I recently visited a garden that used many standardised plants to add a more formal structure to their design.
These trained plants have the benefit of taking up less space than some of their bigger relatives. With their single trunk and clipped canopy you can add height into a garden without taking up too much space at ground level, and they are a brilliant solution to a narrow space.
Standardised plants are a marvellous alternative to regular-sized shrubs that potentially can outgrow their space. A row of standard plants forms a green wall, dividing spaces in the garden, or a single plant may be used to provide a focal point or as contrast to less formal plantings. Many standard plants are also great for pots in courtyards or small spaces such as balconies or either side of your front door.
The best plants to use are bushy types with fairly compact foliage. Some examples suitable for our gardens include Japanese box (buxus microphylla var.japonica), cumquats, bay tree (laurus nobilis), rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis) and arbutus unendo.
Some flowering plants are also suitable, providing a lovely spectacle when in bloom: camellia varieties, gardenia florida, rhaphiolepis indica and fuchsia cultivars.
Many trees are trained as standards, such as the ornamental weeping cherry, maples and the mop-top robinia 'umbraculifera', and these are usually grafted.
One of the major benefits of standardising a plant is the amount of control you can have over a plant that may ordinarily be rather unruly or untidy. For example, a laurus nobilis (bay tree) can be messy and huge in its natural form but when standardised it remains neat and ordered.
These plants can be expensive to purchase so if you have patience and a little determination it is possible to train them yourself. Ideally you should buy a plant with a straight stem and provide support with a strong stake. All the lateral branches below the proposed canopy should be removed. Some lower leaves may be kept initially to help develop strength in the stem as it grows. When the central stem has reached the desired height, pinch out the growing tip. This will allow the shoots below to mature and help form the canopy. Keep all the stems short in the first growing season, then prune to shape regularly. Any shoots from this time on that form on the stem should be removed.
Please note last week’s Webs, Weeds and Wisdom column was written by Kate Walker.