Tag Archive: box


OK, this is cheating bit, I suppose. I wanted my fifth object to capture several things; but all of them involve cutting. Finally I decided on  a plant, or rather a plant treated in a particular way; topiary. In this case at Levens Hall, Cumbria.

levens hallPruning plants is a key gardening task; to stop or promote growth, to shape plants, to remove dead or diseased material, to propagate – and of course we should include grass cutting here.

I could equally have chosen a pair of secateurs or perhaps a lawnmower, but the clipped shapes of yew, box, or other species capture for me this important garden task and also symbolise what you might call the core ingredient of gardening; the conscious act of doing something to enable a plant to grow and to grow in a particular place or way.

Topiary’s clipped shapes transform the wayward beauty of nature into forms and masses which can add structure and give pleasure; when standing alone or providing a foil for swaying grasses, nodding allium heads or cottage garden favourites.

I know there is one school of thought that says this, sometimes drastic, technique seems unnatural, which is certainly true. But then again gardening is about the directing, guiding and controlling of nature. And I have to say, as a fan of topiary, it can make a garden fun. Just look at this combination of geometric shapes at Levens Hall, some of them centuries old. And when you search for topiary on the internet- which I suggest you do- you see all manner of human, animal and other forms, cleverly cultivated and maintained for our enjoyment.

One might almost say topiary puts a smile into any garden…

Old School Gardener

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Beckley Park topiary garden, Oxfordshire

Beckley Park topiary garden, Oxfordshire

‘I doe not like Images Cut out in Juniper or other Garden stuffes: They be for Children. Little low Hedges, Round, like Welts, with some Pretty Pyramides, I like well.’

Sir Francis Bacon

‘What right have we to deform things given us so perfect and lovely in form? No cramming of Chinese feet into impossible shoes is half so wicked as thwe wilful and brutal distortion of the beautiful forms of trees’

William Robinson- ‘The English Flower Garden’ 1898

Personally, I really enjoy topiary- growing it, trimming it and admiring others’ creativity and skill in producing the rather more fantastic forms it can take; oh, and they also make me smile!

OK, so you are cutting back natural growth, but aren’t we doing that when we prune things anyway? What do you think?

Old School Gardener

 

Planting Patterns #7

Planting as form at Marqueyssac, France

Old School Gardener

Bright_green_tree_-_WaikatoAs trees tend to be the largest and longest lived plants in the garden, they should be one of, if not THE first item to consider when designing or redesigning your garden.They rank alongside some of the hard landscaping elements (seats, arches, pergolas, arbours etc.) in helping to provide the ‘bones’ or structural framework of a garden i.e. the structure by which we navigate ourselves around the plot both visually and in terms of guiding our movement. Shrubs (especially evergreens), provide a similar service and should be thought about in conjunction with whether, where and what sorts of trees to include in a design or redesign.

Trees also offer a range of other potential sources of interest in a garden apart from their overall shape or form; leaf size shape and colour (which may vary from season to season), bark (colour, texture or special effects such as peeling or patterned), flowers and fruit (catkins, conkers, apples and so on).

In visual terms the planting of a tree or trees can have a dramatic effect on the layout (or form) and perspectives around the garden. They can be used as a focal point to draw the eye. This includes those planted as a ‘specimen’. Those planted in the foreground or middle distance help to increase the sense of depth or perspective in a garden, while those planted further away help to give a sense of scale to the overall space. So, in a small garden a large tree in the foreground and a small tree at the end will make the garden seem longer.

Leaf size and texture is another important consideration. If you want a strong shape to provide a key structural element all year round in the garden, then go for small leaved, evergreen varieties with distinctive shapes or which can be pruned (topiarised) into these- e.g. Box.

Horse Chestnut flower about to burst
Horse Chestnut flower about to burst

Why not take a look at your garden and ask if you have one or more trees that aren’t in the right place- are they are too tall, too broad, drying out the soil or causing shade where you don’t want it? Perhaps removal or pruning is the answer. Could you introduce a tree or two and help to strengthen what your garden has to offer- providing food or a home for birds, for example or adding a brilliant show of flowers or autumn leaf colour?

Traditionally we seem to have used trees in gardens as stand alone ‘specimens’, often in an island in the middle of a lawn for example. Today, with the wide range of trees available and with characteristics that suit almost any situation, its possible to be a bit freer with how we use them- in groups or among other planting in borders.

If you are using a tree as a specimen think about its positioning carefully- if it’s planted by itself without any surrounding planting to soften its impact, it will be a focal point from the start, and as it grows bigger this impact will become even more pronounced.

If planting several trees together, including adding one or two to an existing group, think about their ultimate height and spread. As in nature, some trees grow well together; eg. Betula pendula, or ‘Silver Birch’- see my recent article in the A-Z of Trees series. The wild cherry (Prunus avium), is another example. So as with any other tree planting think carefully about their ultimate height and spread and allow room for them to grow. If you want to give a denser appearance in the time it takes the trees to mature, try growing them closer together, but expect to remove some as they mature to allow the remaining ones to grow to full size.

When planting more than one tree together in an area of grass, the relationship of one to another will determine the effect and this can change depending on where you are in the garden. A good idea is to use large posts or bamboo canes to mark their positions. Try out different positions to see what effect you like the best. Look at the positioning from different places, including from inside the house. and remember to think about their ultimate height and width and what they might obscure or hide.

