Garden Journal 27.6.21

Every single plant has been turned to present its very best side to the front, they’ve all been puddled in, some have even received a few words of wisdom, but now they are largely on their own. Here onwards, except for some water when they really need it, a little seaweed feed when time allows, a few weeding sessions and maybe a cane here and there; they will be left to get on with it – and good luck to them!

Topiary Time

Another notable feature of the garden at Sulgrave Manor is topiary and hedges. As with the glasshouses, they may not be at the grand end of the scale, but each and every one plays an important role and contributes significantly towards the character of each area. These features are stand-out items, and so it’s necessary to keep them neatly trimmed – especially in summer after a strong flush of soft spring growth.

Topiary is defined as ‘the art or practice of clipping shrubs or trees into ornamental shapes’, and for me, even a standard form hedge brings out the perfectionist every time. It doesn’t matter how sizeable the feature, come trimming time I seem to mentally drop into slow-motion so that, by the time I’m done, I can walk away knowing I’m happy to look at it every day without wanting to nip another bit here, or shave a slither there.

Gary Webb, Head Gardener at Sulgrave Manor clipping topiary in June 2021
Getting my topiary game 21 underway!

It’s almost a meditative process given the focus needed, and to spend time with a good pair of shears can, even considering the physical effort, be quite relaxing. Every person practicing the art has their own approach and method. The shifting from machine to shears to snips, the brushing of the foliage to lift the stems, the tidying as they go; every step can be mesmerising to watch.

I’ll certainly not link myself to any of the masters out there, but I’ve assembled a little video of me trimming some box spheres at Sulgrave Manor to give an initial idea of how I tackle the task. They’re the first of a handful of topiary features that I have to work with, and if I can I’ll share more footage of work in progress over the next week or so.

Freshly trimmed spheres of buxus at Sulgrave Manor in Northants
The finished items, for a while at least…

In the meantime, I have no hesitation in recommending two particular topiarists who I follow on Instagram. They’re both specialists in the art, and both have inspired me to take my trimming even more seriously and to sharpen my game.

First up is James Todman who works from Worcestershire. I’ll pop a link to his Instagram feed at the foot of this post but rest assured, if you haven’t seen his work before you are in for an absolute treat. Be warned though – you’ll have a job to stop watching!

Secondly, I’d suggest taking a look at another topiary star named Andy Bourke, otherwise known as The Hedge Barber who works from Rutland. Andy’s work again is displayed beautifully on Instagram with perfectly formed topiary photos and videos, all combining to offer endless inspiration for new or established topiary fans.

If my efforts therefore aren’t quite satisfying your creative need, do have a look at the guys mentioned above, and do feel free to recommend any favourite topiary stars or gardens in the comments – I’ll certainly check them out.


I’m having to try pretty hard to narrow down my observations this week, such is the diversity of things I’m seeing and experiencing on a daily basis. Indeed it is all too easy to become overwhelmed by the incredible rate of plant growth just now, the speed at which the plants are going over, and the number of things that need attention.

At Sulgrave I have been encouraged to see my first common spotted orchids that have popped up in the thick orchard grass. “There’s more than ever before” is what I’m hearing from members of the garden team and of course; we’re all delighted. Elsewhere in the orchard Lotus corniculatus or bird’s-foot-trefoil is also flowering beautifully, a real favourite of mine and of course very welcome.

Bird’s foot trefoil

The established cow parsley that swayed serenely throughout the orchard just weeks ago has suddenly been ousted by some thuggish hogweed. When I tuned in to the first few hogweed plants I naively thought that I might weed them out with a chop here and there, but almost overnight their numbers grew to the point where all I can do is embrace their presence, and to leave them be for the pollinators who absolutely love them.

Looking away from the orchard, and just before the long hedge some roses just have to get a mention. Their buds over the last few weeks have been opening steadily with voluminous flowers of the type that are made for burying noses in. ‘Sweet Juliet’ and ‘Winchester Cathedral’ had sizeable lead labels leaning against their rough bases, but another rose, of which there are a good few, had no label at all.

A large creamy yellow coloured rose flower surrounded by a number of pink flower buds
Rose Identification…

It is a real beauty of a rose with a very full creamy yellow flower, and contrasting peachy pink buds; the whole structure is an absolute treat on the eyes. It’s aroma is pretty delicious too but I’m not gifted in being able to describe the scent – I often joke that they’re all either nice and sweetly scented or have no scent at all!

To my aid though I have a wonderful person from the British Association of Rose Breeders ( @rosesukroses on Twitter) who as good as confirmed my initial identification that the rose is indeed ‘Lichfield Angel,’ an English shrub rose from David Austin. Well, with no further ado I’ll declare this rose an absolute stunner and a firm favourite from here onwards!

I could very easily continue my ‘observations’ about Sulgrave, as there’s so much happening in the garden just now. I’m feeling the need though to round off my rambling observations with a mention of snow falling across my local area of south Warwickshire.

When I say snow, I mean snow-like really, with the steady falling of what’s best described as fluff. This fluff has been drifting down, across and around the houses for nigh on two weeks now and doesn’t look like stopping. Even now as I lift my eyes from the keyboard I instantly see some drifting past the window.

Poplar fluff and nonsense…

It is of course drifting from a very long line of view-blocking Poplar trees around a nearby field. This ‘fluff’ has collected on hedge tops, it’s caught up in cobwebs and corners, it’s matted across lawns and beds and even insists on floating into the house. In short it’s causing a right mess!

On balance though, I have to say that this has happened previously to a lesser extent, and there certainly isn’t a sign that any of the seeds germinate – or I at least haven’t spotted them growing wild anywhere around the houses. In summary then, whilst they’re a bit of a nuisance, they’re not a problem in the big scheme of things – they’re just dropping in to remind us of how incredible nature is in all its varied forms.

I think on that note, it’s time for me to finish up my garden journal for this week. I do hope you’re having a good summer, and have found or are planning some opportunity to visit a garden or three.

All the very best, Gary.

Link to my topiary trimming at Sulgrave Manor.
Link to James Todman’s Instagram
Link to Andy Bourke’s Instagram

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