How to create quality wire supports for walls and fences

A traditional starting point for training climbers on walls and fences is a system of tensioned horizontal wires. Ideally these wires should provide a permanent structure that needs little maintenance over the years, whilst creating a firm fixing for tendrils, shoots, branches and canes to be attached to. In this post I am looking at the best solution I have found so far: the Gripple Trellis System. Continue reading

Creating an ornamental lawn

Recently we had some friends over for a lunch party and without prompting, two of the male guests, (why is it a bloke thing? I don’t know why it’s a bloke thing, but it’s a bloke thing) quite independently, gazed at my lawn and said with a hint of envy “Nice lawn. How’d ya manage that?” Being summer, most of the grassy areas that pass for garden lawns have browned unevenly, and can’t decide if they are actually composed of grass or random broad-leaved perennials. Mine, however, was looking good: a deep velvety green, plush and even. Not a weed in sight or blade out of place. It’s a lawn you want to lay down on, a lawn begging for a picnic.

“Oh,” I said nonchalantly, “I vacuumed it this afternoon.” I wasn’t kidding.

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How to grow carrots – for beginners

Carrots_in_close_upCarrots as a main crop are well worth growing. They can be temperamental, but once you get the hang of it you can grow all the family needs for six months of the year. Carrots are not a posh crop like asparagus or melon, but the flavour when they come straight out of the garden and are on the plate within half an hour cannot be beaten by anything in the supermarket.

They can be planted between March and June for harvesting from July to April Overwintering is easy either by lifting and storing, or as I do, leaving them in the ground where they will keep best with little or no protection.

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Fan Trained Pear


If you purchase trained fruit at a garden centre they often come attached to an impressive bamboo frame like the one above. The frame can be a real distraction because what you are actually getting – and what you need to think about before parting with your cash – is the structure of the tree strapped to it. The photo above right shows the same tree in the nude, looking a lot less impressive. The trick when purchasing is to take note of the actual tree form, and see past the fancy-pants frame. In the case of the tree above, the shape was something I could work with, so was ideal. Continue reading

Ten ways to plug the August gap

The result of some late summer TLCBelow I’ll show you ten tricks that refreshed my woodland garden and transformed the drab late-summer muddle of seed heads and dying foliage into a crisp, minimalist space, calm and stylish…

By late August many of the plants that have provided colour throughout the spring and summer have finished, and their seed heads are brown, their leaves tatty: The garden looks tired and uninspiring. It generally stays that way until the autumn tidy-up. This ‘August Gap’ is particularly notable in the shade garden as most woodland plants flower in the spring before the canopy closes and light levels fall. There are very few shade plants that flower in autumn. Continue reading

Summer Pruning step-by-step

Summer pruning is necessary for wall trained fruit to develop and maintain the desired form and encourage fruit production. It should be carried out in July for cherries, gages and plums and in August for apples and pears. You will need nice sharp secateurs, bamboo canes and plant ties.

The purpose of summer pruning is:

  1. To remove new vegetative (leafy) growth
  2. To reduce the tree’s vigour
  3. To allow air and sun to get to ripening fruit
  4. To remove shoots growing towards the fence or wall
  5. To encourage the formation of fruiting spurs
  6. To extend the permanent framework

Getting started

Look carefully at the two photos below, showing a trained (fan) fruit tree before and after summer pruning.

Before summer pruning – note the long new shoots.

After summer pruning – the long shoots have been shortened or tied in to bamboo canes to extend the permanent framework.


1. Identify the long shoots that have grown this year.

2. Take one of the shoots and count up 4 or 5 leaves from the base.

3. Cut off the shoot at this point just above a leaf.

4. Only a short ‘spur’ with 4 or 5 leaves should remain. This spur will tend to develop flowering buds in future.

5. Any shoots that are growing towards the fence should be cut out entirely at their base, flush with the branch they sprout from. This will prevent regrowth from this point in the future.

