Ken Lamb, Australia's master of Japanese pruning techniques, took to a historic, mature camellia at Retford Park as part of a three-day, hands-on workshop on creative pruning, held at the Southern Highlands National Trust property last winter.
The camellia, an old japonica with a pendulous habit and flowers in both solid and variegated pink, had only ever been pruned to stop it intruding onto the driveway, and it now formed a solid wall of dark green, shutting off views to the house.
Words and pictures: Robin Powell
Meet Ken Lamb, Retford Gardens. Photo - Robin Powell
Ken and the Retford gardeners, with assistance from willing workshop attendees, including yours truly, aimed to reduce the size of the tree and open it
up to give it a three-dimensional form.
A few hours later, when the ladder and tools were packed away and the prunings had been carted off to a huge mound in the bottom paddock, the tree had
a whole new character, its smooth grey trunks were visible, as was a hint of the apricot walls of the house behind it. Light fell through the branches
and dappled the ground underneath it. But no one seeing it fresh would have thought it had been pruned at all, as all the cuts were invisible. Standing
back to take it all in, we felt we had witnessed a magic trick.
Before Ken and the Retford Gardeners work their magic.
Here’s how it happened:
1. Ken first took a good look at the tree to assess its character. Does it want to be upright, or drooping? Where does most of the growth come from? How
does it fit into the larger picture of the garden?
2. Having decided to reduce the height and width of the tree, we began by taking a quarter off the front and sides, removing branches that were weak or
ones that were performing the same job as their neighbors but not quite as well.
3. The key to invisible pruning is that all cuts must be made at the junction of one branch with another. Cutting a branch straight across encourages lots
of shoots from the cut. The new growth is dense and straight - perfect if you want a hedge, but no good for an interesting tree.
Ken carefully supervises the process
4. Next we took a third off the height of the tree, again removing branches at their intersection with a shorter branch.
5. Out came the dead wood from inside the tree, along with branches that were sticking out or sticking up in ways that didn’t fit the form of the tree.
These became clearer to see as the tree opened up.
6. The skirt of the tree was lifted by removing the lowest growing branches to create air and space underneath and to allow a better view of the multiple
trunks of the tree.
7. The final touch was to emphasise the tree’s three-dimensionality, giving it a foreground and a background. Foliage was preserved at the back of the
tree to give it a backdrop, while foliage at the front was selectively and subtly removed to allow views through the tree.
The finished product
Visit Retford Park
The gardens at Retford Park are open on the first weekend of the month. For information on events and open days go to www.nationaltrust.org.au/places/retford-park/