Hints & Tips
Now. I know what you are going to say. Holly, are you really going to give us tips on topiary? What happened to your penchant for sidestepping serious issues and writing total and absolute nonsense about weird stuff, odd people and giant vegetables? Well, I am trying to learn a few new tricks and I do have serious side…no really….but, in all honesty, I thought it was time to give something back to the world, after being inspired by the beautiful and genuine sentiments expressed in the Eurovision song contest on Saturday.
I love Eurovision and Saturday night, like every year, found me sitting on the edge of my seat, surrounded by a few Euro-loving friends – Katy, Bobby, Nigel and Plastic Peter – waiting anxiously for the show to begin. I usually make food associated with the host country so we were well stocked with Bratwurst, Strudel and Schnitzelsemmeln. Everyone was very happy, especially the owner of my local world deli who, I swear, educates his kids with what I spend each year on Eurovision day. If the UK ever wins again he’ll be distraught. Mind you, it wasn’t all plain sailing. When the opening ceremony started I got so excited I accidentally upset a bowl of steaming Tafelspitz into Nigel’s lap, ruining his rainbow denims.
It was bit different this year. Fewer accordions, no Bing-Bonga Binga-Bangs, precious little oompah, and no mammarialy enhanced milkmaids or Babooshkas, just attractive young women in flowing ballgowns forcing peace and love promoting ballads to fly out of their lungs like flocks of angry geese. Lot’s of key changes. Powerful stuff. So, I thought as I sipped my third glass of a rather good Rheinriesling, what can I do? I can’t sing… unless you count my attempts to master the wobbly vocal stylings of Ellie Goulding in the shower. I can’t write heart-rending Eurovision songs about love conquering the universe and freedom and children and being heroes in our hearts. And then, as I poured my fourth glass I thought, what more appropriate method of bringing world peace and harmony to the world than by getting everyone out there this week, starting to shape their hedges together? Trim the World! Shape the Future! Wow!
And there is a zeitgeist about this. By some marvelous miracle of the universe, one of my near neighbours, yesterday, started seriously getting into topiary and has decided to turn his large privet into a representation of a stegosaurus… although to be honest I just looked out of the window and it looks rather more like a physically impaired chicken unless you squint very hard. Keep at it Roberto. But it shows that people are thinking about hedge shapes and personal expression. So I thgought I’d find out a bit more.
In the Oxford English Dictionary topiary is described thus – ‘concerned with involving or formed by, the clipping of shrubs, trees etc into ornamental geometric.animal or other shapes‘ and is derived from the from the Latin ‘toparius, referring to ornamental gardening, originally from the Greek word for ‘place’.
Topiary was used in Roman gardens and mentioned writings by such creative luminaries as Pliny, with reference to the reign of Julius Caesar (100BC – 44BC) and this is of course referenced by William Shakespeare in his famous play…”Friends Romans, countrymen, lend me your shears…” Hmm. Anyway, it’s amazing the Romans had time for ornamental hedge trimming what with conquering the world, inventing plumbing and vomiting up their their lunch so they could eat more but there you go.
But we do know Topiary is a very ancient craft with a rich and varied history both In Europe and in the Middle East. Topiary can range from simple trimming of a hedge into severe oblong and square shapes all the way up to fantastical and elaborate creatures such as unicorns, dragons and corkscrew spirals. Or you can do what another neighbour has done and turn them into basic shapes that have already upset half the road, scandalised passing old ladies and had the local police round citing the obscenities act.
But everyone needs to express themself to fill the blank and empty space with something personal and exciting…
Well nearly everyone. However, some tips – any plants used for topiary need to be strong with thick, resilient foliage with smaller leaves for better coverage when shaped.
In this country we often use Box, Yew, Bay and Privet, but Hawthorn and Holly has been shaped successfully. Some plants are better for simple shapes whereas some are more suitable for elaborate animals and other objects, like my neighbour’s Frankenstein’s Chicken. There are many varieties of plant used in other, hotter countries.
The natural height of a shrub or plants will affect how you shape it and taller, thinner shapes my be easier with some varieties than others.
Good quality Double-sided Hedgetrimmers are best for topiary as you can cut in both directions. You might need some hand-trimmers as well for very fine detail.
A plant is likely to need a few years growth before you start seriously trimming and shaping so think about this when starting.
My friend Drew has described topiary as a form of expression that should be, and I quote, … “Created in the calm of patient imagination, not the rush of spontaneous inspiration”.
Tell that to my neighbour. Now come on everybody, let’s get out there and express ourselves with our trimmers and make a peaceful world full of animal shaped hedges. See ya. Holly.