21st May 2012
At one edge of the control of the natural environment is the pruner’s art. I’m not talking here about the pragmatic cutting back of plant material in order to keep it in its place, or to encourage new growth and influence the size of flower and fruit. I’m concentrating on the use of plants as the material for living sculpture.
Topiary is a good example of labour-intensive pruning. Snipping privet or yew or box to create peacocks and teddy bears requires not only skill but also vigilance. One leafy twig breaking ranks and the elephant’s trunk loses its virility overnight! Some types of plant control rely on the malleability of plant material; a few years ago there was a tremendous interest in creating shelters and plant sculptures using willow.
The carefully controlled trees outside Lime Street Station are another example of this phenomenon. They are contained within a metallic system and pruned to appear flat. In other words their tendency towards three-dimensionality has been curbed. Whether one has philosophical reservations about this is one matter but what caught my attention were the aesthetics and the symbolism of control and restraint, consciously or unconsciously created by the architect of this design. The branches stretch out on either side of the trunk and one is reminded of crucifixes - probably appropriate in a city that has two cathedrals. And there are Hessian bandages to protect the trunks.
It has long been recognised that trees and parkland in urbanised areas are essential to the health and leisure of its citizens. Such areas are a blend of civic formality and contained wilderness; they are designated pockets of countryside, if you can overlook the traffic noise. The positioning of trees in areas of cities where the scale of contemporary building and roads is huge requires careful thought. Unless you import a few giant Redwoods, trees can’t compete; nor should they. The trees outside Lime Street Station are sculptures: a skilful blend of organic material with man-made constructions. It remains to be seen whether they will be allowed to conquer the cages but I think the design is contemporary and courageous.
*Also known as Rose Bay Willow Herb, the prolific wild flower called Fireweed, five feet tall with spikes of magenta flowers, cheers the hearts of those whose cityscape has become a bomb site or whose buildings have been cleared by machine. The dormant seeds spring to life after destructive events such as forest or man-made fires, hence the name, Fireweed. This occasional column will celebrate the persistence of wildlife in urban conditions.
Fireweed 1 - St John’s
Gardens & Springing to Life
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