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Weaving nature

Zahrah Nasir 

Pleaching is a cost-effective way of making boundary walls, writes Zahrah Nasir. The importance of boundary walls and fences and their role in creating unique ecosystems in your garden was stressed in an earlier article in this magazine, which prompted a few readers to enquire about other cost-efficient forms of 'boundaries'. 

A very low cost alternative is to grow locally indigenous trees and shrubs around the garden or propagate the same from cuttings. This however, takes time and the length of time will depend on the quality of the plant and how conducive the weather is to grow those plants in the area you reside. 

There is also simply an old fashioned, rarely used method, called 'pleaching'. This wonderful method, basically interweaving growing shrubs and trees, was in vogue in mediaeval Europe and one is happy to see how it is currently undergoing a very 'arty' revival. 

We introduced the method in our own garden a couple of years ago and, even with the relatively short growing season up here in the mountains, we already see good results. We are not the only ones to notice it, even passersby, who like to throw a stray peep into our garden, have now been complaining that their view is now obstructed! 

Pleaching is a very simple procedure indeed. Let me explain. If you want to create a strong hedge, with or without thorns, on a new piece of ground plant young, woody stemmed shrubs or trees (I'll suggest a list later on), at intervals of not less than two feet, not more than three feet, apart. It is best to start out with plants that are already at least two feet high. If they are shorter then it will take longer to pleach them. If they are already tall, pleaching can still be done but you may have gaps in the bottom of your hedge which will take time to fill in. 

Select strong growing shoots and, using a very sharp blade or saw, cut half way through the woody stem, not more, and lean it towards its neighbour. Do this with all of the plants and do it very carefully otherwise the stem will snap off. Then go back along the row and literally weave the main shoot of one plant into the next, as low to the ground as possible. Each 'cut' should then be bandaged to prevent infection from entering the exposed inner part of the stem, to protect against insects and guard against it drying out through the effect of hot sunlight or wind. We used involuting tape which worked fine. As shoots grow both sideways and upwards, continue to weave them in this manner. It is rather akin to weaving a living piece of cloth which grows, expands, and lovingly entwines with its neighbours to form an impenetrable, ever growing and highly decorative wall. 

Such pleaching, if you use an ideal plant such as bougainvillaea, should be done quite regularly, infact, with bougainvillaea a weekly going over is recommended in the main growing season in places such as Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Other slower growing plants, some types of 'Acacia', members of the 'Laurel' family and 'Hibiscus', require far less attention but also take longer to grow into a sturdy hedge. 

We were rather late in latching on to the pleaching system and began our experiments with rather tall 'Rubini' trees, possibly 'Acacia modesta' though I am not one hundred percent sure. A very thorny tree with wonderfully fragrant spikes of creamy coloured flowers, much loved by bees, in the spring. Due to the trees being quite tall, we ended up with gaps around the base of the hedge and, whilst we are slowly filling these in by pleaching low growing side shoots of the main trees, we have also added another, excellent, (though I say it myself), innovation. We planted wild roses and brambles in the gaps and as these grow up very quickly, long prickly runners, we also pleached these into the hedge. The end result, so far, is a dense, thorny hedge which affords both protection and privacy along with perfumed flowers and fruit at various times of the year. The only drawback is that, as all three varieties we have used are deciduous, we don't have privacy during the winter months! 
when the branches are bare so we are growing 'Conifers' as a second line of defence! 

Ideal varieties of trees for pleaching purposes include: 'Acacia varieties', 'Medlia Azadarach' (Persian Lilac), 'Bauhinia' (Kachnar), 'Gliricidia Maculata' (Madre), 'Polyalthia Longifolia' (Ashok) and 'Cassia Fistula' (Indian Laburnam). 

Shrubs include: Tall growing varieties of roses, 'Hibiscus', 'Clerodendron', 'Eranthemum', 'Hydrangeas', 'Fiddlewood', 'Hamalia Patens' and 'Legistomia'. 'Bougainvillaea, as previously mentioned, is in a class of its own for pleaching purposes but it may need strong supports, wooden posts for example, every few feet to prevent your living weaving from falling over! 

Weaving living plants into hedges is a wonderful and interesting thing to do and, in Europe, America and Australia, where the art of pleaching has undergone a revival in recent years, a totally new concept has evolved. This is the weaving of young trees, pliant willow being a prime example, into all sorts of fascinating shapes, even into growing chairs and tables and transforming established trees into carefully woven umberellas! 

We have a large weeping willow in the back garden and I have had my eye on it for some time now but still haven't decided what to weave its long, trailing branches into. Any ideas?;


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