Sometimes a little support is required

Two betula, or birch trees, in the garden have served a dual purpose for years. Apart from the obvious ornamental value, they attract local birds, insectivores in particular, on a year-round basis.

Sunday, 17th April 2016, 9:00 am
Runner beans are demanding, but hide support canes. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

There’s always excitement when a tree-creeper or gold crest is spotted, but the robin, wren and four kinds of tit have become regulars.

Because we value these trees and wish to keep growth within bounds, they are pruned every winter whilst dormant, the strong branches being set aside for the vegetable garden, where they support a pea crop.

Runner beans are much more demanding. When the crop is at its zenith there is a great weight of stems, leaves and pods. Add the extra burden of rainfall and nothing short of strong canes or stout poles will do. A wigwam of canes, each well over 2m long, is erected before planting, giving something solid to climb. I cannot resist helping each plant on its way initially by gently twining the stem around the nearest cane, anti-clockwise of course.

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Standard-type fruit trees and bushes are capable of supporting themselves, but if the decision is made to grow them in espalier, or fan-shaped form, there is a need for firmly fixed training wires. Cultivated blackberries and raspberries need this too. Sometimes a fruit bush just needs a little initial support before independence.

Reference the main stems of gooseberries tied to canes radiating out from the centre. Remove them after a year or so and the open goblet shape persists.

If you are sowing patches of hardy annual flowers directly into a border, do remember that the taller types; larkspur, annual chrysanthemum, cosmos, lavatera, for example, cannot reliably stand up to stiff breezes without help. Twiggy branches of garden trees or shrubs you’ve previously pruned are ideal, birch and spiraea especially.