I'm always being asked about topiary: it's such a shame, it's one of those subject where I really need both hands and a specimen to explain it properly.
And I am always very happy to demonstrate: if you have topiary of your own, and you are nervous about shaping it, why not ask me to come and give you a lesson? As long as you live somewhere near Wantage, of course! Feel free to email me for details.
Right, topiary - and today it was Cones.
My client has a pair of variegated Box cones flanking a garden seat, and about twice a year they get a haircut.
As Mrs Beeton would have said (had she been a gardener) First, Take Your Cones. Here they are in all their fluffy glory.
The principle is the same as for any topiary: first take a good look at them, and decide if they are more-or-less the same size, or whether one is going to need more off than the other.
In this case, they were fairly even: variegated box tends to be slower growing than any of the plain ones, so they make good "permanent" topiary, as long as whoever prunes them is not prone to making major mistakes.
For these guys, I was using the usual garden shears: I started by straddling a cone, and cutting a swathe from top to bottom, following a straight line leaning outwards from the top. Christmas-tree shaped.
I then turn around to face the other way, and do the same again. Then I turn in quarters and repeat. By standing in the same pose, and just swivelling around the base of the cone, I find it quite easy to get the same angle on each side.
Once you have done that, you just have to join up the strips, taking care to make it a rounded join, as they are cones, not pyramids.
As always, I clip them fairly roughly, then stand back and check for bad angles, before doing them again more slowly and closely, to get the neat finish.
Then I "fluff" them up with one hand, to shake out all the loose clippings, and to see if there are any small branches that were hiding away from the shears: if so, they get clipped to match - either with the shears, or sometimes with the secateurs for real precision.
The pointy top gets a little special attention, as does the very bottom: I always try to cut these cones with a very short clear stem, and my client always tells me off, and says that she wants them to appear as though they are sitting on the ground. This is the sort of thing I find hard to remember, and I never take it badly if a client, who knows my weaknesses, reminds me before I start of any little details like that.
And here is the result:
Nice plump cones, not too geometrically straight-sided (my instructions usually include the phrase "egg-shaped" or "not too sharp" at some point...), and equal to each other.
Then all I have to do is clear up the mess, give them some balanced feed, and a can of water.
Job done! Oh, hold on, no it isn't, there are two balls further down the path.
They are supposed to get the same careful four-way cut as any other box ball, but they are planted right close under a pair of Rosa mundi, which are somewhat on the prickly side. Therefore I can't get myself quite close enough to them to do them properly, which is a constant annoyance. No matter how I arrange my legs, at some point I am twisting awkwardly, and at some point I get scratched.
Which is all part of the joy of gardening, of course.
Still, with persistence, and by going down on hands and knees and finishing them with secateurs, we get a reasonable result: the amount of debris beside them gives you an idea of how much, or how little, I have cut off.
Again, clear up the mess, fistful of balanced feed, splosh of water, and away we go.
By the way, if your spirit quails at the thought of doing cones freehand (bearing in mind that I have been doing it for years, and years, and years..) then the standard advice is to make yourself a frame or outline, out of wire, or garden canes tied together, to make the shape at which you are aiming.
Rather like the sort of wigwam that you make for growing runner beans, but smaller.
Then you slip that over the top of the fluffy topiary, wiggle it around until it is sitting straight, and until all the branches of the plant are sticking through it, then you cut off whatever is sticking through.
Remove your frame, and clip off anything that now projects beyond the shape.
Hmm, not the same without pictures, is it? I'll try it some time, and take photos as I go.