Palissades, Alleys and Arches: The Pleached Garden

Pleaching is a stylized method to train and shape trees and shrubs into prescribed forms that would not naturally occur. Bending branches and intertwining them with one another and clipping or pruning them into a contoured position accomplishes pleaching. Topiary is similar, but think of pleaching as suitable for more large-scale projects that are architectural in nature; topiary might be viewed as essentially decoration. In order to form palissades, alleys, arches or stylized corridors, pleaching is an enchanting and elegant means to create structure in the garden without the use of artificial frameworks or supports.

In order to create pleached garden features, the trunks or branches of the plant life must be able to provide the main support. In some cases, a stake or other training device might be employed during the initial bending and forming stage, but then removed later. Pleaching is a highly formalized means to introduce palissades or other kinds of outdoor rooms into the garden and landscape.

English gardens made great use of pleached palissades to demonstrate the elegance of their gardens. A pole hedge is a commonly used palissades that incorporates rows of trees spaced identically, their trunks left bare to approximately the height of nine feet. The branches above are then pleached - intertwined and weaved so that they appear as an upper story hedgerow. Different styles allow the bottom foliage to grow and form arches. Cutting out windows in the foliage forms a highly ornate design in the foliage. French gardens, especially those of the seventeenth century, formed palissades to form walls of foliage so that the garden was literally a series of outdoor rooms.

A pleached alley might be more reasonably termed a tunnel formed by two parallel forms of trees. These trees must be tall enough so that the tunnel can accommodate people walking through. The upper branches of the trees and their foliage are then pleached to form the ceiling of the tunnel. Even the lower story foliage may be left to grow although this may make for an extremely shaded tunnel that may easily be relieved by a few window-like openings in the thicket of foliage. Elms, limes and hornbeams were popularly used trees in those French alleys of long ago. In many parks or large estates, the alleys and palissades stretched for a considerable distance.

The Spanish made extensive use of pleaching to create arches; the Victorians were also rather fond of the pleached arch and are known for their pleached park and garden entrances. Such arches of thick foliage might be installed in a series or to provide an entrance to a special feature such as a fountain or a maze. As arches are simpler to accomplish, many pleaching amateurs may want to get their feet wet first with this form before tackling a structure like a pleached house.

Pleached houses do exist, but the maintenance they require is extensive. These horticultural works of art and architecture existed more regularly in Chinese, Medieval and Victorian gardens, but today’s gardeners might fairly well amaze the neighbors with the installation of one of these features. The pleached house, also termed a pleached summerhouse, is formed by a square or circular configuration of trees with a ceiling and sides of foliage. Often the sides were left bare and seating arranged within the structure, making it the ideal place for outdoor entertainment. The pleached summerhouse is highly stylized and there are many designs to choose between.

Whether you desire a rose-strewn arch to form the entrance of your flower garden or would like a plantlike structure situated beside your garden pond, pleaching using trees and shrubs to create architectural structures that will ornament any style garden.