THE MODERN MINT BLOG
Phillyrea is a shrub I came across a fair few years ago, in my search for clippable topiary shrubs for my own topiary work.
It seems to have been out of favour a long time – this piece about the plant by Mary Keen is from 2004, encouraging gardeners to try it out. But those 13 years pale in comparison to the last time it was popular – in the 17th and 18th centuries!
This Blog About Phillyrea Teaches You…
- Why it might be unpopular now
- Shows photos of it as beautiful topiary, as well as a mature plant
- Suggests the tool you need to prune it
- Takes advice from Architectural Plants on how to grow it
- Considers its role as a valuable plant for bees
Why Is Phillyrea Unpopular Now?
This is a tough one to answer, especially when you see how lovely the plant is…
It is a member of the olive family
Looks amazing clipped into topiary!
The fact it isn’t used more may have something to do with cost and availability. Most places who say they stock it will not have any available, while prices seem to vary greatly – a pre-clipped, cloud-pruned shrub will cost a lot more as you are paying for the topiarists time making it into that shape, while a normal 2 litre pot will be in the £8-10 range.
We heard from a nurseryman it is incredibly difficult to propagate, which is backed up by the Mary Keen piece on this lovely shrub.
We do not agree with her on one thing she says though…
“It seems a pity to clip the larger leafed form (latifolia) – if you must, tackle it with secateurs as you would laurel, so that the leaves are never sliced in half; this makes evergreens look dreadful. P. angustifolia can be clipped in the same way as box or holm oak.”
Nope! Shears will do just fine on this tree! Well, good shears….
Like a large head of broccoli.
How To Grow Phillyrea
Here is what Architectural Plants (where you are most likely to get a pre-cloud pruned plant) have to say about it:
“Tough as old boots. It’ll grow in sun or shade and on any soil but to get the best out of these trees they need space and light. You could say, the more exposed, the better.
It clips beautifully.
It’s only peccadillo is a terrible weakness for white fly. They’re inconvenient but there’s little you can do so ignore them.
We often sell these when restoring Tudor, Elizabethan or Mediaeval gardens. There’s masses of evidence to show that Phillyrea was used extensively hundreds of years ago. The diarist John Evelyn writes of them frequently – as if they were then as common as box, yew and holly.
What happened? They used to be so widespread and now they’re rare.
Garden historians are perplexed and so are we.”
Fantastic piece from a lovely nursery.
And check out this blog about Phillyrea from 400 years ago!
Phillyrea – Good For Bees?
John Worlidge (who smartly advocated we make cider, not wine here in the UK, because that suited our climate better… oh how times have changed with English wine becoming the thing!) wrote in 1676:
“above any tree, the bees most affect the phillyrea; one sort of them beareth in those months (spring) an abundance of greenish blossoms, which yield great plenty of of gummy rosinny sweat, which the bees daily transport to their hives…. nothing can be more acceptable to your bees than a hedge of this tree about your apiary.”
If you can get Phillyrea cheap enough as a hedging plant, would this be worth a go?
We think so!
Finishing Up On Phillyrea…
This really is a useful plant – easy to grow, easy to keep in shape if you have a small garden, allows you to have fun with pruning tools when you give it the topiary treatment, reflects light from its leaves to brighten up the garden and can be a boon for bees.
We have planted it for one client, but will be making sure Phillyrea is down on the list of any plant schedule in the future.
And you should try growing Phillyrea too!
Further Reading: Phillyrea from nearly 400 years ago.
If you need help with any topiary or pruning in your garden, Phillyrea or otherwise, do contact me.
Over the last two years I have been involved with a couple of projects that have ended up being recorded, then placed on Youtube or Instagram. I’m hoping they will be useful to you, so I have decided this morning to pop them together in one handy blog post so that you can bookmark the page and revisit when you need some inspiration for your topiary. See below then, a few videos about topiary I have recently been involved with… Garden Masterclass – Provocations of a Modern Topiarist Transforming Topiary Topiary Teacher Put On The Spot https://www.instagram.com/p/CTj-EfOKRL6/ In the above …
Mark Zlotsky is an artist based in New York, and today I just wanted to share his project ‘Topiary Tango’. In his introduction to the project he talks of topiary being a forgiving art, which I love and is soooooo true…..! For proof, just take a look at some projects I have made with a sharp pair of shears, a hedgetrimmer and a pruning saw. Do check out Mark Zlotsky’s project, because although his interest began by looking at topiary through the prism of architecture and the relationship of one building to another, he touches directly onto a way of …
Gardenista, the online magazine about gardens and design, have interviewed me about topiary. The article is called ‘Rethinking Topiary: A Garden Tradition Loosened Up’ and was published this morning. Written by the excellent garden writer Clare Coulson, I share some thoughts on using deciduous plants, how to clip (name-dropping Anne Lamott and her book on writing at one stage… oh, how I wander off subject sometimes!) and how to improve topiary by what you plant around it. Do take a look at the article in Gardenista. Or for more about my topiary work, check out the topiary page.