Monthly Archives: December 2013

Winter Structure – Part 2

Today this form of garden art is enjoying a renaissance – not least because it looks fantastic no matter what the British weather throws at it. While it is usually featured in more formal, symmetrical gardens, you can find quirky, fascinating subjects in all kinds of unexpected places.

Highgrove - 7 December 2008

Yew topiary on The Tyme Walk, Highgrove Garden – © Highgrove/GAP Photos

When it comes to choosing evergreen shrubs to train into different shapes, it’s wise to stick with plants that have dense foliage made up of tiny leaves or needles. A compact or columnar growth habit is also helpful so box, yew, privet and myrtle are all ideal. In larger gardens, some types of holly are also suitable, as are the Thuja family of cypresses. Larger-leaves species such as bay can be used, but you need to prune very carefully with secateurs rather than topiary shears to avoid cutting any leaves in half. For smaller spaces, lavender, rosemary, santolina and hebes can make great subjects.

Buxus balls in border in winter – Woodpeckers – © Juilette Wade/GAP Photos

Buxus balls in border in winter – Woodpeckers – © Juilette Wade/GAP Photos

It can take many years to create a large specimen, so one option for people who like the look of topiary but want fast results is to buy a wire cage and train ivy or other small-leaved evergreen climbers up over the wire to create a living shape. You can also buy ready-trained topiary trees and shrubs – a simple standard lollipop shaped laurel or holly can be found from around £60, while taller trees in more complex shapes will cost hundreds.

Clipped Buxus topiary shapes covered in frost in the Alice in Wonderland Garden, West Green House Garden - © Clive Nichols/GAP Photos

Clipped Buxus topiary shapes covered in frost in the Alice in Wonderland Garden, West Green House Garden – © Clive Nichols/GAP Photos

If you want to go and see topiary, then the Alice in Wonderland Garden at West Green House in Hampshire is a fun place to start. At Highgrove Gardens in Gloucestershire you can see some truly spectacular topiary along its Thyme Walk. Woodpeckers, in Warwickshire, is a 2.5 acre country plot that, while largely informal, demonstrates how a knot garden and  topiary can be used to great effect in a more modern setting that works in sympathy with the surrounding countryside.

Winter Protection

A few moments spent wrapping for winter can make the difference between life or death for your tender plants. A few centimetres of cover can give that all-important extra few degrees of warmth.

Plants in the ground will benefit from a generous layer of mulch (such as straw or chipped bark) over their roots. Many alpines are very hardy and can withstand cold but they are vulnerable to damp on their crowns, so offer them cloche protection.

Glass cloches are heavy enough to remain stable in windy weather, but plastic designs may need to be pegged in place to ensure they don’t blow away. To keep the rain off larger alpines, rest a sheet of glass or plastic on upturned plant pots.

Plants in small pots can be moved to the shelter of a greenhouse, while you can keep the roots of larger specimens cosy by wrapping the container in a double layer of bubble-wrap or Hessian (available very reasonably online). Fasten with strong garden twine and check on pots regularly to ensure all is in order.

Tender plants such as palms, bananas and tree ferns will need to have their growing point protected, so use twine to tie the leaves in around the plant, then wrap them in several layers of horticultural fleece.

5 Days of Christmas Craft – Day 5

Christmas decorations from Birch bark

Making Christmas decorations from birch bark - Finished decorations, a star and a bauble hanging in a tree - © Victoria Firmston/GAP Photos

Making Christmas decorations from birch bark – Finished decorations, a star and a bauble hanging in a tree – © Victoria Firmston/GAP Photos

The bark of silver birch trees can be cut away in small pieces without damaging the tree, but this needs to be done in spring and is quite a tricky process. You can also buy sheets of sustainably harvested bark online and from floristry suppliers. It can be used to create unusual Christmas decorations that catch the light as they dangle from your tree. Place the sheet of bark on a cutting board and use templates to draw star shapes or circles as close together on the back of the bark as you can. Use a Stanley knife to cut them out, then use a punch to make a round hole in the top of each one. Thread a length of ribbon through the hole and tie the two ends securely to make a hanging loop.