To extend the permanent framework

6. Identify a shoot that is in the right place to create a new permanent branch to extend your trained form. Prune back all other shoots as per 2-4 above.

7. Tie the remaining shoot to a bamboo cane and gently bend it into position. Tie the cane to the wire supports on your fence or wall.

8. Shoots coming from the tips of permanent branches can either be tied in to extend the framework or they can be cut off if they have reached the required extent.

Adjusting the permanent framework

9. As permanent framework branches become longer than their supporting canes it will be necessary to replace the canes with longer ones.

10. If branches are only one or two years old they will probably be flexible enough to raise or lower by a few degrees if required to adjust the shape and spacing of the framework, but as branches age they become more brittle and may snap if bent too far.

10. Finally, check all old ties and ensure they are not strangling the growing stems. Loosen and replace them as necessary.

>Recommended Link: Video tutorial on Summer Pruning

Current Fans

I have three currents trained as fans growing against fences: two red and one white current. White and red currents lend themselves readily to this kind of training, because unlike black currents they fruit well on ‘old wood’. Hence, they can be trained to make a permanent framework of branches (in this case in a fan) from which they will produce short fruiting side shoots. Black currents, on the other hand, will only fruit on relatively young wood – they need a third of their main stems removing every year to rejuvenate them, so could not be pruned to a permanent framework.

Unlike many fruits we grow in the UK currents are fairly shade tolerant and will thrive in the dappled light under tall trees or against a north wall. My plants are very productive – the red current in particular holds its fruit in a good state right through the summer, autumn and into the early winter – we simply pick the fruit as required. For some reason the birds seem to leave the red currents alone. The fruit is very decorative, hanging in many trusses of bright translucent scarlet pearls.

Fan Training Currents

Currents are usually purchased as young bushes, either bare-rooted or pot grown. They usually have several stems, or whips, two or three feet long. If you want to train them as a fan choose plants that already have stems lying roughly in a flat plane so they lend themselves to training as a fan.

After planting, tie the young whips to canes and bend them into position so that the canes form a basic fan shape, and tie the canes to supporting wires. If your plant does not have enough canes to create the shape you want, there is no harm in adding additional canes even if they are bare for now – you can train in additional shoots as they grow. If some of the stems fork try to use them to create two branches on adjacent canes. If there are any stems or side branches that can’t be accommodated don’t be afraid to cut them off – currents are very robust and vigorous – they can take a lot of abuse!

In subsequent years prune in summer and winter as follows:

Summer pruning – July or August-ish

  • Tie in any new growth from the tips of the main stems. If these extend beyond their alloted space simply cut off the excess.
  • Tie in any strong new shoots that might be useful to extend the framework and fill in spaces in the fan.
  • Cut out any stems that are growing the wrong way or are superfluous.
  • Finally, trim back side shoots to a few inches long – this encourages fruiting buds to form.

Winter pruning – Any time the shrub is leafless

  • Repeat as for summer pruning – dealing with any subsequent growth or any bits you missed.
  • Now is a good time to replace canes or add new ones.

 Diary of my current training

2007 This photo was taken just a few weeks after planting. The young bush only had 6 stems. You can see how I have tied them to canes and secured then to create a basic fan shape.

2008 During the winter prune I have replaced all the canes with longer ones, adding five more to bring the total to eleven. I have tied in the new main shoots and shortened the fruiting side branches. Notice how where the main branches fork they are attached to adjacent canes.

2010 By the end of 2009 I had replaced the canes with longer ones and increased the number of branches forming the main framework further, taking the total to 18! Notice that every other cane is a half-length one allowing me to fill in the space that appears as the fan gets larger.

 2012 As you can see, the fan is now well and truly established and has almost filled its alloted space. The training is virtually over and from now on I will mainly be pruning new growth back to this basic framework. With only a minimum of attention it should remain productive, and look fantastic, for the next twenty years or more!

To be continued and updated…