This month, Tim Sykes from Gardenproud has his garden in knots…
You’ve only got to visit the local nursery and see the profusion of topiary on sale to notice how the formal garden is enjoying a renaissance. I’ll bet this is heavily influenced by the desire to create lower maintenance gardens, and our current obsession with contemporary homes, with their minimalist outdoor spaces…but it’s not a new idea.
The knot garden was conceived as early as Tudor times. Here, a garden typically created with outer borders, sometimes of box (buxus), formed a frame into which herbs and aromatic plants were often planted. Sometimes these patterns were very intricate and the basis for an important area of the garden. A small garden might incorporate one area, while larger gardens might have six to eight compartments. Other forms of planting included infilling the spaces with perennials, and others with gravel that created highly contrasting patterns.
The knot gardens with low box hedging are more typically referred to as parterre gardens. We’re currently in the process of creating our own new garden and a key feature for our entertaining terrace is a parterre. This is a good time for us to be focusing on box hedging, as this is commonly the best time to trim and shape them, so I look forward to this challenge!
Our knot garden has been conceived as a low soft border between the terrace and lawns. It includes a series of specimen trees and shrubs planted through the middle of a criss-cross patterned box hedge border. Punctuating each corner are a series of box balls. This all leaves us with a series of triangles to fill!
The inspiration for this has come from recent visits to famous parterres in France. Probably the most famous parterre garden is at Villandry. Chateaux Villandry is a delightful stop off in the Loire Valley, just west of Tours. It is truly spectacular. There are areas dedicated to herbs and vegetables, and those featuring shrubs and flowers. But, the common theme is the topiary, borders and gravel pathways that link everything together in a geometric pattern. These are created using box, yew and lime.
You can see more about Villandry at www.chateauvillandry.fr
Closer to Tunbridge Wells we have some stunning examples of topiary. Great Dixter in Northiam is one, created by journalist and gardening god, Christopher Lloyd. Here topiary sits among more informal planting in a less structured manner, typical of Lloyd’s style. Today the gardens are cared for by head gardener, Fergus Garrett.
I bought my first pair of topiary shears here. They are vintage ones, but very sharp and terribly good! www.greatdixter.co.uk
Returning to those triangles in my box garden – we plan to fill these with a series of perennials. For our starter beds we’ve selected a range of plants that will flower May through to October. These include varieties of: Agapanthus, Rudbeckia, Aquilegia, Helenium, Echinacea, Dahlia and Primula. Make sure you select plants that will grow taller than the box borders and plan the sequence of flowering/mix of colours.
A good local place to buy topiary is the Flower Pot Nursery on the Frant Road, Tunbridge Wells. Helen and Dean who run the nursery have become very knowledgeable and offer a range of plants, including buxus, yew, privit and Ilex and various conifer options.
For further information about creating your own knot garden or other topiary feature contact Tim on 07725 173 820.
Tim Sykes is a director of Gardenproud, a Tunbridge Wells based company that helps design, construct and maintain gardens situated in the area.