April 24, 2016

Hedging Hornbeams, Planting Onions and other April Chores

A hedge of English Hornbeam (Carpinius betulus) gets trimmed twice a year, once in June, and once in September, but every few years it needs to be topped-off, as I don't want it to get too tall. This must be done in the early spring, which provides us with pea brush, as well.

 Training a hedge of hornbeam is a very European thing to do. Rarely seen in the US, a hornbeam hedge makes a lovely statement in the garden, as well as a fast-growing hedge. I have two hedges on the property, one, planted 18 years ago (this one), which runs along the long walk, and second one which we planted between our neighbors and our Martin House gravel garden, near the greenhouse, which makes a sort-of tunnel which the dogs love, but which is actually a secret shade garden.

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This hedge is being topped, returning it to a 6 foot high raised hedge (see the trunks below?). Many branches are first woven into the hedge, a more traditional method of pleaching which makes for a denser and more attractive hedge.

Once trimmed, the top branches deserve some detail work, so that they don't look artificially clipped. I like to cut the thicker branches at varying heights, so the when new growth emerges it won't form crowns which sit at the same height. Branches are trimmed with an 8 inch variability across the top to avoid a line of crowned limbs when they mature.

The completed hedge of hornbeam - at this height, we can reach the top easily during the summer, and the sun will be able to reach the other side of the border along the long walk.

Onion starts, a red storage selection called 'Redwing' (purchased from Johnny's Selected Seeds) arrived this week. and had to be set into the ground without delay. Fresh, green onions here are grown simple as a luxury which will only last for a few months. Just outside of our kitchen, these will make their way into many meals over the early part of the summer.

Of course, with terrier pup's and adult Irish Terriers, the garden is just too tempting this early in the season. Temporary fencing is necessary. No matter how ugly it looks.

A Pulsatilla or Pasque Flower blooms in a trough out front. 

Look at how practical I am getting! Mesclun in the window boxes. Just for fun (and for dinner).

Sweet Pea seedlings being set out into the garden. I thought that this year might be worth revisiting cut flower sweet peas, but only a few colors of Spencer varieties, as I am focusing on growing many species of Lathyrus.

Sweet Peas set out for cut flowers. Not the perfect way to plant them ( notice that I have 2 to a pot), but they have been pinched and will send out stronger side shoot within a few weeks. I will be training two stems to each cane in a slightly modified English cordon method.

Large pots of various species of Lathyrus species are being grown. I'm not sure yet how I will train these, most are 3 feet fall species, so I may create simple bamboo cane tee pees or, perhaps some other trellis system. A few of these are also pots of dwarf sweet peas for flowers ( I've never grown them, believe it or not) so I am curious why they have never caught on.

My snapdragon project is doing remarkably well, with increased calcium and more alkaline soil, in a addition to a proper mix of micronutrients thanks to CalMag fertilizer, I am surprised at how even these seedlings which were sown only a month ago, are growing - so sturdy.

Speaking of proper nutrition, those Nemesia seedlings which I had be coddling along in the greenhouse, have been set out into pots, to enjoy the cool, spring weather. We rarely see these cool-weather annuals here in the East, as nurseries won't carry them, opting for varieties that will do better in our inevitable heat and humidity.

I am going to have sooooooo many 'Chantilly Bronze' snapdragons!!!

Speaking of cool weather annuals, I did sow some Layia platyglossa, or 'coastal Tidytips' if you live in Northern California. Definitely an annual one rarely sees her in the East, (unless you order a few from Annies Annuals!). 

Layia is a native American annual plant which has yellow, daisy-like flowers, frequently transforming the Mojave Desert and other dry, arid sage scrub and chaparral areas in the West into a golden carpet for a few weeks. Will it transform this container on my deck? We'll see.

Fancier, and more rare Trillium species are popping up here and there. Is this T. cuneatum? Not sure yet, the labels are missing.

Our native Trillium erectum blooms in front of our house, at the base of a river birch, only inches from our road, and driveway.

A crazy (and yes, territorial) American Robin has been attacking one of our windows for over a week now. An almost constant "click, click' click", which get's annoying. He starts at 6:00 am and rarely stops for a break. I don't know if there is something wrong with him, or is he just obsessed with this particular location, reflection or, um, if he hates our window?


  1. Matt, where did you source your Hornbeams? I'd love to do a hornbeam hedge somewhere in my property! Can you also explain what you meant when you said "Many branches are first woven into the hedge, a more traditional method of pleaching" How did you pleach them?

    1. Alexandre - pleaching (or plashing) is a medieval method of weaving in branches to create a dense, shrubby hedge - some believe that even Julius Caesar directed the use of pleached hedges to create strong barriers around camps. Quickly grown hedges, planted 24 inches apart as these are, can be used to keep animals and farm stock within a field, and was first used for this reason. Later, in the 17th and 18th centuries, such hedges became more ornamental, particularly in France. I simple re-weave in branches that stick out too far, or which are flexible enough to be re-integrated into the structure.Some merge over time and grow together ( inosculation), making the fence stronger. I also like to prune-up the hedge, so that the trunks show, making the entire hedge look as if it is floating. A nicer presentation, I feel.

    2. I also order all of my hornbeams from Forest Farm, in Oregon. Best price, and strong 1 gal plants are shipped.

    3. Great! I have bought from forest farm in the past! I see they sell many types of hornbbeams, what do you suggest?

  2. Beautiful looking hedge.. How far apart are those planted? Im getting ready to plant a really long hedge all around the property of Calyptranthes pallens. I want it to be dense and cover up a mesh fence of about 9 ft tall.. I have never used this species, but its local, which was important, and Ive been promised a beautiful partial shade resistant fragrant hedge..

    1. David, I am unfamiliar with Calptranthes, so I am not sure if it makes a good hedge. Let me know how it works for you.

    2. will do.. How far apart did you plant those hornbeams???

    3. oops never mind.. saw it... thnks

  3. I am finally working outside! I am so glad to see all those pictures of new seedlings sprouting. I have been planting for the past month, and I love it! I wish the growing season was longer...

  4. Matt I have the same problem with birds in the spring. I think they see their reflection and think it's another bird. In order to protect the nest, they attack the bird in the window. In my garage window (where it happens every year) I put a cardboard box inside the window and that cuts down the reflection on the outside and solves the problem.


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