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PLANT OF THE MONTH - MARCH

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topiary hedges

DYNAMIC SHAPES FOR THE GARDEN

Topiary is an exciting design feature that can bring grace, elegance and even humour to the smallest plot. The tradition of clipping plants regularly to create all manner of shapes and effects is an ancient one, with living examples such as those at Levens Hall in the Lake District being over 300 years old. Today topiary is finding a new home in domestic gardens all over the country.

One of the biggest strengths of topiary is its versatility. Topiary can be used to highlight features of interest in the garden. If you want to draw attention to a piece of statuary, a water feature or frame a gateway, topiary can be the ideal way of achieving this. It provides year round structure which will look wonderful with a crisp covering of winter snow. A wide range of shapes can be created, from geometric cubes, spheres and pyramids to imaginative birds or animals. Curvy shapes can communicate a sense of movement and flow. The plants which are used tend to be evergreen, so there is the added bonus of foliage in winter.

Any plants will respond well to regular clipping, but Buxus, or box, is one of the most popular. Its dense growth habit and evergreen leaves make it ideally suited for this purpose. Plants don't have to be long-established specimens growing in the ground; container plants are popular subjects for topiary too. You can be as reserved or flamboyant as you want with box, establishing symmetrical hedging, perhaps for framing a feature or lining a path, or you can really let yourself go with a riot of shapes and an imaginative layout. Fertile, well drained soils are ideal for box, but they will do well in most situations provided the soil isn't waterlogged. Garden centres and florists now sell ready shaped plants in containers which you can trim to keep in shape. Alternatively, choose from the range of ready-made wire shapes that are available and create your own. Clip or prune in late spring. Taxus, or yew also responds well to this usage and most species tolerate urban pollution, dry soils and exposure. Clip or prune yew in summer and early autumn. (Please note, parts of yew are poisonous).

If you're opting to grow topiary specimens in containers, remember pots and planters play a role in complementing the planting too. At the same time, why not look at the wide range of dwarf and ornamental conifers that work so well alongside shaped plants?

Topiary offers so many ways of making more of the garden. Plants which are suited to it can thrive in the range of soil and climatic conditions commonly encountered in this country and it requires only a little maintenance in the form of occasional clipping.



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