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Hedge laid using pleaching

Pleaching or plashing is a technique of interweaving living and dead branches through a hedge for stock control. Trees are planted in lines, the branches are woven together to strengthen and fill any weak spots until the hedge thickens.[1] Branches in close contact may grow together, due to a natural phenomenon called inosculation, a natural graft. Pleach also means weaving of thin, whippy stems of trees to form a basketry effect.[2]


Allée of pleached lime trees at Arley Hall

Pleaching or plashing (an early synonym)[3] was common in gardens from late medieval times to the early eighteenth century, to create shaded paths, or to create a living fence out of trees or shrubs. This craft had been developed by European farmers who used it to make their hedge rows more secure.[4] Julius Caesar (circa 60 B.C.) states that the Gallic tribe of Nervii used plashing to create defensive barriers against cavalry.[5]

In hedge laying, this technique can be used to improve or renew a quickset hedge to form a thick, impenetrable barrier suitable for enclosing animals. It keeps the lower parts of a hedge thick and dense, and was traditionally done every few years.[6][7] The stems of hedging plants are slashed through to the centre or more, then bent over and interwoven. The plants rapidly regrow, forming a dense barrier along its entire length.

In garden design, the same technique has produced elaborate structures,[8] neatly shaded walks and allées. This was not much seen in the American colonies, where a labor-intensive aesthetic has not been a feature of gardening: "Because of the time needed in caring for pleached allées," Donald Wyman noted,[9] "they are but infrequently seen in American gardens, but are frequently observed in Europe."

After the second quarter of the eighteenth century, the technique withdrew to the kitchen garden, and the word dropped out of English usage, until Sir Walter Scott reintroduced it for local colour, in The Fortunes of Nigel (1822).[10] After the middle of the nineteenth century, English landowners were once again planting avenues, often shading the sweeping curves of a drive, but sometimes straight allées of pleached limes, as Rowland Egerton's at Arley Hall, Cheshire, which survive in splendidly controlled form.[11]

In Much Ado About Nothing, Antonio reports (I.ii.8ff) that the Prince and Count Claudio were "walking in a thick pleached alley in my orchard." A modern version of such free-standing pleached fruit trees is sometimes called a "Belgian fence": young fruit trees pruned to four or six wide Y-shaped crotches, in the candelabra-form espalier called a palmette verrier, are planted at close intervals, about two metres apart, and their branches are bound together to makes a diagonal lattice,[12] a regimen of severe seasonal pruning; lashing of young growth to straight sticks and binding the joints repeat the pattern.

Smooth-barked trees such as limewood or linden trees, or hornbeams were most often used in pleaching. A sunken parterre surrounded on three sides by pleached allées of laburnum is a feature of the Queen's Garden, Kew, laid out in 1969 to complement the seventeenth-century Anglo-Dutch architecture of Kew Palace.[13] A pleached hornbeam hedge about three meters high is a feature of the replanted town garden at Rubens House, Antwerp, recreated from Rubens' painting The Walk in the Garden and from seventeenth-century engravings.[14]

In the gardens of André Le Nôtre and his followers, pleaching kept the vistas of straight rides through woodland cleanly bordered. At Studley Royal, Yorkshire, the avenues began to be pleached once again, as an experiment in restoration, in 1972.[15]

Pleaching in art[edit]

The word pleach has been used to describe the art form of tree shaping[16] or one of the techniques of tree shaping.[17][18] Pleaching describes the weaving of branches into houses, furniture, ladders and many other 3D art forms. Examples of living pleached structures include Richard Reames's red alder bench and Axel Erlandson's sycamore tower.[4] There are also conceptual ideas like the Fab Tree Hab.[19]

References to pleaching in its various artistic forms:

No. Quote Souce Page/Link Author Publisher Year It is
01 "Using a form of grafting called pleaching,..." Article Title: Limbs in Limbo Mard Naman New West 25 Aug 1980 Newspaper clipping about Axel Erlandson's trees and their history and what is planned for them.
02 "Pleached trees at the Tree Circus in Scotts Valley from the basic structure of a new botanic architecture." Article Title: Art Eco Photographer Deborah Johansen California Living, SF Sun. Examiner and Chronicle 14 Nov 1980 Photo caption in a newspaper clipping. Photo has 4 of Axel Erlandson's trees in frame.
03 "Trees are planted and pleached..."

