For the perfect hedge or bed of cloud-pruned forms, topiary specialist and clipping master Alex Duigan shares his razor-sharp tips.
Select a plant with a compact growth habit and keep it clipped from young to encourage side branching and bulk. Trim plants regularly, even if not initially at the correct height or shape, and gradually allow the plant to grow into the required shape.
Style and design
There is no hard and fast rule here as this depends on the style of the house and garden and the personality of the client. In general, rounded shapes lend themselves to mass planting or grouping as they provide rhythm and movement. Geometric and angular shapes work well to bring focus to a specific area – such as the front door.
Look for balance and comfort. Accurate control of the equipment is vital when shaping any plant and hand fatigue can often set in early if the incorrect equipment is used and lead to errors in the cutting line. Use Loppers or secateurs for heavy growth, initial cut back and some basic shaping. Electric hedge trimmers for the basic shape – I recommend Stihl electric, and recently introduced battery-operated, hedge trimmers, especially the long blade versions. Hand shears – ultra sharp for the finer details. I recommend Raco hand shears for clipping new, young leaves and fresh growth. (Nothing heavier).
It depends on the look required but as a rule of thumb trim at least every four to six weeks. These are very light trims but ensure steady growth of the plant. For a defined shape with dense foliage, clip every two to three weeks. For a lighter look that allows flowering, clip three to four times a year. Often the clouded look lends itself to this interval of clipping.
Plant selection depends on functional requirements – whether one requires a border, screening, ornamental or architectural element – the particular climatic conditions and the final plant size. Alex’s favourite plants are: Rhus crenata ‘Alex’ (only available from Michelles Nursery in Cape Town), rosemary, plumbago, bay tree, Viburnum tinus ‘Lucidim’, teucrium, rhagoda, coprosma, escallonia and pomegranate.
Contact Alex Duigan for private enquiries on firstname.lastname@example.org or +27 83 270 0430.
Photography Andrew Lawson