Category Archives: Pruning

Thoughts about Garden Pruning Tools

A collection of pruning knives from ‘Figures pour l’almanach du bon jardinier’ (1813) Bibliothèque nationale de France

As I start to think about pruning the roses later this month, even in our small garden it’s a job requiring secateurs, bypass and anvil loppers, and a long handled pruner with a pole-mounted blade, operated by pulling a cord.  These indispensable tools have their origins in early 19th century France, and over time, they began to replace the traditional pruning knives and bill-hooks used in previous centuries.

Figures pour l’almanach du bon jardinier: Répresentant les Utensiles le plus généralement employés dans la culture des Jardins (1813) contains a wonderful visual record of the range of tools available to French gardeners at this time, showing older items alongside new introductions.  Tools for pruning include shears used for trimming hedges and borders, a basic pole pruner operated by a cord, pruning knives, croissants or semi-circular pruning hooks which could be attached to poles of different lengths, and saws of various sizes.

1. Serpe ordinaire. 2. Cisailles ou Ciseaux à tondre les haies ou les bordures. (shears for clipping hedges or borders) 3. Scie à main, ou Egoine (handsaw) 4. Petit Croissant qui se visse au bout d’une canne. 5. Hachette de Forsith. 6. Couteau à scie. 7. Cordeau avec ses piquets.

1. Croissant. (pruning hook) 2. Échenilloir. (tree pruner) 3. Rateau double à dents de bois, ou Fauchet. 4. Rateau simple à dents de fer. 5. Pioche de deux dents. 6. Couteau pour cueillir les asperges (asparagus knife).

There’s also an illustration of the sécateur – a brand new pruning tool invented by  M. le marquis Bertrand de Moleville.   (A royalist, Moleville lived as an exile in England during the years of the French Revolution, returning to France when it was safe for him to do so.)  Developed for for use in viticulture, the text explains how the summer pruning of vines was made more efficient using the new tool, claiming that the gardener was able to achieve in just one hour with the sécateur what would have taken four using the traditional serpette, or pruning knife.

The illustration of the sécateur is given a whole page to itself in the 1813 edition, indicating its importance.  In just a decade, by the time the third edition of this book was published in 1823, the extraordinary influence of the sécateur can be seen in a whole range of new or improved pruning tools, using its bypass blade technology.

Sécateur – invented by M. le marquis Bertrand de Moleville for use in viticulture

The sécateur appears to have attracted the interest of a Paris based firm of engineers, Arnheiter and Petit.  As well as manufacturing new tools to the specification of independent designers, the company developed tools themselves.   In the 1820s they produced the ébranchoir, or ‘tres-grands secateur’ – we would call it a lopper – and produced three échenilloirs, or tree pruners, a vast improvement of an existing tool said to have come originally from Germany (see illustration XX).

Their loppers use the same design principle as the sécateur, but on a larger scale, allowing branches of greater diameter to be cut effectively.  The first has handles around one and half feet in length and can cut branches the diameter of a thumb.  Made entirely of steel, it must have been quite heavy to use.  The second lopper cuts branches of the same diameter, and can be used on taller trees.  Both arms of this ébranchoir end in sockets which were attached to wooden poles, giving the tool greater reach, but without making it too heavy.  The échenilloirs, or tree pruners, benefitted from refined mechanisms and a reach of ten feet.

Ébranchoirs or loppers – from the third edition of Figures pour l’almanach du bon jardinier (1823) Biblioteca de la Universidad de Sevilla

Tree pruners with a pulley mechanism – still used today.

Tree pruners operated with a cord

Échenilloir à Croissant – designed by M. Reginer

Two tools illustrated on the page below were specifically for cutting roses.  Object 3 in the diagram is a version of the sécateur called the sécateur-cueille-rose.  The other tool, which resembles a pair of ornate scissors, (objects 1 & 2) is a cueille-rose or donne-rose and was marketed for use by women.  The text includes the address of a shop in the rue Saint-Jacques in Paris which sold it.

Looking at my own pruning tools today, it’s surprising how little the designs have changed.  My secateurs are sprung, and have plastic handles, but are broadly similar to Moleville’s original.  Our tree pruner (inherited from my father and probably made in the 1970s) is essentially the same as the pulley version made by Arnheiter and Petit, apart from its modern aluminium handle and plastic cord.  Our bypass loppers have telescopic handles and an anvil blade (introduced later in the 19th century) – but these tools from France developed two hundred years ago, over a remarkably short ten year period, are still vital for the 21st century gardener.

Links to both editions of Figures pour l’almanach du bon jardinier below – and some coloured plates from the 1813 edition of the book showing spades, cloches and wheelbarrows and watering cans – nothing to do with pruning, but because they evoke the period so well.

