PlantsThe Garden

Topiary – Living Sculpture in the Old Vicarage Garden

By November 14, 2020 November 20th, 2020 No Comments

It Ain’t What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It

As ever, serendipity has been my friend when it comes to developing topiary as a key element of our garden. Our first attempts to shape the look of things at the Old Vicarage consisted, largely, of hacking back the rhododendrons and the random holly saplings sown by birds and the wind. Rather than try to dig all the holly trees out, we took out the tops. We then neglected them for a few years whilst our attention focused on renovations and the creation of play areas for our children. When we returned we found them bushed out and stronger than ever!

To be truthful, we’d had no great vision or patience to let them do their own thing. But then over time it became obvious we should make the most of them. So we added more shrubs and started to see them as part of a bigger picture. The natural enhancement of a traditional vicarage garden.

Over the years we’ve added scores, if not hundreds, of specimens and sat back and waited for them to grow large enough to shape. We now have a canvas of holly, box, yew and osmanthus all over the garden that we can get to work on.

Method In The Madness

Before I start it’s worth reflecting on the two distinct methodologies which I’ll be following.

Topiary is the training of plants, shrubs and trees by clipping them into clearly defined shapes, whether geometric or fanciful. It has its origins in both Roman and Far Eastern gardening, art, culture and religion. Gaius Marius Calvinus, one of Julius Caesar’s circle, was one of the earliest European practitioners of the art of Topiary. Indeed, the word, topiary, is derived from the Latin ‘topiarius’ and ‘topia’ and is essentially the creation of “places”.

In China and Japan the aim was to achieve an artful expresssion of natural forms often referred to as cloud pruning. The practice of Karikomi is deeply embedded in the rituals of both culture and religion. Japanese Zen gardens are spectacular after a snowfall and their design anticipates and incorporates the interplay of the seasons.

Start As You Mean To Go On

Despite the absence of powered hedge trimmers (self-isolating in Wales) I have made a start. Bed by bed, hedge by hedge and pot by pot. My first job is to rearrange some of the planting to simplify the design by utilising more homogeneous groupings. It will involve quite a bit of transplanting but now is the time to do that.

I’ll be keeping notes and a photographic record for future posts. Of course, I’ll also be looking out for the helping hand of serendipity along the way.

Neil Kinsella

Author Neil Kinsella

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