Pollarding: is it simply a Brazilian for Trees?

I was never a fan of pollarding.  It looks so brutal.  A cruel attack upon nature, creating tortured arboreal constructions, not unlike overgrown Bonsai trees.  It didn’t seem right.

I have always associated the practice with continental Europe, simply because that is where I have encountered the greatest number of examples of the pollarder’s pruning.  Avenues of mutilated trees in municipal French towns; promenades of arrested arbors alongside peaceful Italian lakes.

Indeed, the history of pollarding is generally traced back to Europe.  In an age when wood was more widely used for fuel, pollarding was practised to stimulate fresh growth of timber.

The verb ‘to poll’ means ‘to cut the hair’.  In which case, most of the pollarded trees I have ever seen have had a pretty severe haircut.  They must have either asked for a Number 1 short-back-and-sides from their barber, or a Brazilian from their bikini waxer.

However––and this is a big however, going against current scientific thinking, which suggests that systematic pollarding may ultimately create weaker trees––I am coming around to the idea of pollarding.  If only from an aesthetic and philosophical stand-point.

You know, memory is a funny thing.  I have recently returned from a trip to Geneva.  Besides the lake, immediately opposite from the water jet, there are broad lawns, lined by long rows of pollarded trees.  Walking along these sunny avenues, I am reminded of all the same municipal French towns and all the same peaceful Italian lakes where I have seen pollarded trees in my past, and it is a very pleasant memory.  Pollarding is continental Europe condensed into a single iconic statement: it offers the possibilities of fresh growth; a regular renaissance; new life; new possibilities.

Beside Lake Léman, one of the recently pollarded stumps already has green shoots springing from its brown stump.  In another a family of sparrows have found a cosy nest in a labyrinthine hollow.  I am prepared to look at pollarding with new eyes.

© E. C. Glendenny


Travel writer, E. C. “Easy” Glendenny, is no stranger to close shaves.

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