Further reading:

Figures pour l’almanach du bon jardinier second edition 1813

Figures pour l’almanach du bon jardinier third edition 1823

 

William Robinson and the fruit gardens of Paris

Apple blossom on trees trained as a Belgian Fence, Capel Manor, Enfield

Of the practices which we may with advantage, and which indeed we must, adopt from the French, those of fruit-culture command our first attention, because good fruit-culture combines the beautiful with the useful in a very high degree.  William Robinson

As an advocate of naturalistic planting, William Robinson’s admiration of the trained fruit trees he saw in France might come as a surprise.  But in Parks and Gardens of Paris (1878, published by Macmillan) as well as reviewing public parks Robinson devotes eight chapters to French methods of cultivation and training of fruit trees.  He visits and evaluates the work of various growers, including the school of horticulture at Versailles, the school of fruit-culture in the Bois de Vincennes and nurserymen such as M Jamin of Bourg-la-Reine.

In his introduction to the book Robinson discusses ways in which English growers could improve the quantity and quality of their crops by following the the French example.  He mentions winter pears, of which France sends ‘many thousands of pounds’ worth annually’ which should be wall trained rather than planted in the open, and cordon training for apples, to save space in the domestic garden.  Robinson is also enthusiastic about the French Paradise stock, which keeps fruit trees grafted onto it small enough to respond well to training (unlike the crab stock that was widely used in England at the time) and because of the Paradise stock’s hardiness enabling trees that favour warmer climates to be grown on cold, wet soils, like those in England.

But the most important improvement that should be made, he argues, concerns the education of English gardeners.  In his forthright style, Robinson complains that in the British Isles the training of fruit trees is ‘not taught at all, or only in the most imperfect manner.’  He observes of the French,

‘Many of the illustrations in this book show the mastery they possess over each detail of training  the branches of every kind of tree being conducted in any way by the trainer might desire, and with the greatest of ease.’

Pear Triomphe de Jodoigne, in Palmette form; 10 years old, 15 feet long, 8.5 feet high. M. Jamin’s garden, Bourg-la-Reine.

Winged Pyramid, Beurre Hardy; 10 years old, 13 feet high, 6.5 feet wide; average crop, 400 Pears. M. Jamin’s garden, Bourg-la-Reine.

Peach-tree with 20 vertical branches (Candleabrum form) in full bearing; variety Chevreuse tardive; 10 years of age, 33 feet long, 10 feet high; average crop, 400 Peaches of the first quality and size. M. Jamin’s garden, Bourg-la-Reine.

Crossed and Self-Supporting Espalier Pear-trees at Saulsaie.

Pear-tree trained as a Palmette Verrier. On trellis ten feet high, supports of T iron, horizontal lines slender galvanised wire (No. 12), wires united in strong ring at base to secure rigidity in end supports.

Pendulous Training of Wall Pear-tree.

View of Espalier Pear-trees and lines of Apples trained as Cordons in garden at Brunoy.

The Peach trained as an Oblique Cordon.

Pear-tree trained in U form for very high walls.

The Spiral Cordon against walls

The Pear trained as an Oblique Cordon. This form is best suited for the wall-culture of choice Winter Pears where it is desired to obtain a quick return. (Note the two end plants complete the pattern by means of grafts to the original plant which have been carefully trained.)

William Robinson (1838 – 1935) was a gardener, and a prolific author on horticulture. His best known books, The Wild Garden (1870) and The English Flower Garden (1883) contained his ideas for a new approach to planting gardens using plants to imitate nature instead of formal bedding schemes, which were so popular in Victorian gardens.  He also worked as a journalist for The Times and The Gardener’s Chronicle and following the success of The Wild Garden launched his own magazine, The Garden in 1871.  He put his theories about naturalistic planting into practice at his garden at Gravetye Manor in Sussex, (which became derelict after his death, but is now restored and managed as a hotel).

In Parks and Gardens of Paris Robinson also discusses ideas for growing trained fruit trees in unexpected places.  As well as the Parisian front garden (illustrated below), he visits fruit trees that have been grown as fences along a French railway embankment.

Of the various waste spaces where good fruit might be grown the most conspicuous are the railway-embankments.  Here we have a space quite unused, and on which for hundreds of miles fruit-trees may be planted, that will after a few years yield profit, and continue to do so for a long time with but little attention.

Robinson observes the planting of pear trees along the Chemin de fer de l’Est.

A cheap fence of galvanised wire runs on each side of the line, and on this Pear-trees are trained so that their branches cross each other; and, though only in their fourth year, they are at the top of the fence.

In time, the trees trained in this way (sometimes called a Belgian fence) become self-supporting.  Robinson notes that both apple and pear trees were commonly grown in this way along the railway lines in Belgium.  Maybe it’s time to revive this lovely idea?

Parks and Gardens of Paris

William Robinson