Friday, 23 September 2011

Top Topiary...

Topiary is the art of clipping trees and shrubs into strange and wonderful shapes and has a history as old as gardening itself. Sometimes in, and sometimes quite out of fashion, none can deny the presence of grand old specimens, their timeless forms carrying us across the generations. They give stability and permanence to a garden. Every one is a character, magical and mysterious. Meet them by moonlight and you will see what I mean!



Seemingly permanent, yet in reality a fragile legacy from the past. As much of the moment and of this year as any annual. These art forms are not abandoned on completion, but are reworked and refreshed through an unbroken line from their creation, decades or centuries past. 


If not re-crafted, re-shaped and re-made each season their crisp outlines and solid forms would quickly grow out and disappear. They are our living link with the generations that have gone before us. It is this sense of continuity as owners and gardeners come and go that make them so special.


It has been my privilege to work with one of the biggest and oldest gathering of trimmed trees, in the garden at Levens Hall for much of my working life. I am also often called upon to rescue or revive endangered topiary elsewhere. 


All the topiary specimens you see on this page are all part of a wonderful collection in a private garden in North Yorkshire. I have been sculpting and developing them for the past ten years...




Pairs of clipped birds seem to call to one another from their plinth like perches surrounding the house. While further down the garden there is a long hedged enclosure, a gallery garden housing the most amazing collection of green clipped sculpture...


Thursday, 8 September 2011

Indian Bean Trees- Better Late than Never...

Some trees are so eager to get growing in spring that their earliest shoots almost always get crumpled and blackened by the last biting frost of winter. The beautiful Katsura trees (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) are a case in point. 

Others, especially the Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa bignonioides), take on an altogether more cautious approach. Its bare branches feign death until the temperature truly rises, carefully and cautiously not breaking dormancy until early summer, long after everything else has leafed up. It is worth the wait however, as fresh leaves throughout the season are always flushed deepest purple before expanding into huge green, dinner-plate sized lobes. 
Slow off the mark it may be, but it is forgiven by the end of summer. This small tree is a memorable sight right now, still in full flower right down to the ground. Smothered in white blossom, closer inspection reveals large, loose clusters of tubular flowers, their throats spotted pink with yellow stripes- almost orchid like in beauty and complexity.
Given warmth for a few more weeks however, and the best could be yet to come. As other trees colour up for autumn or even begin to lose their leaves, the Catalpa’s flowering is followed by a display of dangling trusses of foot long, pencil thick pods. The amazing but inedible beans hang on all winter and give rise to that name- ‘Indian Bean Tree’.

Unless and until a sharp frost stops their development, these trees just keep getting better and better. So lets all hope for a late, long ‘Indian Summer’ this year.... 

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