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The secret world of topiary




Since last week’s gardening article I’ve been approached by a television production company to continue my investigations into the gardening underworld, writes MARK COX of Baytree Garden Centre.

The word on the street is that the Lucerne Planters are getting ready for a clash with the Wintergold Avenue Gardening Association. The east side of the park by the swings will form the battleground.

The Lucerne Planters favour a square rectangular topiary form while the Wintergolders promote the round, soft, cloud-like shape.

Topiary wars.
Topiary wars.

Through negotiation with an intermediary I am invited to meet the Wintergold Avenue’s leader at their potting shed HQ. Maureen, head of the group, offers me a Garibaldi, which is the international biscuit of friendship.

Derek, her deputy, leads me outside to view their topiary creations. You have to start with the right shaped plant to begin with, he says. So, when buying a plant, look at it from all sides – that way you can decide how to work with it for the best result.

You need to have an idea of how you want it to look, but don’t be too precious as it may not grow how you want. You’ll need a little patience when growing topiary, he adds, and suggest that novice growers begin with Buxus which is a good traditional topiary plant.

When your new plant has put on about 8cm of new growth you can, by using a pair of secateurs or sharp scissors, trim back the new growth to two or three leaves above the new shoot.

Work your way around the plant until you have the rough shape you want. Do not cut too much away and do not cut away the old growth. At this time of the year you can give your Buxus a plant feed as well.

As a matter of fact, now is the best time to trim your plants as this will encourage more shoots which you’ll be able to trim away in mid-summer. It’s a marathon not a sprint. With those words, Darren and Alan escort me off their turf.

The following morning I am snatched from outside the post office by two men who force me into their car.

A blanket is hastily put over my head and when it is finally removed I find myself in the kitchen of a large house.

Geoff, head of the Lucerne Planters, walks in and says ‘come with me’. I follow him into his garden, which is a sea of white patio stones and perfectly manicured green lines of hedging cut to about knee height.

The Lucerne Planters believe that geometric shaped topiary is the true art form, not the mashed potato clumps created by the Wintergolds.

Geoff is then handed a large pair of shears which he brings towards me. I can feel a bead of sweat run down my forehead before finally settling on my top lip.

Geometric topiary requires planning and careful trimming and pruning and the secret is a very sharp pair of shears.

The bead of sweat has now left my top lip and is hanging off my chin like that of a dribbling, tearful toddler.

We share the same principles of topiary to that of the Wintergold’s, Geoff says, but eggs are eggs and bacon is bacon.

With that my encounter is over.

Surely that’s a BAFTA!



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