April 5, 1996 in Features

Give Your Garden A Chance To Branch Out

Phyllis Stephens The Spokesman-R

Hold it. That truckload of prunings you’re just about to drive off with is a gold mine. Those twigs and branches can be very utilitarian, not to mention the makings of some of the most creative and interesting artwork in your garden.

A one-foot pile of brush placed at the bottom of the compost pile may be just the ingredient necessary for creating healthy compost. The loosely arranged branches and twigs allow air to move into the pile from the bottom. To keep compost debris from filtering down through the branches, the shrubby pile can be covered with a section of chicken wire.

Peas and beans can also benefit from pruned branches. For peas, simply cut a number of pruned limbs to about four feet tall. Make sure each branch has side branches. Stand these branches upright by jabbing the cut ends into the ground. When you’re finished, your pea bed should resemble a formal row of short, leafless trees. Pea vines will frolic up and over the branches.

Long, thin limbs stripped of their side branches can be fashioned into tepees for pole beans. At the base of each pole, plant 6-8 beans. The beans wind their way up the poles creating an edible garden accent.

Why waste the money on expensive garden stakes when you have a truckload of sturdy branches? Strip off the side twigs, cut them for the size of the plant to be staked and viola, a natural, earthy addition to the garden.

And now for fun. Prunings can also be used in an artistic manner. Many branches and twigs can be fashioned into trellises, boxes, topiary, wreaths and swags. All it takes is a little creativity, sharp shears, loppers and a few short nails.

For example, this spring I hope to construct a rectangular trellis out of long branches from the plum tree. To add a bit of interest, willow whips and birch stems with swollen buds will be wrapped around the frame. Since I don’t want to hide the natural interest of the trellis, a delicate morning glory vine will move through it.

Wreathes, swags and sprays can be fashioned with pruned grapevines, pussy willow stems or honeysuckle vines. All wreaths should be molded while the stems are supple. To craft the wreaths, simply coil the long cut vines in a circle. Lay them out flat to dry. A number of years ago, I read about a lady from Vermont who used wreaths as natural hoops to hold up gangly perennials. She simply fastened the wreaths onto three cut dowels or small branches. The wreaths and stakes added a natural look to the garden.

Small chunks of wood can be nailed or fitted together to form tiny chairs, planter boxes and birdhouses. With a little sphagnum moss or green moss, these exquisite little garden ornaments can be made to look as if they had been around for hundreds of years.

Well-formed branches make great holiday trees. They can be left their natural color or spray-painted white, gold or many other colors. After securing them upright, they can be draped in tiny white lights. Their twigs can be clothed in dried or silk flowers. Holiday ornaments for Christmas, Easter, Halloween, birthdays, etc., can be hung from the bare branches.

Stems with color - red-twigged dogwood, gold-twigged dogwood and Japanese maple - add drama to any floral arrangement. Drama is also created with an interesting twig structure. There is nothing more dramatic than the contorted filbert. One delicately twisted branch and a few dangling seedpods creates an exquisite floral design all on its own.

So before dumping all those stems, twigs and branches, remember, you could have the makings of an unusual fence, a tall topiary, napkin rings, baskets, birdcages, picture frames - all it takes is a little imagination.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Phyllis Stephens The Spokesman-Review

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