Warwickshire gardener - topiary

PUBLISHED: 17:08 23 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:56 20 February 2013

Warwickshire gardener - topiary

Warwickshire gardener - topiary

This punk bush is the work of talented topiarist, Jonathan Humphries who prunes and coaxes living plants

Mines a ladybird, or it will be one day.
At the moment, its more of a bush.
It all began at the Manor House. The grounds had originally featured topiary, but by the time Jonathan Humphries took over gardening duties, the ancient trees had more or less reverted to nature.
Inspired by French ice sculptures, and encouraged by the houses owner, he set to work with a pair of shears and lots of determination.
It took five years for his first yew sapling to reach a passable egg-shape. A decade later, the sapling is now a two metre high head, complete with eyebrows, lips and a rather startling Mohican hairstyle.
Together, Jonathan and I stroll round the Manor House gardens admiring his handiwork.
A prettily carved bush nestles next to the Mohican.
Like an old fashioned blancmange mould, I say.
Thats the dome of St Basils Cathedral, says Jonathan.
The elephant opposite the French windows was the owners idea. The buffalo emerging from a snails shell was Jonathans.
But the head isnt working, he says sadly.
The plated yews, however, work brilliantly and look wonderful like giant chess pieces.
Is plated yew a species, or a technical term? I ask.
Its just what I call it, he explains. Because the circles look like a stack of plates.
Never having studied topiary, Jonathan has created his own working vocabulary.
He started young: I used to cut my Grandmas hedges when I was eight or nine, and has never looked back.
But topiarys a slow business.
Yew takes a good 12 years to get a proper shape, he explains. Thats my favourite tree to work on, then box. Hollys good for the simpler shapes; pyramids and pom-poms. I tried hawthorn once, but it was a disaster.
Jonathan works with pin-sharp precision. The long flat-topped boundary hedges of the Manor House you could play snooker on, says an admirer. Hes got a remarkable eye.
We stop to admire a cartoon-like foliage snail lurking in the shadows, then out through gates flanked by twin box peacocks.
But theres more to come. The Manor House set a trend soon everyone wanted one. Next door, Jonathan shows me a beautiful swirling tree topped by a delicate ball of foliage. A shell with a pearl. I got the idea from the Santiago de Compostela.
Another tree is in bizarre transition between animals.
It started as a kangaroo because the owners Australian. But we think itll work better as a frog.
Further down the road, three rabbits are in the offing, and a final Mohican rubs shoulders with a row of feeding chickens. The nearby Grange boasts a particularly magnificent restored piece, now a dolphin carrying a ball.
It was a crinolined lady, originally, says Jonathan. The dolphin beams benevolently.
In Stretton-in-Dunsmore, another Manor House garden runs riot with Jonathans strange creatures. Several cats crouch, one about to pounce, another eating from a sardine tin (requires a little imagination, this last). There are dogs, too, and a burgeoning Mickey Mouse. More conventionally, each of a row of ancient pear trees has its own picture-perfect box planter.
Jonathans work is constantly evolving. Youre never finished because the tree keeps growing.
He would like to work more on architectural shapes, Georgian perhaps. But hes not really fired with ambition. He asks only to continue as he is, quietly building his own magical Looking Glass World, grooming and shaping his trees.


Jonathan Humphries can be contacted on (01926) 339939

Topiary notes
Traditional clipped topiary, shaping the growing tree simply by pruning, as Jonathan does, was practised by the Romans, and possibly even the Egyptians.
Much modern topiary is frame based - bushes grow inside a shaped wire frame. Stuffed topiary doesnt even need a bush vines are trained around the moss-stuffed frame. www.topiaryjoe.com features some striking examples of commercial topiary.
Topiary seems to attract eccentrics, particularly in the US. Theres a topiary fox hunt, complete with horses and hounds, in Maryland. In Ohio, a Seurat painting has been recreated, in its entirety, as a topiary park.Topiary gardens to visit
Baddesley Clinton, Knowle, Solihull: topiary specimens in the tranquil courtyard garden.
Charlecote Park, Wellesbourne: Dainty little parterre gardens.
Coughton Court, Alcester: Beautiful Elizabethan knot gardens.
Moseley Old Hall, Fordhouses, Wolverhampton: delightful parterre based on a 1640s design, and lots of topiary specimens.
New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon: magnificent clipped yew hedges.
Packwood House, Lapworth, Solihull: one of Warwickshires great topiary gardens, the huge yews are not to be missed.
Shakespeare Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon: topiary specimens and parterre gardens.
Wightwick Manor, Wightwick Bank, Wolverhampton: classic topiary garden using clipped yew hedges to divide the garden into smaller spaces to discover.

Topiary gardens to visit



  • Baddesley Clinton, Knowle, Solihull: topiary specimens in the tranquil courtyard garden.

  • Charlecote Park, Wellesbourne: Dainty little parterre gardens.

  • Coughton Court, Alcester: Beautiful Elizabethan knot gardens.

  • Moseley Old Hall, Fordhouses, Wolverhampton: delightful parterre based on a 1640s design, and lots of topiary specimens.

  • New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon: magnificent clipped yew hedges.

  • Packwood House, Lapworth, Solihull: one of Warwickshires great topiary gardens, the huge yews are not to be missed.

  • Shakespeare Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon: topiary specimens and parterre gardens.

  • Wightwick Manor, Wightwick Bank, Wolverhampton: classic topiary garden using clipped yew hedges to divide the garden into smaller spaces to discover.

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