THE MODERN MINT BLOG
Below are a few pointers on when you need to think about your topiary and hedges this year, so you can make sure you clip at the best time and not waste any effort doing work you don’t need to do…
January & February
Roses, fruit trees and wisteria is where the focus lies.
Yes, it is cold and the work can be unpleasant because you are often stood on a ladder with your secateurs, barely moving enough to warm the body, but get these jobs done well, with care, and you can enjoy the fruits and flowers of your labour later in the year.
How do you prune fruit trees?
What works best for pruning wisteria?
If you have boxwood hedges left unclipped, now is a good time to do them too. As you have the chance to clip them well…
I tend not to clip yew hedges and topiaries at this time of year, as they can brown off – more from a cold wind, I think.
(To confuse things, I also know gardeners who do the opposite, and won’t clip boxwood in winter but will clip yew all the year round. Gardening is nuanced and weird, but the lesson is LOOK at what your garden needs and the climate is telling you can be done.
Unhelpful advice? Yes. But looking is a skill that comes with practise and is so important for the garden…)
March & April
I do a lot of restoration work now, especially early March – so hard pruning that exposes bare wood. This is just about before the birds start nesting, and I am very careful looking inside a shrub or a piece that is to become a topiary.
I do it now so that you get as much sunlight on the bare wood as possible through the year, as sap rises. This gives it the best chance of leafing up again. Cut hard in the Autumn, and you are looking at a long winter of brown branches…
This is normal for topiary to look this way when starting. Don’t panic. If you have the right plant, it grows back.
Got to be patient though!
Also In March…
Check for the boxwood caterpillar… a pest with no natural predators in the UK and that will, in a matter of days, defoliate your boxwood plants. You need to check your boxwood hedges and shrubs as the weather warms up, and take action fast.
More details and photos here.
May Through To September
The pruning season – some people love their hedges and topiary to look clipped and formal all year round, so start clipping early. I prefer to clip from late August, as then the regrowth is minimal and you only have to cut once a year.
But it really is up to you – consider time, effort, whether you wish to upset nesting birds by pruning in spring, and finally the look you want from your green architecture. That will guide you on how often to cut during the growing season.
But for me, later in the year is better.
Also, if you do have the boxwood caterpillar, keep them at bay by spraying or picking them off every 6 weeks from when you first see them emerge in March (or early April if the weather is colder.)
October To December
Final pruning of yew in October, as well as bay, pittosporum, rhamnus, myrtle and any clipped plants you have from Mediterranean or Californian climes.
Plant trees. Either get someone else to do the digging by donating £6 per tree at Trees For Life.
Or contact me to work out what you need to add to your garden, and the benefits it would bring. Autumn 2021 I planted an orchard of magnolia for a new client.
I cannot wait for it to grow and flower!
Last September when I and topiary artist (and mentor) Charlotte Molesworth ran a weekend of topiary masterclasses we had a visit from the garden writer Non Morris. You can read more about Non and her garden design work and writings here. She has written a lovely article for the February 2022 edition of The English Garden Magazine about her afternoon working with us and learning about topiary – I’m really thrilled by the piece, because she mentions not just a little of the wonderful history of Balmoral Cottage and how the garden grew, but also shares a little of how …
This Autumn I have presented another ‘Topiary Provocation’ to keen gardeners and designers. If you want to know more about topiary, the report on what we discussed and where modern topiary is going can be read by clicking the link below: Topiary Provocation Report Autumn 2021 This report is free to post on your own website or blog, just credit Modern Mint, and don’t change anything within it. Alternatively you can just share it with keen friends… or enemies?
Making a new topiary out of the large, dull facade of a Taxus blob… My work was to change it up from a ‘jelly drop’ shape and give it texture, open it out and let the light through, and make it a sculptural feature in the background of the garden in summer… yet a major part of the garden in winter. A few more years before it becomes something special, but there was far more leaf and growth inside the plant than I thought and so it will not take too long for it to gain in character and become …