Thoughts from a Foreign Field

Spring Equinox

Peonies pushing through hazel stakes
Peonies pushing through hazel stakes

Today is the Spring Equinox

Imagine for a moment that you have decided to go for a swim. In this situation are two sorts of person: those who run heartily along the beach and plunge, squealing with delight into the foaming surf. No hesitation. The other sort inch close to the edge and put out an enquiring toe to test the water. They then withdraw a bit, grumble and shiver before, eventually, immersing themselves.

This latter is precisely how the British spring behaves. One minute it is full of gusto and there are green shoots all over the place, then it is all giggly and reticent as the cold weather returns. Still, we take what succor we can from the undeniable fact that, barring apocalypse or climatological meltdown, it will arrive in the next few weeks.You can just see the stakes if you look closely. Over there, by the Alliums

In the meantime I have been fearfully busy making plant supports.I notice from other posts on this site that I am not alone. My chosen method is to venture off into the woods next door to my house and cut down some hazel branches. I then drag then back home and weave them into a sort of floating birds nest across all of my borders. It looks slightly deranged for a bit but the plants very soon grow up through the sticks and, like all the best support garments, they become invisible. The sticks are very robust and I don’t have to do anything else until next winter when they all get taken down (they are brittle and useless by then) and turned into kindling.

I realize that this is not for everybody – for a start you have to have access to a wood – but is by far the most attractive way to stake tall perennials that I have ever found. In clients gardens I have also stretched plastic netting on posts across borders but that, though effective, is pretty hideous until the plants grow and cover it up.

All the stakes have disappeared!The most important thing is to put your stakes out early, before perennials start sprouting. Once they have grown and are beginning to topple over it is too late to stake them: there is nothing worse than tying them to a couple of canes with string. So do it now.

Meantime I am holding on for Spring.

Baptisia australis in June: Stakes nearly gone!

View Comments


  1. sheila_schultz 03/20/2013

    If you are deranged, so am I. Staking a plant with a straight, painted stick is just darn ugly and takes away from the beauty of the plant. I personally prefer a piece of wood that naturally twists and turns to hold up it's neighbor.

  2. user-7006916 03/21/2013

    I agree Sheila! Branches are a crutch in my gladiolus patch.

  3. mainer59 03/25/2013

    I have read about British hazel stakes. I am surrounded by the great north woods in New England, but our trees aren't hazel. What else works? Do you cut off lower branches, or do hazels sucker and you cut suckers? Would alder work? I am all for free stakes, and natural ones, too, but I don't know what to use and how to do it.

  4. Ruth 03/28/2013

    Hi, everyone. Frugal and practical soul that I am, I've been recycling pruned branches for eons, mostly to stake tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant and to build trellises for beans, etc. You can use pretty much anything: maple saplings, hedge prunings, even red-twig dogwood shoots for a touch of color. Typically the wood lasts for a couple of years, and eventually it turns into row markers, or kindling.

  5. user-1020932 03/28/2013

    not sure what a hazel is but i usually have a ready supply of crape myrtle to use. sturdy yet flexible. everybody calls me cheap but Ruth, i will now start describing myself as frugal and practical,,,,,,,much better ring to it

  6. JamesAS 03/30/2013

    Thank you all for taking the time to comment
    Mainer59: You can use (as Ruth says) pretty much anything with a lot of twiggy sideshoots. The only ones that I would avoid are branches that root easily - like willows.
    tntreeman: Hazel is Corylus maxima. A lovely tall shrub with catkins and (provided the squirrels stay away) nuts in Autumn

  7. GardenGoose 04/02/2013

    I thought I was the only person to think of this idea. I haven't always had access to the right size and shape branches, but I have saved quite a bit whenever the wind blows hard and knocks down the neighbors tree branches into my yard. I try to find a 2nd life for everything.

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