Manicure and Topiary

Manicure and Topiary

There's something so satisfying about a perfectly trimmed hedge or an expertly manicured lawn.

It seems to evoke a bygone era of aristocracy and stateliness that is often forgotten about in the gardens of today. Indeed, topiary – the practise of trimming hedges and shrubs into specific shapes – is an art form that has been around for centuries. It’s thought that topiary began in Ancient Rome, where stunning and elaborate figures and shapes were recreated in the atriums of magnificent villas. Since then it has found it’s way into every far-flung corner of the world, most notably in Japan, where pruning miniature trees into the shape of clouds is known as ‘Niwaki’ or ‘cloud-pruning’. Nowadays, you can buy topiary frames to recreate these styles in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from pyramids and cones to more elaborate shapes such as animals.


Adding some topiary to your garden is a great way to complement an existing design or add an air of sophistication often found in the expansive gardens of England’s stately homes. First you need to decide on the shape you’re looking for and the plant you’re going to use. Generally speaking, shrubs for topiary have small leaves, very dense foliage, and are evergreen -  such as holly, box-leaved privet and laurel. Yew is also a great option to create formal hedging and geometrical shapes. You can then buy a topiary frame to create more intricate shapes, or you can trim your own design in to an existing hedge. If you haven’t done it before, start with something easy like a formal hedge or regular pyramid shape. You’ll need a site with fairly deep and fertile soil in a sheltered, partially shaded area of your garden. You can also plant into large pots – for example two pots with neatly clipped pyramid hedges either side of your front door for a grand entrance.

Once established, you’ll need to keep on top of pruning your plant with some topiary hedge shears. These have special blades for smooth cut and are narrowly pointed allowing you more precision than regular shears. Depending on the size of your hedge, you can get large or small shears to suit. Start by cutting away long growth, keeping the blades parallel with the growth and brushing away cuttings as you go. Sharp secateurs can be used for any thicker sections that need careful shaping. Comb over the plant with your hand to feel out any stray sprigs and then snip those away as well to finish. When using long shears, or reaching to cut, make sure you keep your back straight to avoid injury. It’s important to keep topiary shears in excellent condition for a neat cut, so sharpen and oil them regularly. If the foliage becomes too thick, you may also need to thin some out from the middle to allow for better air circulation.  Make sure you feed annually with some organic compost.

Ball-topiary-frame-LR.jpgTo complete the manicured look in your garden, ensure your lawn is in tip top condition. Mow at least once a week and keep the blades on your mower sharp. To achieve that coveted ‘stripe’ effect, make sure you are mowing in straight lines in alternate directions and that you set the blades of your mower a little higher than usual. The grass bending in different ways is what causes the stripes, and longer grass has a bigger surface area with which to reflect light. Make sure you are also edging your lawn using an edging iron or shears to complete that clean, polished look. You can snip quickly around the edges of your lawn with edging shears, but to get a really well-defined boundary between your lawn and the path or border, use a half-moon edging iron to push down at the edges of the grass and slice off the turf in a neat cut.  

Keep on top of weeding throughout your garden and give your beds and borders plenty of structure by placing taller plants at the back and small bedding plants at the front. Fill in gaps in the border with ground cover or a mulch such as slate chips to ensure they look neat and there are no odd gaps.
Getting the hang of growing plants is easy enough - taming them is the real challenge. Many gardeners will agree however, that there’s nothing quite as satisfying as the sight of a perfectly manicured garden on a summers day.

Have fun trimming
David Domoney