Tag Archive: topiary


PUB0006342V_711526Save time removing old, browning conifers by transforming them into a new garden feature by pruning.

Brown in the centre?

Remove the small dead branches, especially those form the centre, to reveal the shapes of the main branches. Cut off a few of the lower, larger branches so that you can underplant the conifer with ground-cover plants that tolerate dry shade, including vinca, Geranium (Cranesbill) and Lamium.

Brown at the base?

Variegated ivy or Periwinkle (Vinca) planted at the base of the tree will use the brown. lower branches as aclimbing frame.

Standard conifers?

Transform a conifer into a standard by removing all branches up to 1.5 metres (5 feet)- or lower if desired- and then lightly trim the top to shape.

Source: ‘Short cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest 1999

Old School Gardener

 

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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

Old friends Jen and Dave are currently visiting Cambodia and Vietnam. Yesterday I had an email from them with some interesting pictures of public gardens in ‘the  French equivalent of Simla’ as Jen describes the mountain retreat of Da Lat. After the heat of Ho Chi Minh City they are enjoying the ability to walk around in only 24 degrees (it’s been hovering around freezing here in Norfolk)! Jen describes the nearby Flower Gardens as a ‘complete revelation’ and says:

‘Everything was sternly ordered with avenues of bonsai. Cosmos was planted in strict rows, Gertrude Jekyll eat your heart out!’

Here are her pictures, her favourite being the Vietnamese flag flanked by a topiary teapot (I must admit at first glance I thought the teapot was some sort of squirrel)!

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Old School Gardener

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

 

IMG_9860I mentioned my trip to Bury St. Edmunds a couple of days ago. On the afternoon of that trip we visited a new garden to us, Wyken Hall, just a few miles north east of the town. This is my sort of garden.

After a very good lunch in the on site restaurant, we had a stroll in the sun. An Elisabethan Farmhouse forms the centre point of the range of gardens which include a number of small, but beautifully designed ‘outdoor rooms’ (the veranda,  pictured above, is furnished with 5 original mississippi rocking chairs), as well as a large, well stocked kitchen garden and several herbaceous borders, some cleverly colour-  themed. I particualrly enjoyed the pond with its elevated deck, a beech maze and the Silver Birch glade. The site is also home  to a working vineyard and  is well worth a visit (RHS members free, others £4, open from 2pm most days).

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