Aesthetic Pruning at the Hammond
by Ralph Padilla
essay by Lara Netting, Trustee
In 2022 and 2023, Ralph Padilla, Director of forestry/horticulture, City of Yonkers, and volunteer extraordinaire at the Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden, has continued the gradual process of shaping our 60-year-old trees. He has given special attention to two Japanese black pines (Pinus thunbergii) at the mouth of our pond, a Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora) to the southeast, and two junipers (probably Juniperus chinensis Pfitzeriana) to the southwest. With their curving growth habits, these evergreens are appropriate foci in a Japanese garden. Ralph’s pruning highlights their dramatic form now and encourages them to flush out in the future. Nurturing these specimen trees also includes cutting back and sometimes down neighboring trees. The pines were once part of evergreen ensembles planted by Natalie Hammond, which grew into taller and denser groves than she likely imagined. The junipers, once placed amongst shrubs and standing stones, are now dramatic solitary shapes on our lawn.
1. Garden Entrance with Small Waterfall, Black Pine, and Larch
After entering the Hammond Japanese Stroll Garden, a visitor stands at the north end, with the small waterfall that feeds the central pond at their right. A pair of very tall black pines stand above the waterfall and an aging larch frames a view of the pond. (Image #1) No historical image of the waterfall has yet been found, but the pines were probably less than waist height when Natalie Hammond planted them above her newly constructed cascade. When Ralph began to prune in 2021, the larch and black pines obstructed each other and views of the garden eastward, with tree tops tangled and lower branches crisscrossing. By 2022, in contrast, the pine trunks were clearly silhouetted against the November sky. (Image #2) The larch beside them has been cut back dramatically, not just to clear space around the pines, but also to reduce the load on its aging trunk. Using his arborist’s tree climbing skills, Ralph also cut a significant height from the pines. By continually cutting the tops, he is encouraging this gangly pair to grow outward into a more typical spreading black pine form.
2. Pair of Pruned Black Pines above Waterfall 2022
3. Mature Red Pine and Golden-Tipped Hinoki
To the southeast of the pond, Ralph is shaping a red pine that twists up dramatically against a backdrop of golden-tipped hinoki falsecypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa). (Image #3) This area was meant to echo the surrounding Westchester hills and water, which includes the Titicus Reservoir to the west and the Mountain Lakes Park to the southeast. As shown in this April 1969 House Beautiful photograph, Natalie Hammond’s borrowed scenery design included a reflecting pool in front, a rise of land planted with falsecypress and pines in the middle, and a long view into the distance. (Image #4) We see in modest size the trees that have now grown to about 50 feet: the red pine that is the focus of Ralph’s attention, the hinoki at the edge of the hillock, and an upright juniper. This had become a jumbled woods by 2021. Ralph removed the trees that had not survived, trimmed the grand hinoki, and most importantly, began to nurture the red pine. This tree is native to low mountains in Japan, so Natalie Hammond placed it well on
her hillock. Ralph removed the tip of the tree, straggly lower branches, and weak limbs along the trunk in between. As with the black pines, his vision is that the tree will channel its energy into strong lateral branches and regain a spreading, flat-topped form.
4. Pines and Hinoki as Pictured in House Beautiful April 1969
5. Historic Stone Ensemble with Junipers
6. Stone Ensemble with Junipers 2023
On the opposite side of the garden, Ralph’s pruning has allowed two bonsai-like juniper to emerge from an undistinguished tangles of branches. (Ralph is also an advanced bonsai practitioner.) These had been part of an evergreen and stone grouping in the garden’s southwest. (Image #5) In this photograph probably taken in the 1960s, the two junipers are visible in the left and right background. Behind them, tall Japanese temple cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) enclose the southwestern end of the garden, as they do today. Other low-growing evergreens, such as the pine to the left of the standing stone, evidently died or were cleared from this area. The stone itself has listed, now pointing westward toward the broad juniper rather than standing upright. (Image #6) A 2023 photograph of the same area helps to see the comparison. Seen in before and after images, this juniper perhaps illustrates the art of aesthetic pruning better than any example discussed so far. (Images #7 & 8) Ralph removed the deadwood and low growth that obscured the tree’s inner structure. He trimmed upper branches to create windswept form. He also stooped to weed below the juniper, all to give this rugged survivor a silhouette that stops visitors in their tracks.
7. Juniper Before
Natalie Hammond’s garden has changed almost beyond recognition in 60 years, as her plantings matured without specialized pruning. One of our tasks as we revitalize the garden is to select, highlight, and nurture valuable specimen trees. As Ralph Padilla has described, it is highly rewarding for him to do this work and see both trees and garden gain new definition, season by season. Visitors to the Hammond in 2023 have commented on the garden’s increasingly attractive appearance; this essay may help put words to what has changed. Those of us who work at the Hammond, from staff to trustees to volunteers, are deeply thankful to Ralph’s expertise and hours of volunteer labor.
8. Juniper After
Essay by Lara Netting, Trustee