THE MODERN MINT BLOG

Mar19

Topiary Design: Thinking About Pruning

Topiary design is something I think about a lot. Well I would, what with being a topiary artist who makes and maintains topiary, hedges and shrubs throughout the year.

topiary design

Topiary Design

I am still searching for a way to share with you why I prune certain plants a certain way. The easiest answer for me to give is –

“because pruning it that way is what it needs. That is just what the plant told me to do.”

But let’s face it, that is of no use to you.

Firstly because it gives you nothing specific or tangible to start designing your topiary from, secondly because I sound like a wally (you are saying the plant talks to you? what!?!?) and no-one listens properly to an idiot.

If you are uncomfortable with pruning and shaping, unsure about what you want to make, not quite clear in your understanding of how the plants grow or what they can become… then pruning becomes a pain point and something to panic about.

When really, pruning is fun!

Fun… and in some cases completely insane.

So I hope below I can share with you, gently, a few ideas to think about that might be useful to you in your garden.

Certainly when in your garden with a pair of shears in your hand!

topiary design bird

When I Think About Topiary Design, I Think About…

Topiary design works on three levels for me.

The first thing you should master is the basics – learning to clip balls and cones.

Why these two shapes? Because they are the easiest to do by eye, needing time and patience to make them look well-clipped and sharp rather than any great skill. These shapes are also a template for more difficult and interesting shapes, as cones can become spirals and balls can become ‘nubbons’ or ‘twmps’.

Level two of topiary design, in my eyes, is less about the practical clipping of shapes and more about how they are used in the garden.

Context.

Does the piece of topiary act as a way marker, through to a new space?

topiary design duck
Welcome To The Garden. Come This Way…

Is the topiary tall and slim, drawing the eye to the sky?

Will it reflect the sunlight? Our weak British sunlight is no match for the power of a Mediterranean sunbeam, but its softness can be harnessed to light a leaf, or shimmer through a well-thinned plant. Take note of where light hits in your garden, where it doesn’t, and see how you can use it to greater affect.

Does it seem in scale to the rest of the garden?

topiary design hedges

Too big and the effect is overpowering, a weighty, lifeless block of green that has no connection to the rest of the garden. Too small and it is lost, a pointless accessory.

The plants in your garden are an orchestra, you are the composer. You must know the ‘tinta’ of each plant the way a great composer will understand the colour and form that each instrument at her disposal can give to the music.

Once this is embedded in your psyche, your job is to add them to your garden so they work together. Three dark evergreen yew blobs will benefit from being placed near a mushroom of warm, deciduous beech leaf.

Contrast is how to design with topiary.

Contrast that is always in context to what is around it.

So What Is The Final Level of Topiary Design You Are Banging On About?

The last level is the hardest, yet the simplest.

It is designing topiary based on your sense of humour.

That’s it.

topiary design work

It is about completely and absolutely being yourself when you clip, catching a flow and a desire that shares you at your best, your most fun, you with your lightest touch…. all translated through your arms, your hands and into your shears…

It is about you making something that, when you step back, can only have been made by you, the plant you chose to prune, and in that moment.

I do realise it has all gone a bit spiritual here. Or just plain daft.

Stick to your balls and cones. That is the best way to start your topiary design work.

Then think about the questions I asked in stage two of topiary design. See what answers you can come up with in your garden.

Then… take a look at step three. The development and use of your instinct, your sense of humour, your own personality.

Allow this thought to percolate around in your subconscious.

Because who knows – it may make sense in a way you can’t understand, and leave you making some beautiful topiary designs you never thought possible.

Good luck!

See A Few Of My Topiary Design Projects Here

May03

Selection Of Topiary Videos To Help You Clip

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 …

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May03

Mark Zlotsky – Topiary Tango In New York

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 …

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Apr27

Gardenista Interview – I Talk About Modern Topiary

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.