Gardening Advice

Hornbeam hedges

 

Our French formal gardens are made up of clipped plants that form an architectural structure all year round. In addition to box shrubs and yews, hornbeams became a favourite of 17th century landscape gardeners for its ornamental character and were used to create hedges, living cloisters and the famous hornbeam mazes.

This tree offers all the qualities needed for our inimitable gardens: it grows fast, can survive being repeatedly and severely pruned and adapts to different types of soil in Western Europe. With the interest in French formal gardens and topiary art continuing to thrive, the hornbeam is once again gaining respectability, and in private gardens too. It is an elegant plant, ideal for trimmed hedges with its dry leaves in winter and brilliant green first leaves in spring.

The word charmaille appeared in the 17th century to designate a nursery of hornbeams (charmes in French) before the word evolved to also refer to an avenue or clipped hedge of hornbeams. The common hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) grows in our forests. It belongs to the Betulaceae family and is often found near oaks. It can also be planted on its own and is particularly suited to medium-sized gardens, adult trees reaching diameters of 4-5 metres and heights of 25 metres. Its leaves are deciduous, alternate and fairly small (3-10 cm) with a serrated margin. They are distinctive for not shedding their leaves in winter. The hornbeam’s foliage is said to be marcescent. The male and female flowers are found on distinct catkins (the hornbeam is monoicous) and the fruits are achenes 3 to 6 cm long and pollinated by the wind.

They are easily confused with beeches. In French, a mnemonic device is used to tell the difference: Le charme d’Adam, c’est d’être à poil. This reminds us that the leaves of the hornbeam have teeth (d’Adam/à dents) while the beech’s (d’être/hêtre) have hairs. Furthermore, keep your eyes peeled as you visit our gardens, a beech tree has made its way into one of our hedges!

Some 1,500 metres of hornbeam hedges are planted in our gardens. They are used to divide up different spaces, create green cloisters, guide visitors along the balustrades the length of the walls and form our famous maze, which alone is 400 metres long. Several operations are carried out through the year to maintain our beautiful hedges: spring pruning in mid-June followed by summer pruning. This maintenance trimming is to protect the garden’s aesthetic appeal so our summer visitors can truly appreciate the rigour of the French formal garden. The summer pruning is more quickly than the spring pruning and is carried out without string and supported by the previous trim.

We use electric hedge trimmers with the battery pack carried on the back made by Pellenc. They are efficient, silent and light, and are comfortable to use by gardeners. We also need to hire an articulating boom lift rising up to 8 metres to be able to trim the hornbeam hedges on the balustrades : Winter pruning.
This operation consists of maintaining the hedge at the desired height and width. It is not carried out every year. The winter pruning is repeated every three to five years using string and hand secateurs and consists of directly cutting the wood. We do not apply any fertilisers to our hornbeam hedges as they are rather vigorous all year round. However, if we see that some is needed, we would use an organic fertiliser made by DCM (formulation 9:3:3) in March; this range is also available at retail.

We do not treat our hornbeams. Be careful of overusing fertiliser, which can promote disease. Watch out for oidium on the foliage. In the event of a fierce attack, it is a good idea to spray sulphur which is known for its disinfectant and fungicidal properties. You can buy this at the garden centre in the form of wettable sulphur, to be diluted: around 10 grams for 10 litres of water.

Rust spots can appear if the spring is damp. This fungus can be treated by spraying a copper-based Bordeaux mixture. Use a dosage of 15 grams of powder for 1 litre of water. If your tree has yellowed foliage, the tips of the leaves are scorched or the plant is stunted, it has almost definitely fallen foul of chlorosis. These signs indicate an iron deficiency often caused by increased levels of the soil pH (8) or the presence of limestone in the soil. Spray on nettle extract, which is rich in iron and numerous other minerals, or apply some chelated iron, which will provide iron to the roots and compost to the soil (supplying humic acids and stimulating microbial life).

Hornbeam hedges are excellent homes for auxiliary insects. They are superb at controlling pests such as aphids or mites developing in the tree. They bring biodiversity to our gardens and contribute to the natural balance that allows gardeners to appreciate the wealth and diversity offered by nature.

Laurent Portuguez
head gardener 

The lime trees in the Villandry gardens

The lime trees in the Villandry gardens

The virtues of the lime tree have been known since the Middle Ages. They are planted near hospitals, purify the air and have a calming effect when taken as a herbal infusion. The lime is a ...

Woolly apple aphid

Woolly apple aphid

Looking at the apple cordons planted in our kitchen garden, once the leaves have fallen, we have sometimes discovered whole branches covered with a blanket of cotton as white as snow. Colonies of ...

Hornbeam hedges

Hornbeam hedges

Our French formal gardens are made up of clipped plants that form an architectural structure all year round. In addition to box shrubs and yews, hornbeams became a favourite of 17th century ...

Prune to prevent the rose plant

Prune to prevent the rose plant

Prune to prevent the rose plant from losing its lower leaves and to renew the shoots so as to ensure exceptional blooms all year round. March is the best time of year to prune rose plants, ...

The main enemy, the common garden snail

The main enemy, the common garden snail

Slugs and snails have the same purpose: to devour seedlings, soft leaves, and sometimes fruits and roots. Their gluttony takes place mostly at night and in wet weather; at Villandry, the damage ...

Apple scab

Apple scab

Spring has barely started, but it’s already time to think about the late summer and autumn harvests. To ensure we can enjoy apples and pears picked fresh from the tree, we have to keep a watchful ...

Spring cabbage… and the cabbage fly

Spring cabbage… and the cabbage fly

We starting sowing spring cabbage in our heated greenhouses on 7 February 2012. Two varieties this year, starting with ‘Précoce de Louviers, a traditional variety with an elongated pointed head. ...

Mowing the lawns

Mowing the lawns

Spring is finding it hard to settle in this year: the rain and the cold temperatures are preventing us from enjoying the gardens as we would like. Leaf growth is late, and the vegetables in the ...

The yew topiary at Villandry

The yew topiary at Villandry

When the gardens at the Château de Villandry were created, Joachim Carvallo planted yews (taxus baccata) in order to form topiary according to the French tradition. 162 yews were distributed ...

Roses, Black spot

Roses, Black spot

This disease is caused by a fungus called Marssonina (or diplocarpon) rosae; the symptoms appear quickly starting with black spots on the leaves, followed by yellowing and finally premature leaf ...

Eco-friendly garden

Eco-friendly garden

Villandry Castle, symbol of French style gardens, today shows that carefully maintaining an outstanding garden can be compatible with eco-friendly methods. At the end of 2008, we decided to stop ...

The orange trees

The orange trees

Villandry respects the tradition of the great châteaux by placing 10 clementine trees at the foot of its tower in Versailles planters. The fashion for citrus dates back to the fifteenth and ...