Pleaching is a clever technique that involves twining together the branches of a row of closely planted trees to create a stylish, formal hedge-on-stilts.
It’s not something you see here in Canada or even in the U.S. much. But in Holland, and especially in France, you see it everywhere.
Some of the best examples I’ve seen include rows of pleached chestnuts in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, a beautiful avenue of pleached lime trees at both Hidcote Manor and Sissinghurst gardens in England and some superb examples of pleaching at the Keukenhof in Holland as well as in Chartres and all around the Loire Valley.
You see this elegant style of garden architecture used everywhere in France, especially as a way of creating shade and as a noise barrier along busy streets in towns and cities.
It is common to use lime trees (Linden) or hornbeam (Carpinus) but the Dutch are also fond of using beech. Maple is also a popular selection, especially Acer campestre (field maple), which responds to being pruned, even sheared, very well.
In home gardens, pleaching is a useful technique for creating a privacy screen, perhaps to block a view of a neighbour’s house or yard or something else you don’t want to look at.
The beauty of pleaching is that it gives you the screen precisely where you want it rather than having a massive hedge that is a gigantic block of green soaring 20 feet high and blocking all the light.
Pleached trees can also be sheared very thinly to take up less space and also to have a handsome geometric sculptural form.
You can plant underneath a row of pleached trees and the space below also allows in some light and gives you a glimpse view of the other side.
In the Luxembourg Gardens, for example, this creates a feeling of friendliness and openness at the same time as privacy, and more protected communal spaces for relaxed, informal gatherings.
Town centres with plazas here in North America could make more use of pleaching as a way of giving spaces an semi-formal garden feel without turning the spare into a full-on garden.
The challenge to pleaching, of course, is that trees need to be regularly clipped to keep them in shape and to stop them becoming too shabby and unkempt.
However, I noticed that in France this time-consuming commitment is not shunned. I have stood and watched city workers very carefully go about the job of shearing pleached trees perfectly and clearing up the mess without any scraps being left behind. Now that’s commitment to landscape beauty.
See more examples of great pleaching below.