"...example of early tree architecture and pleaching is found..." "...make him a master of tree pleaching." "examples of pleaching - or interweaving branches - to form "botanic architecture."" "...revival of architectural pleaching..." "...pleaching can be undertaken..." "...sleeping beneath pleached arbors..."

Article Title: The Tree Circus Fredric Hobbs San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle 23 Nov 1980 Newspaper clipping. Book extract from "Eat You House:Art Eco Guide to Self-Sufficiency" Author Fredric Hobbs
04 "Erlandson began pleaching, as this ancient technique is known,..." Americana, Volume 9 Google Books page:96 1981
05 "This practice known "pleaching" (now a lost art) is rarely seen now." about Axel Erlandson's work Magazine Title: Excerpta botanica [1] International Association for Plant Taxonomy 1983 Magazine writes about Axel Erlandson (expert practitioner)
06 "With this method, known as "pleaching," he created..." about Axel Erlandson's work Fine woodworking, Issues 56-61 Article title: The tree Circus of Axel Erlandson Google books 1986
07 "The word "pleaching" is used by some as a substitute for the word arborsculpture,..." Book title Arborsculpture Solutions for a small Planet page24 Richard Reames Self published 2002 copyright Book about the history, talks about the different artists and gives a brief outline of the author's method of shaping trees. Self published by practicing non expert.[20]
08 "...using pleaching..."

"Pleaching can even by used to construct living builings."

Article Title: Tree Love Blossoms google books New Scientist 2004 New Scientist Magazine writes about some history and modern day practitioners
09 "...load-bearing structure which a weave of pleached branch..." about the Fab Tree Hab

"living examples of pleached structures include the Red Alder bench by Richard Reames and the Sycamore Tower by Axel Erlandson."

Article Title: Nature's Home google books Princeton Architectural Press July 2005 30 60 90 08: Autonomous Urbanism biannual journal which address architectural issues from perspectives stretching across the theoretical spectrum writes Mainly about the Fab Tree Hab with some points about other artists' trees. ref
10 "people have created archways and lattices by a process called pleaching,..."

"In recent centuries living furniture and even whole barns have been created using the techniques. However, no one seems to have ever taken it to the level of art that the self-taught Swedish immigrant did."

Article Title:Axel Erlandson's Tree Circus Sarah Weston Mid-County Post 03 Oct 2006 Newspaper clipping about Axel Erlandson's trees and their history.
11 "The (old) ‘weaving’ technique used to construct these living structures is called ‘pleaching’." Title Pdf: Botanical Engineering page:15 [2] Thomas Fischbacher University of Southampton United Kingdom 2007 Practical engineering with plants, construct of living structures, images from some of the different tree shapers. The physics of biological systems.
12 "The word pleaching is used by some as a substitute for arborsculpture..." :5 Article title: Arborsculpture pdf Trace Link Paper for University of California June 13, 2008 Senior project for university of California. Talks about the artform history, techniques, related gardening practices and practitioners.

"Mark discusses Rudolph Doernach's adaptation of the ancient weaving technique of pleaching in order to grow living houses using bent, grafted and pruned willow branches to create habitable shapes"

"This is one of the specimens from a unique pleached forest in Scotts Valley, California." (caption of one Axel Erlandson's shaped trees)

Article title: Pleaching Mark Primack (practitioner) ? ? Expert on Axel Erlandson's trees and their history, writing about history of building with living trees.
14 Section heading: "Pleaching"

"Pleaching is a form of living architecture." "...involuves plaiting or weaving living branches together to form a structure." "...or can form more ambitious configurations(see Figure 4.68)" Which is an image of Pooktre's ballerina tree.

