THE MODERN MINT BLOG
My name is Darren Lerigo and I make and maintain topiary like this here in the UK.
Organic shaped hedges and ‘Big Bird’ in the background
I work for a range of people across many different gardens, but the majority of my clients are people who:
- Are keen garden lovers
- Want something fun or extraordinary in their garden
- Are keen on design, or are artists and creatives in their own right
- Understand their current garden and shrubs can be given a makeover and improved
- Have just had a garden design done and need a professional hand to maintain the new evergreens
- Want to focus the light on different leaves, or allow more light through to the flower beds
- Enjoy the garden looking smart when it has been well-clipped
- And of course love and want topiary in the garden!
Topiary and the creative pruning of shrubs is a beautiful art form, able to transform a garden space with just a few cuts.
(Sometimes quite brutal cuts, yes, but a few cuts all the same….)
Boxwood hedge I clipped by hand, transforming this area of the garden
I have learnt my topiary and pruning skills over many years, through experimentation in gardens and at home, as well as under topiary artists like the lovely Jake Hobson (author of ‘Niwaki’ and ‘The Art Of Creative Pruning’) and the amazing Charlotte Molesworth (whose topiary garden, below, you can stay at for a holiday.)
Jake gave me the confidence to start clipping, to keep the pruning action as simple as possible and to see what you can create when you allow the plant itself to guide you. This style of topiary art is known as Organic Topiary and features wonderful terms like ‘blobs’.
You can see below how a group of ‘blobs’… becomes a ‘blobbery’.
The blobs above are Hebe, the New Zealand evergreen. A quite standard plant, often found in plantings of new builds and in supermarket car parks. By pruning carefully and with an eye for detail, you can give these plants a new lease of life in the garden. In particular, this ‘blobbery’ softens the hard landscaping it borders.
Sunlight On Topiary
Note as well the difference between the light and the shade. A lot of topiary works best when it is pruned with the light in mind – where it hits, how it reflects sunshine and how the garden changes through the day, as the sun moves across the garden.
I only realised how important light is to a garden when I returned from living in Madrid, where I had come across the ideas and work of garden designer Fernando Caruncho, and was no longer bombarded daily with the sheer strength of the Spanish sun. The soft English light has to be used differently.
The thoughtful pruning of evergreens and careful thinning of deciduous trees helps enormously in manipulating light around the garden.
To my mind, it is this that makes the addition of topiary, the careful choosing of leaves and the clipping of these plants such an important part of a well-made garden.
Charlotte Molesworth – Topiary Artist
In recent years I have been so so lucky to spend time working with, and in the garden of, Charlotte Molesworth. She has been a brilliant mentor and helped me learn the craft and patience needed to make more formal topiaries.
Charlotte Molesworth and I
Charlotte’s topiary work has been seen on the TV many times, including on ITV’s ‘Love Your Garden’ with Alan Titchmarsh and with comedienne Miranda Hart and her mother Dee Hart-Dyke in ‘All Gardens Great And Small’.
She has made and maintained topiary all over the UK and into Europe, as well as being a keen and knowledgeable member of the European Boxwood And Topiary Society (which if you love boxwood and topiary as much as I do, you should certainly join!) Being able to learn from her knowledge and experience first hand has been a remarkable experience.
I have spent many days stood at the top of a ladder in her garden, a sharp pair of beautiful Japanese shears in hand, gently shaping some huge topiary piece that has been 35 years or more in the making. They are days I am grateful for. Even more so when the sun has been shining….
My Favourite Plants To Topiarise…
Some of the best plants to clip and prune are:
Worth getting a few of them in your garden perhaps? As a green canvas upon which to paint with groups of more colourful flowers…
To Clip By Machine? Or By Hand?
I work by hand as much as I can. It is better for the environment and also for my lungs – it is not much fun breathing in the fumes from a short-handled hedge trimmer all day!
The shears I use are Japanese made, as are the secateurs and clippers. They can all be bought here at Modern Mint. I love the Japanese tools because they are:
- Simply made, meaning that less can go wrong
- Because the steel is so good, they can also be sharpened easily back to the level you got them at.
- Great value for what you are buying.
You can see these tools in more detail here at the Modern Mint Shop.
When a job requires it, due to sheer size, available resources or just plain common sense, I will use a number of hedge trimmers. I prefer the Stihl made tools. Partly habit from the days I cut hedges for tree surgeons, when we often used Stihl tools and I liked their reliability, weight and balance…
But I also like them for their value. You can bash them around (not recommended, but you can) and they will still last a long time. Less waste and less problems all round. Which is great when you have a lot of hedges to cut!
You can see an interview I gave, along with lots of great photos, in an article the Guardian published as part of their Artisans Series – Cutting Hedge Technology.
I have been included on the Hiut Denim newsletter.
A number of garden designers have employed me to make and maintain topiaries for their clients. Let me know if that is you and maybe we can work together?
I have taught apple tree pruning workshops to garden clubs, as well as topiary art to individuals and small groups in private gardens.
Contact me if this is something you would like to do. Working on fruit trees is one of my favourite jobs and I am always happy when a client asks for help with their apple, pear and plum trees, or even their whole home orchard.
What Can I Prune For You?
If you have topiary pieces, boxwood hedges, fruit trees or just exciting ideas for fun shapes in your garden, then get in touch with me.
It would be great to find out if I can help make your garden better.
Many thanks and happy gardening,
Transforming Topiary – a video made for the European Boxwood And Topiary Society by Charlotte Molesworth and I, in her garden. We take a dog topiary and work out how to update it, turning it into a bird. Worth a watch I think, and hopefully useful to you! You can see more of my clipping on the topiary page. Or read my Spring 2021 Topiary Provocation here.
Phillyrea is one of my favourite plants for topiary. I have been using it for quite a few years as a specimen shrub, mostly due to the fact it clips well and has a tough habit – all good characteristics for a topiary plant. It also has a reputation for being an excellent nectar source for bees… Read more about Phillyrea here. Mentioning this to Malcolm Thicke, a market garden historian and writer, he sent me a some photos of topiary and phillyrea mentioned by John Worlidge in Systema Horticulturae from 1682…. incredible! He also mentioned to me that in …
Kites and Strings is a podcast about creativity, hosted by US-based Stephen Ploum and Catherine Chinnock. Back in March they asked me to come onto their podcast and talk about topiary, my past writing plays, the stand-up I did and how creativity can fit into your life. The Kites and Strings podcast was great fun and Stephen and Catherine are fantastic hosts. Listening back today I am surprised by some of the ideas I talked about (somehow I even started to describe a future where I run a ‘School of Creativity’ by the sea…. where did that come from?!) but it …