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Posted by Rosemoor Garden on 15 Apr 2009 at 02:07 PM

As a new gardener with the RHS, I am experiencing new challenges all of the time and I thought I would share this one with you.

This week I was allocated the task of pruning the Sorbus thibetica ‘John Mitchell’. No problem I thought; this couldn’t be further from the truth!

‘John Mitchell’ is usually grown as a conical deciduous tree which can grow up to 20m in height. It hosts large, broadly oval, dark green leaves which are silvery white when young and remain so on the undersides. Small white flowers can be found in late spring followed by rounded brown fruits. It is fully hardy and has received an AGM. When in leaf it is to me, a real beauty.

A number of these trees can be found in Rosemoor’s Foliage Garden where they have been trained in espalier style against a large squared metal framework. You can achieve the desired shape by using ties and careful pruning.

We prune ‘John Mitchell’ just once a year within the dormant period back to the first or second bud, depending on bud direction and overall shape. Dead, diseased and damaged wood should be removed along with crossing stems and branches.

I started with the sides, reaching what I could from the ground.


Then, with the help of an old pal, ‘The Henchman’ (a step up metal platform with adjustable extending legs), I managed to prune the bulk of the hedge, but even with the platform legs fully extended, the top was still way out of my reach.

To prune the top, a much larger platform henchman was required. With the help of my colleague, Lindsay, a tractor and a bag of spanners, we were able to assemble the platform and cautiously manoeuvre it through the delicate ornamental shrub beds into position.


As if this wasn’t challenging enough, it then had to be climbed, using the side metal rungs to reach the top (just think of the view!).

A lot more delicate pruning and manoeuvring later, and the trees were shaping up nicely.

With all the pruning complete, the henchman disassembled and the site tidy, it was back to the shippon for a nice well earned cup of tea – hurrah! Finished - until next year!

• No pulmonarias or ferns were harmed during this procedure

• All work was carried out in accordance with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

By John Bridge, Horticultural Trainee


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