SUPER MASTERCLASS: From the Fundamentals to Advanced Techniques - The Art of Topiary and Hedging

Have you always wanted to learn what is behind The Art of Topiary and Hedging but not known where to start?  Have you wanted to learn how to trim a round ball of buxus to perfection? How to choose the right tree to make a 'Cloud Tree"? How to sharpen your shears to perfection? And how to feed your buxus properly so they glow?  Here is a Super Masterclass taught by two Master Topiarists across an entire, intense day of learning who will give you all their tricks and more!  You will go home totally inspired, with a whole new appreciation for the Art of Topiary and Hedging, and with the confidence to try our your new skills and knowledge. This is a Super Masterclass - an entire day being taught by two Master Topiarists - Craig Ratcliffe of Southern Cross Lawns and Gardens, now based in Orange, NSW, and Craig Sullivan of Hedgehogs Gardens, in Adelaide, SA. You will have expert tuition in everything from the fundamentals of how to choose the right hedging tool, through to advanced insight and demonstrations in how to choose the right plant to topiarise, and demonstrations on advanced techniques for how to clip different topiary shapes from balls through to complex trees shapes. Go home with new found confidence!

About this experience

After a brief welcome to Merribee at 9.00am by Lucy and Richard Marshall over coffee and croissants, your Super Masterclass will kick off at 9.30am. 

You will learn

  • About the differences in hedging tools - both hand tools and power tools (there are just so many available on the market it can often be quite confusing to know the best one to meet your own personal requirements). 
  • How to maintain the tools correctly - how to clean and sharpen them
  • How to use topiary shears and power tools safely and correctly.
  • How to shape a hedge, and to give it a perfect line - learning all the tricks of the trade!
  • How to spot problems in a hedge and how to fix them.
  • The art of using a string line, and how also to not use one!
  • How to ensure you are getting the shape you are wanting - the top and all the sides. 
  • The principles behind clipping - how much is too much?  How much is just enough?
  • How to shape and trim a buxus ball.  You will see several buxus balls being demonstrated.
  • How to clip an integrated shape within another hedge shape - a ball within a cube, for example, and other demonstrations.
  • There will be an opportunity for Q&A throughout the entire session.

You will also have the opportunity to observe Paul Baker, Master of Hedging at Merribee prune the Dordogne Garden, and shape various topiary animals. 

At 12.30pm a tasty, healthy and delicious lunch will be served in historic Mayfield Cottage, overlooking the lavender paddock and you'll have an opportunity to "talk topiary" with both Craigs and the other participants.  

At 1.30pm we'll recommence and cover:

  • More on the selection and creativity of topiary design.
  • How to choose the right plant or tree for what you are trying to accomplish
  • Understanding the plant across a long period of time and how it may develop
  • Looking at some Before and After records of plants which document how they have developed across say a 3 year period to give you an idea of how to successfully prune your plant/tree over time
  • How to design the garden around your topiry plants - looking at your Topiary plants in the context of your overall garden design.
  • Cloud Pruning Techniques - how to prune a "Cloud Tree ' - how to choose the right tree specifically for this ultimate shape, how to start the shape and what is important over time.  Craig Sullivant will demonstrate the pruning of a Cloud Tree during the class.
  • Plant health - looking at the soil, fertilising requirements, air flow and the best pratice to keep your plants as healthy as possible.
  • A quick overview of the history of the classical forms of topiary.
  • There will be an opportunity for Q&A throughout afternoon.
  • Afteroon tea will also be served on the go.

The formal tuition will conclude at 4.30pm and our gates will close at sunset (5.05PM).


About Craig Ratcliffe:

Craig Ratcliffe has a total of 20 years’ professional gardening experience and has successfully run Southern Cross Lawns and Gardens since 2007, as a Topiarist and Hedging Specialist. In late 2021, he relocated from Sydney to Orange, NSW, where he has already established a very busy and happy group of hedging and topiary clients!  He is starting the process of creating a formal garden and house for his young family on pastureland.  Every month or so, he assists Merribee’s hedging team.

About Craig Sullivan:

After landscaping for 3 years, Craig Sullivan began working for a designer about 15 years ago who designed and maintained formal gardens, and his love of Topiary and Structure in gardens began there.  With a Diploma in Landscape Design and as a designer, horticulturalist and topiarist, he began Hedgehogs Gardens in 2010 in Adelaide and delivers services in high-end garden and topiary maintenance and design. He has spent some time in Japan in Ichikawamisato in Yamanashi Prefecture, staying with gardening friends, was shown many ancient traditional private gardens and aims to return in order to learn more about Pine thinning.  In the last four years, he has won several garden maintenance awards and a design award (Master Landscapers SA) and was a finalist in the Garden Design in 23021 SA Life Best of Awards.  His favourite book is “The Night Gardener” by The Fan Brothers and says “Any topiary lover would appreciate this book, as does my 5 year old daughter!."

About Paul Baker:

Paul Baker has had a very long career as a gardener - and has been at Merribee as a Gardener and Head of Hedging/Topiary for over 10 years. A true garden artisan and who is a sculptor of extraordinary shapes from buxus, Paul spends his weekends fishing and prospecting for gold. Merribee’s historic paddocks have provided some interesting finds - but sadly no gold yet!

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Lucy and Richard Marshall purchased Merribee in 2000 when it was 2.5 acres of pastureland and some dilapidated farm buildings and a farm cottage. Progressively over the last 22 years they have planted garden after garden, with over 10,000 buxus plants, and 1000+ roses, including a Heritage Rose Garden with 100 different bushes from ancient, medieval, 18th, 19th and 20th century, which traces the evolution of the rose to its modern form. The buxus plants form kilometres of hedging along with the famous “Dordogne Garden” loosely based on the famous Marqueyssac Gardens in the Dordogne region in France, an Elizabeth Knot Garden, a Parterre Garden, and numerous whimsical topiarised animal shapes.

Lucy loves garden history and is never happier than when she has pieced together some botanical mystery about an ancient rose or a medieval herb! Richard has had a passionate interest in topiary forever. He is never seen without his secateurs on his hip.

Merribee’s buxus is clipped every 3 weeks for 9 months of the year and twice during winter, Merribee’s hedges and topiary are maintained by Paul Baker, Head of Hedging and Topiary, along with help from the gardening team at Merribee. More recently, he is very ably assisted by Craig Ratcliffe from Southern Cross Lawns and Gardens.