing on the terrace. Over the years it has grown massively out of proportion, and is pushing the rather nice dwarf rhododendron in front of it further and further away from its roots.It also has a lot of dead wood hanging around. Juniper is not very pleasant to work with, so it has just been roughly cut back over the years. As with all badly-pruned shrubs, it has become congested and unsightly. I had more or less decided to cut the whole thing out and start again, when I found myself inspired by this post from Le Jardin d’Oscar (found via Jordan’s blogroll) where Oscar has cloud-pruned a juniper. His follow-up post is here. The before and after pictures are impressive, but, alas, Oscar does not show how he did it (although I like the birdsong). So, on advice from Dr Google, I evolved the following plan:
- Cut back dead wood to expose elegant trunk
- Choose three or four of the best branches for the ‘clouds’
- Cut out the rest.
Following Uncle Hamish’s advice, I start at the bottom. But, as they say in this part of the world, “the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglay”. The elegant trunk is anything but… and as for ‘choosing three or four branches – there’s just one tangle of compacted woodwork, and I have no idea what leads where. I have almost decided to give up when I notice there are one or two places where new shoots have broken from old wood. This suggests that even if I make a complete mess, there is a chance that new growth will hide it eventually. And even if it is not elegant, it may be picturesque – by Linnie’s definition at least.So I take my courage in both hands and start making holes. There’s no going back now. But it’s a long, slow job trying to clean back the branches I think I want to keep into the central tangle of dead needles and dead wood. I’m compiling a short list of candidate branches, gradually cutting away the less promising ones.That’s the south-facing side cleared and outlined. But the north-facing side and the middle is just a dense mass, and I am going to have to snip it out an inch or two at a time:So, after a lot of hard work, this is the result. It’s far from perfect, but I’m not displeased:I’ve deliberately left rather more ‘clouds’ than is ideal. For a start, I suspect the frost will damage some of them, and secondly it will take a week or two of wind and rain to see how the whole structure settles down. So I’ll no doubt continue further snipping.Smoke from burning juniper is wonderfully fragrant. I only wish I had a salmon to hang in it.
Update June 2013:
The cloud-pruned juniper is now into its second growing season following my radical surgery, and I’ve been working on it from time to time. I’ve reduced the branches with clouds on the end to a manageable 15, and continued to prise away bits of tangled wood from the central mass. It’s never going to be elegant, but I’m quite pleased that it’s worked at all: I took this photogaph before shaping the clouds – using a pair of kitchen scissors. It was a choice between trimming them into an arrowhead shape (as Oscar does – see link above) or into a rounded shape. I chose the latter, because it looks better on the thin, straggly branches.