Friday, 12 April 2013

Garden Craftsmanship in Yew and Box

One of the treasures of my library is a 1925 book on hedge making originally owned by my maternal grandfather. Garden Craftsmanship in Yew and Box by Nathaniel Lloyd (1867-1933) is a how-to manual for the construction and maintainence of formal hedges and topiary. Formal hedges made of european yew (Taxus baccata) and Box (Buxus spp) became fashionable in late 19th century grand British gardens and Lloyd's book reflects their popularity in the following century. While the text is minimal the book includes a series of instructive photographic images showing how to maintain the formality of the planting.

An instrument for determining the batter of a hedge
photo from Garden Craftsmanship in Yew and Box 

Nathanial Lloyd based his garden advise on the hedges he laid out at his Great Dixter home in East Sussex, England, after he purchased the Tudor-era property in 1910. Many years later Great Dixter became world famous as the stunning garden of Nathaniel's youngest son, the provocative garden writer, Christopher Lloyd (1921-2006). While the gardens originally laid out by Lloyd senior have evolved into a landscape dominated by flowering plants, many of the original hedge and topiary plantings from his time survive giving the current garden structure.

Testing level of old hedge top with a short batten and spirit level
photo from Garden Craftsmanship in Yew and Box 

Not everyone appreciated Lloyd's book at the time of its publication. One harsh critic was the garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935) who described the work as 'the poorest book that so far has disgraced the garden'. Robinson, a vocal advocate of wild or natural looking gardens despised the geometric formality that Lloyd's monograph advocated. Despite this criticism, Garden Craftsmanship in Yew and Box gives valuable textbook advice to gardeners keen to have neat well grown hedges.

Peacock Garden June
The Great Dixter house and garden as it is today
photo courtesy Great Dixter Charitable Trust

Whether we like it or not hedges can be important elements in gardens. They can help delineate a landscape, provide privacy, and protect the house and garden from wild weather. The happy balance of Nathanial Lloyd's design formality and the looseness and spontaneity of his son Christopher has made Great Dixter one of the worlds great gardens.

In future posts I hope to write more about hedges, topiary, Christopher Lloyd and the garden at Great Dixter.


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