We all have our little quirks. In the spirit of no-holds-barred, here is one of mine: I love topiary. I do get it that topiary is, well, silly. Why trim the heck out of some poor plant in order to give it a shape Nature never intended? The French would scoff at the idea of respecting nature’s intentions. They unabashedly fly in the face of nature. In fact, friends were shocked when we explained that we simply let the trees on our country property grow without interfering. It just seemed bizarre to them, “You mean you don’t keep them trim?” The expression on the faces would have been the same if they were saying, “You mean you never wash your hair?” Below is an example of what untrammelled French slashing leads to: the deformed stumps they call trees in Limoges.
Public square, Limoges.
Seriously. Why would you do this? Looks like Edward Scissorhands ran amok.
Still, the sculptural possibilities of trimming plants into shapes delights me. For example, Levens Hall in the U.K.
His Royal Highness Prince Charles has some pretty good topes at his garden Highgrove.These are yellow holly topes. So cool. How enchanting it would be to walk this allée, enjoying the artistry of the many forms these shrubs take while waiting for the White Rabbit to pop out from behind one of them. Of course, the Prince bought the topiary along with the Elizabethan era mansion that is the heart of Highgrove. I have been less fortunate. In the financial sense.
But even Prince Charles cannot manage the largesse of some other royals. Louis the XIV, for instance. One of the pleasures of Versailles are the hundreds of perfect topiary specimens that line the major axis of the gardens. I think I photographed half of them.
But, having shown you Levens Hall, Highgrove and Versailles, you are no doubt breathless for a view of my own topiary, introduced some years ago in my country garden. This plan was hatched after a typically long Quebec winter that I spent poring over the very compelling book by Bunny Guiness, Highgrove – A Garden Celebrated. So what if Prince Charles had a crack team of gardeners to help him keep the Thyme Walk Topiary in trim? I had to try. And, as usual, short on time and cash, we went to our own woods to dig out baby fir trees. I chose tamaracks for their bluey-green feathery foliage. Examining our work in progress, our friend the forester, Justin, helpfully pointed to the 50 foot tall tamaracks of our forest and said, “You do realize that they get quite tall”? “I will keep them trimmed,” I said breezily.
Here is my best one. I said this to a friend recently and she said, “Aren’t they supposed to be, well, round? ” “Getting there!” I responded testily. It’s OK. Lots of other friends come to visit and say, “I LOVE the topiary!” And they smile and squeeze my hand. I think what they are saying is, I love it that you are the kind of crazy person who would conceive and try a topiary walk in a frozen little Northern garden when you are not Louis XIV or even Prince Charles. Right.