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The Magic of Balmoral Cottage Topiary Garden

Entrance lined with boxwood topiary at Balmoral cottage Kent
Through the gate at Balmoral Cottage

In this blog post, I wanted to start at the very beginning of how I became fascinated by topiary and the chance encounters that led me to become a topiary artist.

I originally grew up in South East London and had no real plans for my future career. I flitted between wanting to be a fireman, sound engineer, property developer to name but a few. During the summer after I left school, i took a summer job working for Croydon Council as a gardener. I had zero experience, couldn't name a single plant and barely knew how to operate a lawn mower. I then went to sixth form and university, however always turned back to gardening as a way of making some extra money during holidays. I remember working in a garden that had 3 huge Yew topiary pieces, 2 dancing ladies and a bird, i was explicitly told not to touch them. This was the first time i'd ever seen topiary.

After this i attended Portsmouth University to gain a degree in property development. However after some time i realised the course wasn't for me and I left the university after my first year.

At this point i had no idea what i wanted to do, then my mother mentioned a place called 'Plumpton College' where i could study Horticulture. My response was 'Whats horticulture?'. Fast forward a few months, i decided to enroll on the 2 year horticulture diploma. I had an amazing 2 years at that college where i met some life long friends and along with a girl who is now my wife.

The course taught me some really valuable skills in horticulture and i left that college full of plant knowledge, experience and the correct skills of how to use a lawn mower! After working for a few different people, i set up my own garden maintenance business in 2012. Originally working out the back of a car, the business grew to a point where i had a good share of both private and commercial sites along with 2 employees.

The main aspect of the job that i enjoyed was cutting hedges, trying to get each one as straight and neat as i possibly could. I felt i had a good eye for it and customers often commented on how neat their hedges were after i'd cut them. This obsession with hedges continued to grow, I'd spot neat hedges whilst driving, I'd comment on how i could do it better etc. The hedge obsession then turned to wanting to do topiary. Although the problem was, who would let me, completely untrained in topiary, loose on their prize plants. Then along came the chance encounter.

A selection of different topiary cupcakes
Topiary Cupcakes

My sister is an extremely talented cake designer, I noticed her post these 'Topiary cupcakes' on her Instagram. The cakes had been ordered for a topiary workshop. I contacted my sister to ask for more details about the workshop and found out the course was being held 30 mins away from where i lived. Myself and my friend Jordan then booked ourselves on the course the next day.

The course was being held by the topiarist Darren Lerrigo and was taking place at Balmoral Cottage in Benenden, which is the home of Charlotte Molesworth. The course was excellent and both learnt a huge amount in the half day we were there. At the end of the course, we had some time to practice our new skills on the topiary in the garden. After everyone else had left the course, we approached Charlotte and asked about the possibility of doing some volunteering in the garden to hone our topiary skills, to which Charlotte gladly accepted. We finally had somewhere to practice!

A large garden full of interesting topiary shapes and hedges
Topiary at Balmoral Cottage

Both Charlotte and Darren could sense our enthusiasm for topiary. We've continued to work at Balmoral Cottage ever since, using it as a place to practice new techniques and learn amazing topiary skills from Charlotte.

Charlotte and her husband Donald have now become good friends, along with Darren, whom i keep in regular contact with.

Darren also learnt his topiary skills in this garden, so Balmoral Cottage doesn't only serve as an amazing example of what can be created from plants, it also serves as a safe place for budding topiarists to learn the art form.

I owe quite a lot to my sisters cupcakes!

The Balmoral Cottage topiary garden is part of the National Garden Scheme, if you're interested in visiting, Please click here.

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