Louis Raymond: Winter Gardening

March 11, 2015

The best thing about February? It’s over. But until spring arrives in full force, I can’t just be a complete couch potato. In addition to visiting some fantastic gardens whose proudest moments don’t happen until the dead of winter, there’s my own garden to tend to and enjoy. Yes, clients and their gardens are my livelihood. My own garden, however, brings excitement, freedom, and possibility on entirely different levels. After all, client’s gardens are (rightly) all about their needs. My garden? My own.

Happily, even in winter, my garden needs me, and I need to get some fresh air. 

Beech Pruning

Beech hedge? Beeches may be among the most massive of hardy trees but when young ones are planted closely and pruned faithfully, they form hedges that are impervious to snow, ice, wind, and deer. They also provide effective screening year-round. Plus, they are not another run of the privet or arborvitae that your neighbors probably have already.

beech hedge

Beech hedge needs just one trim a year, and winter is the best time to do it.

I prune the beech hedge standing up, sometimes while on a stepladder. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like or if the ground is frozen and the snow is deep. Because even thick beech hedges have surprisingly few branches, the pruning is best done simply with hand pruners.

Why in winter? Although beech trees shed their leaves in the fall, beech hedges keep nearly all of them right through until spring—except for those on the hedge’s outermost twigs.

Beech Pruning in Winter

Pruning, then, is mostly just cutting off all the leafless twigs. It’s easy and quick, and the results are dramatic. Finally, something in the garden that becomes sharper and more attractive as winter grinds on.

Beech hedge

And it’s easy exercise: reaching and snipping, moving the stepladder another three or four feet, then more reaching and snipping. With the look so handsome and the process so absorbing, I’ve found myself continuing to prune even as dark descends and the next snowstorm kicks up.

Perhaps best of all, when I’ve done the heroic deed—gardening outside for an hour or two even though the ground is covered in snow—I can then go grab a delicious meal guilt-free.

It’s my good fortune that a charming country store right next door has just been reimagined as a delicious locavore takeout, Back in Thyme Herb Farm and Kitchen. This winter is the try-out season before customers descend during the warm months ahead. I’m happy to help owner and chef Marne McNamara and her daughter (and baker) Alicia continue their explorations of simple and inspired home cooking.

Back in Thyme

Now that I’ve thought about it, let the snow persist just a few more weeks. I’m in a virtuous cycle here. The more winter pruning I get done, the heartier eating I can get done, too!

Check out LouisThePlantGeek for the whole story on pruning beech hedges: Here’s more on the tree’s amazing ability to keep its tawny fall foliage until spring and here’s a look at the beech hedge’s glorious colorful leaves in Summer—plus links for how to grow a beech hedge of your own.

Louis Raymond is a Hopkinton, Rhode Island based landscape designer. His work has been featured in many publications, and he has appeared on a variety of television shows. Visit the Renaissance Gardening website to learn more about Louis' landscape design work and services. 

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