Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

Garden Visit: Charlotte Molesworth’s Topiary Garden

Search

Garden Visit: Charlotte Molesworth’s Topiary Garden

December 28, 2017

When Donald and Charlotte Molesworth first arrived at their small Kent cottage more than three decades ago, there was a derelict house and an almost totally blank canvas. The plot was on the edge of an estate that once belonged to “Cherry” Ingram, the great Victorian plant hunter. It had also once been the estate’s kitchen garden; it may have looked like a wasteland but it was one with fertile soil, that had been improved over centuries.

What the couple have created since then is nothing short of extraordinary, a flourishing garden that centers around Charlotte’s awe-inspiring topiary and a cluster of small buildings (including a holiday cottage to rent) in the beautiful Kent landscape. On a rainy day we joined Charlotte for a tour:

Photography by Clare Coulson for Gardenista.

Balmoral Cottage is down an unmade track and tucked away behind St George’s church in the picture postcard village of Benenden. The house and garden is almost entirely hidden from view, which makes the magical entrance under an arch of hornbeam and down a path of ball-topped boxwood, even more tantalizing.
Above: Balmoral Cottage is down an unmade track and tucked away behind St George’s church in the picture postcard village of Benenden. The house and garden is almost entirely hidden from view, which makes the magical entrance under an arch of hornbeam and down a path of ball-topped boxwood, even more tantalizing.

Charlotte insists there was no masterplan when they began the garden. They requested yew seedlings as their wedding gifts and they planted them all before transplanting them at a later date.

All the boxwood in the garden (and there are many varieties) was also grown from seedlings – many collected on Charlotte’s travels.
Above: All the boxwood in the garden (and there are many varieties) was also grown from seedlings – many collected on Charlotte’s travels.
Charlotte&#8\2\17;s advice for those starting a garden is to think vertically: “When you start a garden, I think it’s the one thing that you often don’t think about, yet it’s this structure that is so valuable in the garden.”
Above: Charlotte’s advice for those starting a garden is to think vertically: “When you start a garden, I think it’s the one thing that you often don’t think about, yet it’s this structure that is so valuable in the garden.”

Charlotte’s horticultural talent is in her blood. Her father was a farmer on the nearby North Downs and her mother was a plantswoman who grew and sold primulas and had a love of yew. It was her aunt, another talented gardener, who first planted the seed, of training topiary. Charlotte’s skills and her garden have grown organically.

The central walk of the garden is lined with box and towering topiary which leads down to a large pond. While the couple share gardening duties, Charlotte admits that she can be quite possessive over her hedging and topiary.
Above: The central walk of the garden is lined with box and towering topiary which leads down to a large pond. While the couple share gardening duties, Charlotte admits that she can be quite possessive over her hedging and topiary.

Almost everything here has been grown, recycled or rescued (“We are great scavengers,” admits Charlotte). The greenhouses have been built using unwanted materials destined for the scrap heap; the polytunnels were rescued. Even some of the garden’s most beautiful trees (including some stunning Malus Huphensis) were picked up as tiny seedlings on walks on the next door estate many years ago. The large pinus radiata and Scot’s pine that edge the garden also contribute to a wonderful borrowed landscape.

Charlotte, who is also an accomplished artist, says that you have to look at each plant and decide what it wants to be.
Above: Charlotte, who is also an accomplished artist, says that you have to look at each plant and decide what it wants to be.

She’s very picky about plant hygiene as her garden is currently untouched by the ravages of box blight. She uses an organic treatment of effective microorganisms to keep the plants healthy and she is fanatical when pruning, sterilizing tools as she trims with a bleach solution. When she works on other people’s gardens, she will not only sterilize all her tools when she gets home, she also will wash all her clothes and take a shower, to ensure that no disease or harmful blight spores can travel with her.

She will grow yew up to a good bushy size then transplant it into its final position before “waisting” it—that is, cutting into the plant to create an hourglass shape. To develop certain shapes, she will then manipulate branches holding them in place with string and bamboo sticks and essentially train them into the shape she wants them to grow. Yew is an incredibly tolerant and pliable plant.
Above: She will grow yew up to a good bushy size then transplant it into its final position before “waisting” it—that is, cutting into the plant to create an hourglass shape. To develop certain shapes, she will then manipulate branches holding them in place with string and bamboo sticks and essentially train them into the shape she wants them to grow. Yew is an incredibly tolerant and pliable plant.

The garden would be enough to keep any gardener occupied full-time but Charlotte is now in great demand to design topiary for other gardens too and regularly works on estates and grand gardens. In one commission she added her signature wit to a Luciano Giubbilei designed garden by topping off the perimeter hedge around a pool with a flotilla of topiary ducks.

Charlotte has occasional help in trimming the hedges from Modern Mint’s Darren Lerigo and will use an electric hedge trimmer for the hedges but uses Japanese clips for topiary work. And, just as crucially, she has three Niwaki ladders to make the job safer and easier.

The zingy lime color of euphorbia also makes a great foil for the deep green yew topiary shapes.
Above: The zingy lime color of euphorbia also makes a great foil for the deep green yew topiary shapes.

A few years ago Charlotte and Donald began renting out a little cottage in the garden. The Potting Shed (which as its name suggests was once an outbuilding when the site was a kitchen garden) is a one-bedroom timber framed cottage for two enclosed with its own private garden, summer house, and nosy sheep from the pasture next door. It’s also the perfect base for visiting other gardens too – it’s a few miles from Sissinghurst Castle and close to many other gardens to visit including Great Dixter and Pashley Manor.

For more topiary ideas, see:

(Visited 3,657 times, 4 visits today)
You need to login or register to view and manage your bookmarks.

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation

v5.0