Recollecting taxing topiary

I got a reminder on Facebook this week that one year ago I had been embarking on the challenge of cutting a very prominent topiary bird at Hidcote. It was one of the birds that sat overlooking the bathing pool and a piece of topiary that tended to feature in the photos of most of the garden’s tens of thousands of visitors.


I felt very blessed to be given the chance to test my skills on such iconic topiary. The task of being given this was testament to how my hedge cutting had progressed during my time at Hidcote, so now I was trusted to take this on. And I remember being nervous, as there would be no hiding place when it comes to cutting a topiary bird that sits 20 feet in the air, can be seen from all sides and frames one of the most famous views in the historic garden.

However, despite being nervous I was confident I could succeed at taking this on. Hidcote’s hedges are well-renowned and cut by eye using electric hedge-cutters (Little Wonder hedge-cutters to be exact). So any newcomer to the garden is not let loose from day one, they start off on ‘training’ hedges – those a little bit more out of the way and a bit more forgiving to slip-ups – and you then progress into the main garden and onto more prominent hedges.

I was lucky enough during my time to get to test myself on some major hedges at Hidcote, such as the stilts, white garden and long walk. And I had also previously cut the small, intricate parterre at Hanbury Hall. So I was well tasked in straight and precise lines on different scales, but topiary like this is a different beast. I got to practice on a more hidden and not-quite-defined topiary bird in the maple garden at Hidcote before, but it felt quite a step-up to the bathing pool bird.

It involved assembling and climbing a scaffolding to precisely trim back the bushy yew to a give the bird a smooth cut and smart outline. The yew itself had patchy growth so some areas had to be taken back much harder than others, while some areas were left or just nipped out to ensure the yew spreads to fill any spaces – such as around the bird’s rear.

Topiary can be seen as daunting but you just need to make sure to regularly step back and take a look at the shape, and be confident when it comes to trimming. I used the electric trimmers for this, but have also used hand shears for topiary, and also use secateurs for some extra precision elements, for example around the bird’s beak here. I always enjoyed hedge cutting and especially topiary, due to the detailed nature of the work and the sheer satisfaction of transforming a ragged and bushy shape into a smart one.

I went into this task a bit apprehensive, simply due to the importance of this bird and knowing how many people would see it. Thankfully I believed in myself as a gardener and in the precise manner of how I work. I was really pleased with the end result and enjoyed seeing my work sitting so prominent on a daily basis during my time there.


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