Wednesday Vignette – tracery


Every time I see a really well sculpted Japanese maple, my heart beats a little faster. Pruning maples is such an art form! And, given that many of them are fairly slow growing, I always wonder how the vision emerges. I imagine, in a case such as these two, (from the garden of a client) they have enjoyed trims and shapings rather regularly, throughout the course of their existence. Their undulating branches stretch outward with just the right amount of twisty gnarliness, and taper beautifully toward their graceful tips. When the leaves drop, all that’s left is a magnificent framework that commands its own attention and adoration, turning negative space into poetry.

Yesterday, while trying to hang some last minute Christmas decorations in my own Bloodgood maple, I got on a ladder and soon realized that I need to play some catch up. I’m pretty sure I’ve missed the opportunity to turn it into anything this fabulous. Granted, a Bloodgood is a differently shaped, and more upright tree than the two depicted here, but even so, I’ve seen some really nicely shaped Bloodgoods, whose caretakers had transformed them into something special.

My problem is that I don’t really know how to prune maples. My tree has all kinds of crossing branches pointing in various directions. Some of them seem fairly easy decisions in terms of whether to let them remain or not – others not so much. My deer-in- headlight indecision actually freaks me out a little. I can’t see the slightest sign of an emerging tracery – I have no idea where to cut! I think one problem is that I should have started long ago, when the tree was smaller. Instead, I was so busy experimenting and planting other plants, that I ignored it, and let it do it’s own thing for too long. And now I don’t know where to start. I know of a guy who is an excellent maple artist. As a Christmas present to myself, I think I will hire him to come and help me. He told me once he could show me how to do it, but I don’t think he expected it would take me this long to take him up on it. Oh well, better late than never. What about you? Do either of you have any good pointers? I could use whatever wisdoms I can get…

About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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28 Responses to Wednesday Vignette – tracery

  1. Beautifully described, Anna. One of the benefits of autumn. Can’t help with suggestions, but that Christmas present is a good idea

  2. Tina says:

    Pruning really is an art, based in science, and tricky to execute. I love that photo! I hope your Christmas is full of light and joy!

  3. Peter Herpst says:

    Gorgeous picture. I’ve no clue about pruning maples either. Happy solstice on Friday!

  4. annamadeit says:

    Thanks, Peter! I started snipping away a couple of the most blaring, misplaced twigs/small branches, but I think I stopped before I made any major faux-pas. I think both I and the tree are better off with a pro’s sure eye and hands.

  5. There are two Japanese maples on our block, one directly across the street and one just up at the corner, both were planted under different homeowners, ones who’ve moved on. It’s been interesting to watch the new caretakers and how they’ve approached pruning. One is left to a mow and blow crew, the other was ignored until the city sent the homeowner a letter, telling him the sidewalk needed to be passable—shortly after that he removed about 60% of the tree.

    My WV:

    • annamadeit says:

      So sad… on both counts. Tortured, misshapen maples are so dreadfully common, and they always look terrible. As for walk space encroachment, I’m a bit guilty of misplacement, too. One of its three main trunks impedes driveway access some. Coincidentally, it also makes the tree look somewhat lopsided. I’m pretty sure it would look better if that particular branch was removed altogether, but it’s one of the largest limbs! I don’t know if doing so would damage the entire tree – that’s a major reason I’m calling a pro. Wish me luck!

  6. Alison says:

    I’m sorry I have no advice about pruning, I approach every pruning chore with trepidation, just like you. That is a beautiful photo of a lovely tree. Good luck with yours!

  7. My husband does much of our small tree/shrub pruning and he is an artist and always thinks of it as sculpture. He cuts, he stands back, he cuts, he stands back etc. etc. Not a quick process and skipping a few years doesn’t work well.

    • annamadeit says:

      Yeah, that how I tend to prune, too. One snip, one step back, look, another snip… and so on. Some wise person told me to decide what you want to keep/accomplish before cutting – decide on the form you want. But, like you said – skipping a few years makes for tricky decision making… ugh!

  8. rusty duck says:

    I have a maple that was confined to a pot for the three years we were renting and had no garden. Now planted in the ground it has undergone something of a growth explosion! I’d dearly love to know how to prune it properly.. if you get any good tips from the professional do please share!

  9. Kris P says:

    The maples in your client’s garden are works of art. Pruning always makes me nervous so, if you have access to someone with the proper skills, I say: use him!

  10. I’ve had arborists who, while working on other trees, graciously used some chalk spray to mark off and show me just where to prune back my Japanese maples.

  11. Brennie lee says:

    Anna, your photo is sublime. Thanks for sharing

  12. A lovely photo, but I am completely ignorant on Japanese maples.

  13. mmwm says:

    I concur that a professional maple artist is the answer, especially if you are playing catch-up with the tree, or feel that you are — many a pruning mistake comes about through inexperienced pruners doing too much too fast, I think. The two in the photo are lovely.

  14. tonytomeo says:

    When we pruned fruit trees and performed other specialty pruning, my employer was the best with the maples. I was not quite as proficient because I do not like them much. I did only the simpler ones. We get good at what we enjoy. I happen to be good with fruit trees because I enjoy them SO much. He excels at Japanese maples because they are his favorite. I have no pointers just because it is something that I have always done (fruit trees that is).

    • annamadeit says:

      I guess that makes sense. It’s true that we get good at what we like to do. I would love to learn to become a good maple pruner, but right now I just find them intimidating as hell! Especially mine, given that is has suffered years of neglect. Gah! My bad…

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