Heft in the Garden: Weighty Hedges of Wembley Castle

On our recent England excursion, David and I visited Wembley Castle in West Sussex, the former resident of the Queen Mother.  There is a charming garden within its walls designed for her Majesty Elizabeth by Penelope Hobhouse.  There are Buxus microphylla hedges in the shape of mirrored "Es" honoring the namesake of her majesty, along with a row of pink flowering Hawthornes.  Apparently, the Queen Mother was fond of soft cool blues, lavenders, silvers and pinks and provided significant input into the planting palette. This was a treat to see, especially as David had spoken with Penelope Hobhouse about the design of the garden when she was working on it.  It was a beautiful afternoon, with inspiring views out to the sea.  

Massive undulating yew hedges distinguish the long borders in the main part of the garden.  These borders were under renovation as we visited, so the planting was less than remarkable, but the monumental hedges were worth the entire trip.  These monoliths have been pruned in irregular undulations.  I'm not sure how this pattern emerged, although they perfectly suit the stocky form of the castle.  It's possible too that these hedges took shape as a point of necessity, in the case of irregular pockets of die-back that resulted in such eccentric configurations.  I don't think so, though.  To my eye, they read as the perfect sculptural companions to this specific site. 

When dealing with form and scale in the design of a landscape, we can be hindered by our sense of form and scale in interior spaces.  Inside four walls we don't have to design alongside grand borrowed views, large trees, and weighty architecture.  The circumference of the largest interior column is often a small fraction of an exterior one.  Sky and trees and sea and vista are the walls, ceilings, floors and architecture that the landscape is furnishing.  I'm inspired by these hefty hedges, which not only push back with visual force on the castle, the large acreage, the sky and sea, but also provide resonance for this historic and important cultural sight.  The host of plantings, fountains, and follies in this garden would be wanting without these arresting forms.


  1. Awesome. I'm utterly enchanted with this tradition of organic topiary. I've started to hack into a monolithic block of yews in our own house. It's got a long way to go, but looks promising.

  2. Hi Thomas-
    Thanks. I too find these forms mesmerizing. I'm envious, as yews can't take our Georgia heat and humidity, and they're hard to beat for this kind of substantial topiary. The hollies that we've clipped organically just don't translate the same way so I guess I need to get more creative. I'd love to see shots of yours as they grow.

    By the way, I loved your piece relating texture in the garden to musical composition. It sparked a lot of thought for me in terms of applying concepts from other art forms to the art of designing gardens.


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