London (change)
Today 11°C / 8°C
Tomorrow 9°C / 9°C

Hedges and topiary


by James Alexander-Sinclair

I've had another thought about small trees. For a more formal look you should consider the classic topiary trees - a short list would include yews, box, beech, limes and holm oaks.


Path lined with box topiaryI've had another thought about small trees. For a more formal look you should consider the classic topiary trees - a short list would include yews, box, beech, limes and holm oaks.

All of them are terribly amenable and happy to be chopped and pruned and kept below their normal height. They're not much good if you're looking for flowers, but for sheer well-cut elegance you can't really go wrong. You know the sort of thing: yew hedges with razor edges, parasols of pleached lime and frost-dusted box topiary. In the winter they provide structure and add tone; in the summer they seem like benevolent aunts standing stiffly, but attentively, above a gambolling chaos of flower and lawn.

You don't need a huge stately garden to use topiary. In my garden I have two stately yews that stand sentry outside my kitchen window and a cluster of tall beech columns on the lawn. The tidy minded may not approve of the latter as it interferes with a perfect green lawn, but they look great in both winter and summer.

Topiary does not always have to be dignified; box balls add bounce as well as formality, peacocks are always fun; a very eminent landscape architect even clipped a complete tea set into his front hedge (including sugar lumps).

Box hedges are unbelievably useful. In grand houses they've often been used to make elaborate patterns and knot gardens; this can work equally well in smaller gardens, especially front gardens. The front garden can be a bit troublesome as it's not somewhere you're ever going to sit in - unless you enjoy being observed by passers-by - but you still want it to look good. A simple pattern of box and gravel looks fabulous (especially from upstairs windows) and is pretty low maintenance. Box also works well as edging, in order to restrain plants and keep them from falling over paths.

There should always be room for topiary. Don't forget that, amongst all that graft and sweat, gardens are meant to be entertaining. Even just putting a slight twist in a hedge can prompt a smile.



Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Hedges and topiary
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 15/05/2008 at 13:15

I have several hedges in my garden which i need to remove, i have cut them down but the main roots are so deep i cannot get them out no matter haw far i dig. I intend to make the area where the hedges were in to planter boxes & use them as raied flower beds, how can i kill the roots without contaminating the soil which will be placed in the flower beds

Gardeners' World Web User 18/05/2008 at 10:37

Very simple question how do i get cuttings from a bush and when. please reply to homerfridgemagnet@hotmail.co.uk thank you

Gardeners' World Web User 19/05/2008 at 21:23

Pleached catalpa and topiarized box is THE solution for my front garden: why didn't I think of that before? Being Dutch it should be in my genes. Well, it is never too late. Recently moved to this Victorian terrace and wondered how to make it look less boooooring. It will screen out the most interrogating lookers-in as well, in a most elegant way. Good idea. Thank you.

Gardeners' World Web User 29/05/2008 at 17:02

Update on the yew I didn't know what to do with,well it's now the start of a pigs head,it will look like it's coming out the hedge once finished. Did I read some where yew can be cut May and September? someone please let me know because this is the first yew I've had.

Gardeners' World Web User 08/06/2008 at 22:22

I have a few box plants in containers which I have clipped into ball shapes, drum shapes and cube shapes. I have recently purchased a small electric clipper to make clipping a bit easier for an old girl. It will help as my son has bought some privet ball shape standard trees for his garden which Mum will have to keep in shape. We are hoping to visit Levens Hall, a garden famous for its topiary when we go on holiday later on.

See more comments...