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 (most of the time… sometimes the shaping is more brutal!) 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. 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.
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…
I 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? Failing that, check out my Topiary Provocation to learn a little more of what modern topiary is all about.
I have taught wisteria and 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 wisteria and fruit trees is one of my favourite jobs. 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?
It would be great to find out if I can help make your garden better.
Many thanks and happy gardening,
In 2022 I did a free video for Garden Masterclass, the Annie Guilfoyle and Noel Kingsley run website that is a treasure trove of the great and good of the horticultural world – well worth looking through all the wonderful talks they have available, like meadow-maker James Hitchmough or nurserywoman Rosy Hardy. They are certainly inspirational! Perfect for watching and dreaming up new ideas during the winter months… As a follow-up to my Topiary Provocations video (which you can see on Youtube for free) I was asked to do a video for their Masterclass series on how to make topiary. …
The lovely garden of my mentor Charlotte Molesworth is featured here in the Financial Times in the last week or so… She has been interviewed lots of times but I thought this was a particularly great piece, with some photos done at unusual angles and different parts… so well worth a read. For more on topiary by Charlotte Molesworth…
I will be teaching a number of topiary workshops in 2023. Listed below with links to see all the details about how to book: Northern School of Gardening, near Harrogate – April 27th 2023 Madoo Conservancy, New York – May 12th 2023 Madoo Conservancy, New York – May 13th 2023 Gunnebo House, Gothenburg – June 29th 2023 Waltham Place, near Maidenhead – September 8th 2023 WFGA, Kent – September 9th 2023 I hope to add more through the year, but please do email me if you want to be added to a reminder list when dates are announced. And as …