Kitty is a traditional Jack Russell and a daily garden visitor who swiftly learnt that she could get a biscuit treat at the kiosk on her way in. Doggy intuition meant it didn’t take her long to realise she could get one on the way out too. We often start off gardening by intuition: we look at a plant and try to assess what is required. It may be to cut back a shrub so we can walk along a path but we soon realise the need to cut further back than to the path edge as the shrub will continue to grow from where we cut back to and can look unsightly. Similarly, with perennials we cut back in autumn when we see the top growth has died and the next year’s new growth is appearing at ground level.
But intuition will only get you so far and usually only when the action is obvious; the next stage is to seek advice from others. This can be from friends, family or neighbours; but again could be no better than collecting their intuitive gardening techniques. I reached the point where having taken on a new garden I needed some formal training and was fortunate enough to have the time and funds to undertake four years of training as Askham Bryan College. Here we poured over the theory and techniques and I found a collection of core gardening texts that I would initially refer to a lot but then less so as time went on. So when the fruit tree in front of me required pruning and didn’t look like the drawings in the book, I found I had to revert back to assessing it rather than copying the book. I know an espaliered apple tree will respond to the modified Lorette system of pruning and that it advises the cutting back to four buds on the laterals and two buds on the sub laterals. But if I apply this to all varieties of apple trees without thought, the difference in length of laterals between buds means the gaps could be overly long or short leading to congestion of fruit and smaller apples.
So having had done my study I now find myself reverting back to intuitively reading an apple tree to see how it has grown previously and anticipating how it will grow in the coming season. It helps to have been working on the same apple trees for a number of years so I can see and read the impact I have had. We all have experience of undertaking the same routine but being able to understand what impact your actions have on a plant takes you intuitively further. We start our apple pruning here at the garden this month. It will take two of us close to two months to complete. For Kitty, she has been reduced to half a biscuit on each visit to the kiosk: we wait to see how she reacts to this.
Mike I’Anson – August 2016