I love topiary, and I get great pleasure from the twice-yearly (or more!) pruning - it's so nice to be presented with something fluffy, and to turn it back into something crisp, compact and neat.
However, many people struggle to clip them, and I am always being asked how I do it: like much of gardening, it's easier to demonstrate than to describe, but today, with the help of a lot of photos, I am going to try to show you how to clip small box balls.
It doesn't matter whereabouts you do this first cut, just do it wherever it is comfortable for you to get to it.
As you can see, I am reducing this rather fluffy ball by a couple of inches.
If your balls were pretty much the right shape to start with, all you have to do is cut a constant amount off: just follow the existing shape, and all will be well.
The only "trick" with balls is to ensure that you keep the "bulge" or roundness - don't ever clip "downwards", always go outwards.
Now you have an outline to aim for.
Step 5, cut the first quarter.
By cutting pole-to-pole channels first, you can see roughly where you need to go, and it prevents you starting at one point, going all the way round and then finding out that you are not in line with where you started, which can be disastrous.
Step 6, clip the next quadrant.
At this point, I am clipping fairly closely, but not obsessing about getting it perfectly smooth or perfectly even: these cuts are all about getting the general shape, size and proportion correct.
Step 7, third quadrant done.
Step 8, all four sections have been done.
Now is the time go back and even out any lumps and bumps.
Stage 9, there, much better. Looking at this photo, I can see a couple of slight angles which need a little smoothing over, and it is always worth gently fluffing it up with a hand, to shake loose all the clipped leaves, and to find any odd uncut stems that would otherwise pop out as soon as you walk away, spoiling the effect.
And of course, within a week it will have a batch of new leaves, which will hide any discrepancies and will quickly fill any small gaps.
Having finished the clip, it's important to clear up all the debris, shaking the hedge gently to get out the loose material, and scraping it all away from underneath both the hedge and the ball.
This is to help prevent box blight and other assorted diseases: closely clipped hedges are often susceptible to disease, as there isn't much air circulation within them. You can help prevent these problems, by always clearing debris away when you clip, and by keeping the root area clear, so that air can get in.
The final job, after clearing away the mess, is to give the topiary a good watering, and a balanced liquid feed, as the pruning will prompt it to produce a new flush of leaves to replace the ones I have just cruelly removed, so the least we can do is to give it some encouragement.