Welcome to a new series – The Ugly Garden. The Mr. and I have been spending a huge amount of time working on the front, back and side yards of Storybook Cottage. Despite our time consuming and heroic efforts it still feels very much like an ugly garden. I know, I know, Rome wasn’t built in a day and sadly, this space has been neglected by the previous owners for many years.
Today’s post is when we finally admitted we were “Over the hedge.”
So let’s talk about hedges. I have been blessed over the years to have seen many stupendous examples of lovely hedges and gardens.
Currently at the top of my list is the Garden of Versailles which boasts some of the worlds loveliest specimens of topiary and hedge.
The extensive acreage is done in the classic French garden style. Some areas date back to the time of King Louis XIV who ruled from 1643 until 1715.
On my bucket list is a visit to the oldest and most extensive topiary garden in the world. It can be found at Levens Hall in Cumbria, the Lake District, United Kingdom.
In the gardens some of the topiary and bushes are over three hundred years old. The overall layout of the garden has changed little since the initial planting and training in the 1690’s. They were created by Monsieur Guillaume Beaumont, one time gardener to James II. At the time it was quite fashionable to have a garden in the Dutch style with clipped greens set in a pattern of formal box edged flower beds. The gardens of Levens Hall are unique in that they retained their original layout. Other gardens were ripped out in the 1730’s to make way for the new trend of natural landscaping. (A good example of a naturally landscaped garden is Monet’s Garden which I toured last year. The post can be seen HERE.)
Here is a photo of the Levens Hall gardens during the Victorian Era. Little has changed other than the height of some of the trees.
The tallest tree in the garden is known as “The Great Umbrella” which has a span of over 30 feet. It requires a hydraulic lift to reach the highest point.
The shapes themselves are created from plants of tight-growing, small leaved evergreens such as Golden Yew 'Aurea' (Taxus baccata) 'Aurea', Yew (Taxus baccata), and various forms of Box (Buxus sempervirens). The low-edging around the beds is now Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata). It had to be replaced due to disease.
So here’s the thing about hedges. In order to grow in a lush and full manner they require care. The ten acre garden at Leven Hall is tended by a staff of five as well as a group of willing volunteers. Each bed in the parterre is dug and manured in the Autumn to insure a good growing soil. Trimming starts in late August and takes up to six months to complete as some of the pieces require clipping done by hand.
Ok, so we get it. A lovely hedge requires a dedicated caretaker. Oh the poor hedges of Storybook Cottage… they were like neglected children. We tried our best to trim them back in the hopes they would regrow in a lush and full state.
We had a variety of hedges: holly, yew, boxwood and others. While some hedges grew back somewhat bald others tried to regrow themselves only to result in sparse “leggy” stems.
I started with hedge clippers.
Growing amongst the hedge was a wicked vine. Any idea what it is? Those thorns were mean.
Update: A big thanks to dear Katie of Let’s Add Sprinkles. She correctly identified this pesky plant as Briar Vine.
Of course I had two supervisors insuring the work was done correctly.
(You can see new boxwood growing in the background.)
I do like the look of boxwoods enclosing a flowerbed.
Or lining a walkway.
There is an excellent article on how to transplant boxwood cuttings to create new hedges that you can read HERE.
Now to working on the beds.