Chracterisitcs of the White Fir
Chracterisitcs of the White Fir

We tend to think short term when it comes to gardens- we want immediate impact or effect.

The danger here is that you’ll end up with something that outgrows its space and gives you problems- a classic example is the Monkey Puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) that was planted in the front garden of a Victorian terrace house or villa and is now way too large and tottering precariously above and perhaps towards the house! So the speed of growth is also a consideration; very slow growing trees may take  30 years to have a significant impact, so if you want an impact over a shorter period than this, then that’s perhaps a good choice.

If you have a relatively small garden, don’t think that you can’t have any trees. Smaller varieities of many different types are often available, and by choosing trees that have a more conical or upward habit you can achieve an impact without having a major loss of garden space .

Planting trees too near to buildings is another common problem. Some have relatively compact root systems ; e.g. Birch (Betula), Sorbus, Hornbeam and Magnolia are good examples and rarely cause problems. However trees like Willow will seek out water and their roots are liable to invade drains if planted close by.

If an existing tree is of concern seek the advice of a qualified tree surgeon. and if you think a tree may be subject to a Tree Preservation Order, make sure you consult your local authority before doing anything to affect it. And always consider your neighbours- trees planted close to boundaries may look good from your side of the fence, but think about what impact the tree is going to have on your neighbour’s garden and house. The inconsiderate planting of hedges of Leylandii conifers is the most familiar example of the wrong species being chosen to achieve rapid but usually unattractive results. Left to its own device this tree will grow to well over 100′ high and it looks superb, so don’t expect it to enjoy continually being hacked back!

Old School Gardener

IMG_7828 After a stroll through Estrela Gardens in Lisbon we found  our way to somewhere new to us – the English Cemetery just over the road. What a discovery- a quiet, green and fascinating space where a wide range of graves and monuments records the long association of the English with Portugal. The website of the Anglican Church in Lisbon describes it’s past:

‘Part of the Treaty of 1654 negotiated between Cromwell and King João IV of Portugal stipulated that English subjects living in Portugal should have a plot allotted to them “fit for the burial of their dead” in the Lisbon area. Due to opposition from the Inquisition, nothing was done about this until the early eighteenth century and it was only in 1717 that Consul Poyntz was able to report back to London that he had leased a suitable plot near the City “for the burial of our dead”. It became known as St. George’s Cemetery. From those early beginnings until the present day non- Roman Catholic British Nationals have had a traditional privilege of burial at St. George’s; practising Roman Catholics are now also admitted.  

It is an historic site for many reasons and an interesting one too. Probably the most famous British person buried there is the novelist Henry Fielding; he came to Lisbon to try and recover from health problems but actually died on 8th October 1754. No-one knows exactly where he was buried, but a monument to him in the form of a raised tomb was erected by public subscription in 1830. Later on in the Peninsular War Portuguese soldiers acting under orders from Marshal Beresford forced open the door in order to inter the remains of Brigadier General Coleman; legend has it that many other British soldiers were buried there during this period but have no marked graves. From the twentieth century there are rows of Commonwealth War Graves, commemorating servicemen who happened to die in the Lisbon area during World War II. These are but three examples, a wander round confirms that the remains of many interesting people from all walks of life and different nationalities have been interred at St. George’s for almost three hundred years.

In the second half of the nineteenth century many trees and shrubs were planted in the cemetery, some of which survive to this day. It makes it a peaceful, verdant spot, a walled oasis covering several acres in the middle of Portugal’s busy capital.’

Here is my record of our visit in late October 2013.

 

Old School Gardener

PicPost: Geometric Progression

Villandry, France via Jean Aernoudts

PicPost: In a World of his Own...

photo via Let the Children Play

Griselina littoralis- a good seaside hedge

Griselina littoralis- a good seaside hedge

I’ve had a few queries about hedges recently and this one, from Robert Galbraith is my choice for this week’s GQT:

‘We live in a bungalow near the seashore in Sussex, where the soil is rather sandy. Could you suggest some suitable hedging plants to give our garden a bit of privacy, please?’

There is quite a wide choice of suitable plants Robert. You could go for Grisselina littoralis which has thick yellowish – green leaves forming a dense, solid hedge if formally clipped and will grow in most soils. Escallonia ‘Langleyensis’, with red flowers in June – July is often grown in seaside locations and has glossy evergreen foliage. Other varieties are E. macrantha with deep red flowers in June – September and E. ‘Slieve Donard’ with large pink flowers in June- August.

Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) has silvery grey foliage and orange berries (if both male and female forms are grown). Tamarisk pentandra has feathery flowers in August whilst the form T. tetranda is May – flowering.

Euonymus japonicus, with evergreen shiny leaves is also available in variegated forms which can withstand close clipping as does the shrubby honeysuckle Lonicera nitida with small golden – green leaves.

More generally, and not necessarily suitable for a seaside home, the best ornamental evergeen hedges for formal training and clipping are Yew and Holly. Box is also suitable, but is very slow growing and expensive so is best kept as low hedging (up to about 1 metre tall) or feature, perhaps topiarised, bushes. Hedges of Cypress and Cherry Laurel are also good for an evergreen barrier and Privet, provided it is trained correctly from planting, will supply a satisfactory semi-evergreen barrier.

Cherry Laurel

Cherry Laurel

Old School Gardener

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