Thursday, 23 May 2013

Topiary 2013

Wonderful topiary at Levens Hall, Cumbria

I recently ran a seminar on topiary at Chastleton House (National Trust), exploring the history of topiary from its earliest origins - and how it's been in and out of fashion over the centuries - as well as the history of the beautiful topiary at Chastleton. We then went out to the garden to talk about care and maintenance of topiary and particularly box plants. It certainly seems that topiary is back in fashion again: it was wonderful to see the display of topiary at the Chelsea Flower Show (on the TV) and mention of the famous Mr Cutbush.

Broughton Castle parterre

Sudeley Castle

We explored all aspects of topiary including hedges, mazes, labyrinths, parterres, knot gardens, mad animal shapes and modern geometric or curved shapes. Anyone can have topiary! It can suit formal grand gardens, cottage gardens, small suburban gardens, even houses with no gardens, with carefully placed pots at the doorstep or on a balcony.

What can topiary do? It can provide structure, perhaps providing a focal point or framing a view. It can emphasise a long vista. A tall clipped hedge can hide your neighbours or unwanted view. It can provide symmetry. Most importantly, it can be fun and kitsch – what's more fun than a chicken poking out of a hedge.

You can use topiary to show off your creativity and imagination! It can be modern or ancient – for me it has the same impact. I love a formal topiary garden but also love coming across it unexpectedly.

Frog by the Thames! This photo generated the most interest...

Great Dixter, Sussex

Rodmarton Manor, Gloucs

The topiary at Chastleton is believed to be around 150 years old and although very out of shape now, it is wonderful to look back at the old photos and see how it looked in its hey-day. It is a real privilege to prune it. I've posted this photo before but I couldn't resist putting it again.

Chastleton topiary garden, from the roof

Our favourite shape - the horse

I shall continue to watch The Chelsea Flower Show this week to see if we get more glimpses of topiary but am also counting down the days to prune my spiral and chicken at home and get on to the Chastleton topiary again...