Book title: Pruning for Flowers and Fruit page:96 Jane Varkulevicius CSIRO Publishing 2010 Author has worked in the horticultural industry for 30 years. The book is about ornamental food production, pruning trees, pleaching and espalier.
15 "Living examples of pleached structures include the red alder bench by Richard Reames and sycamore tower by Axel Erlandson" Architecture journal Book title:306090 08: Autonomous Urbanism Google books page:42 Kjersti Monson, Alex Duval ? ?
16 "The design utilizes"pleaching," a gardening technique in which tree branches are woven together to form living archways." accompanying the image of the fab tree house. Book Title: Knack Treehouses: A Step-by-Step Guide...ISBN 978-1-59921-783-3 Google books Lon Levin, Dan Wright Morris book publishing LLC 2010

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Complete Guide to Pruning and Training Plants, Joyce and Brickell, 1992, page 106, Simon and Schuster
  2. ^ Seymour, John (1984 copyright by Dorling Kindersley Limited, London. Text copyright 1984 by John Seymour). The Forgotten Arts A practical guide to traditional skills. page 53: Angus & Robertson Publishers. p. 192. ISBN 0-207-15007-9. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  4. ^ a b Mentgen, Glen A. (2000). GROW ON TREES The Complete Guide to Starting Your Own Profitable Tree Farm Includes Production, Maintenance and Marketing. United States of America.: TLC Publishing. p. 120. ISBN 1-929709-03-X.
  5. ^ Caesar, Julius (1955 copyright by George Macy Company). The Gallic Wars. II. translated by John Warrington. page 52. p. 228. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. ^ The booke of husbandry, John Fitzherbert. London, 1573
  7. ^ The second book of the English husbandman, Gervase Markham. London , 1614, Part II, ch. VI. Of Plashing of Hedges
  8. ^ Fischbacher, Thomas (2007), Botanical Engineering (PDF), School of Engineering Sciences, University of Southampton
  9. ^ Wyman's Gardening Encyclopedia 1971: "Pleach".
  10. ^ The Fortunes of Nigel, ch. x, noted by Paul Roberts, 'Sir Walter Scott's Contributions to the English Vocabulary" PMLA 68.1 (March 1953, pp. 189-210) p 196.
  11. ^ Charles Foster, "The History of the Gardens at Arley Hall, Cheshire" Garden History 24.2 (Winter 1996), pp. 255-271. p 265 and 266:fig 10.
  12. ^ Eleanor Perenyi, Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden (New York) 1981 pp 24-25.
  13. ^ Quarterly Newsletter (Garden History Society) No. 10 (Summer 1969), pp. 8-10.
  14. ^ Anne Kendal, "The Garden of Rubens House, Antwerp"Garden History 5.2 (Summer 1977, pp 27-29), p.28.
  15. ^ Ken Lemmon, "Restoration Work at Studley Royal" Garden History 1.1 (September 1972, pp. 22-23) p. 22.
  16. ^ Article Title: Art Eco, Photographer Deborah Johansen California Living, SF Sun. Examiner and Chronicle 14 Nov 1980
  17. ^ Article Title: The Tree Circus, Writer: Fredric Hobbs, San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle, 23 Nov 1980
  18. ^ McKee, Kate (2012), "Living sculpture", Sustainable and water wise gardens, Westview: Universal Wellbeing PTY Limited, pp. 70–73
  19. ^ Article Title: Nature's Home, books, Princeton Architectural Press, July 2005
  20. ^ Wikipedia:Reliable sources/Noticeboard/Archive 86#Is this book an reliable source or would it be classed as self-published


  • Time-Life Encyclopedia of Gardening: Pruning and Grafting

External links[edit]