Cloud Pruning

After graduating from grad school I completed a fellowship with the Garden Club of Virginia.  The fellowship involved documenting the gardens of Sabine Hall.  Sabine Hall is located in the Northern Neck region of Virginia between the Potomac and Rappahanock Rivers.  The structure is a historical colonial home built in 1737.  The gardens of Sabine Hall were constructed shortly afterward.  The grounds are a series of terraces that follow the contours of the landscape.

On the main terrace, just off to one side, lies an alle’e of English Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), said to be part of the original planting plan.  The boxwood hedges have been allowed to grow in a free form style and now resemble large billowy clouds.  Walking along the path left an indelible image in my mind.  This was my first encounter with the calculated yet free form style that some call “Cloud Pruning”.

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Typical of most classical styles, cloud pruning has become popular again.  However, this time around most people do not want to wait decades for a boxwood hedge to grow large enough to be shaped into soft curves.  In today’s “get the look quick”, there is a trick.  Select different sizes of boxwood plants from the nursery and plant them close together.

One key item is to select the largest size boxwood available to you.  These large boxwoods will be the back bone of the new hedge and give the new planting a sense of age.  Along with the large boxwood, select medium and smaller size boxwoods.  Placing all three sizes together will create a sense of drama.  In addition, you begin to form the outline of the boxwood cloud.

The “cloud” will still take several growing seasons to look mature but you will be ahead of the game.  The goal is to have each individual boxwood grow into it’s neighbor so that it appears to be one plant.

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I recently found English Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens “Suffruticosa” in the following sizes –

5 gallon – 18” wide

7 gallon – 26” wide

15 gallon – 30” wide

Using these three sizes together in a calculated and balanced manner is a quick and easy way to get a “cloud”.

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The maintenance on a boxwood cloud is seasonal.  Several times a year, hand pruning should be done to maintain and delineate the shape.  Keep in mind, the boxwood cloud may always be a “work in progress”, typical of many plants in the garden.