THE MODERN MINT BLOG

Mar27

Phillyrea – A Shrub We Should Grow More Of!

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…

  1. Why it might be unpopular now
  2. Shows photos of it as beautiful topiary, as well as a mature plant
  3. Suggests the tool you need to prune it
  4. Takes advice from Architectural Plants on how to grow it
  5. 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…

phillyrea

It is a member of the olive family

phillyrea topiary

Looks amazing clipped into topiary!

Cloud Pruning!

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! Especially good shears….

phillyrea-latifolia- mature

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.

Phillyrea – Good For Bees?

Apparently, yes.

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!

If you need help with any topiary or pruning in your garden, Phillyrea or otherwise, do contact me.

Apr22

Topiary Provocation Spring 2021

organic topiary snow

Topiary Provocation? What is this about? Topiary Provocation, Darren Lerigo, Spring 2021 This spring of 2021 I invited a number of garden designers to a series of meetings via Zoom, to discuss how topiary can be used effectively in modern gardens. I wanted to discover how both clients and designers felt about topiary, whether it was a part of the garden that got as much thought as, say, the choice of stone for a patio…. and if certain plants and shapes tended to trend in designs or if it truly was a mish-mash of different topiary styles. The provocation and talks …

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Apr22

Waltham Place Talk – Watch On Youtube

waltham place talk

Waltham Place in Maidenhead is one of my favourite gardens of all time. The philosophy is to garden with nature, rather than against, so improving the soil and growing a diverse range of plants is placed at the heart of how to manage the space.   Through the European Boxwood and Topiary Society I arranged a talk by the garden team at Waltham Place. It has been recorded and put on Youtube so if you missed it live, you can watch it there and get a feel for what they are doing. There are some extraordinary photos of the garden …

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Mar15

Topiary Provocation For Garden Designers

snow topiary

I am running a ‘Topiary Provocation’ for garden designers, via Zoom, over the next few weeks. Dates are: Tuesday 23rd March, 10am Wednesday 24th March 7.30pm Thursday 8th April, 7.30pm The ‘provocation’ is for garden designers anywhere in the world, is free to join and will last about 45 minutes. Places are limited to 12 per session, as I want to make sure we can share ideas about topiary and how it can be used (and managed) in a modern garden – especially if skill level and maintenance time is low. I hope that I can provoke a discussion around …

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