Just clipping my English box given the cool and cloudy weather, thus minimizing the post-clip burn that can decimate these otherwise bullet-proof plants. Box manifests in three forms here – spheres; long, lumpy curvaceous grubs; and low formal hedging forming arcs around raised veg beds.
While snipping away at the spheres (now back at my place), it occurred to me that this is not like any other gardening job. The transformation thus created is instant, which is rare in gardening. It’s a chance to exercise a bit of perfectionism – also rare in gardening. But it’s also a kind of solidifying – an almost alchemical process of adding weight and substance – taking soft, fuzzy planted forms and turning them into something altogether more architectural. It’s as if vegetable matter takes one step towards masonry.
As I moved onto the lumpy, amoeboid plantings, I lost that sense. These forms are, I guess, inherently more organic.
I’d previously considered that the transformation to the quasi-architectural was primarily about the crisp edge that clipping produces, but the solidifying effect was so much stronger with the spheres that I’ve started to think that it must also be the forcing of a plant into a recognizable geometric shape that is largely responsible for the blurring of the otherwise clear distinctions between the built and the planted that occurs during the ten-ish minutes of clipping.
This morphing into stone is, even at best, only partial, but it’s real. Its incomplete nature was reinforced when I was perusing (for about the three thousandth time) the phenomenal pics in Louisa Jone’s book about Nicole de Vesian over brekkie this morning. In most of the pics, the spherical or domed shapes of the clipped shrubs are anchored by the presence of small stone spheres in the same view. There’s no way of overstating the power of this real stone in adding layers of temporal complexity to the scene, and that lovely juxtaposition of ancient and immutable against the fleeting nature of planting, and in this case, the even more fleeting nature of the grooming these plants receive. I wasn’t in any doubt about the anchoring power of this stone, but when I put a thumb over each of the stone spheres (thankfully there were only two, but I guess any other finger would have done just as well), the loss was incredible. Planting, despite my proposal that it can take on a non-plantish solidity, simply can’t fill the brief that’s required of stone, or solid built objects in the garden. I don’t have any original images, and can’t find the image I was using online, but try the same thing for yourself here and here.
But I’m leading – in typical style – from what clipping can and does achieve, to a probably unnecessary discussion of the limitations of what can be achieved with it. Lets just table that clipping box (or any shrub for that matter, though the finer the foliage, the crisper and clearer the consequent outline) into strong geometric forms can take it almost into the realm of non-plant, adding solidity and gravity that usually eludes plant-life.
Afterthought: It occurred to me later that the ‘burn’ in the pic of Hatfield may have been caused by late frost on the new growth. I experienced this myself this year in Woodend, Australia, for heaven’s sake. Nevertheless, it’s a fair representation of how box can look if it’s trimmed while the new growth is still very soft and pale green, and during sunny hot weather