Makers: Philip Pratt


Makers: Philip Pratt

Mixing the finesse of topiaried trees with the roar of the drag races
What kind of temperament do you need to be good at topiary?
Patience. And imagination: you have to see something in the plant.
Do you have species you prefer to work on?
My favourite plants are probably the juniper cloud trees. (below right) I really enjoy watching them develop. You have to wait–  it can take seven years of guiding and pruning before something starts to happen, but I like being around them. The foliage is fine and dark, quite different to the glossy mid-to-light green of the Japanese box that I also like to work on, so they look good in the nursery together.  The box is a great plant too. It can be used and cut in some many different ways.  It’s long-lived, pest and disease-resistant and one of the best for carving shapes out of.

That makes topiary sound like sculpture. Isn’t it more about trimming, rather than carving?

If I want to grow a ball, I start with a small shrub and keep cutting it back and it evolves into a ball. For spirals, and other complex shapes though, I’ll start off growing a cone to the right size, and then I’ll carve a spiral out of it, or perhaps, depending on the shape of the cone, carve some different shape.

What is your favourite tool?

My Felco secateurs are just a pleasure to use. I go through a pair every few years; you can replace the blades, but after a few years the handles are starting to go and I get a new pair. I also love my shears. I have about six different shears and I’ll use different ones depending on how I’m feeling and what I’m cutting.

Top: Favourite Felco Secateurs; Bottom L-R Spirals and topiary

What’s with the 1971 Ford Fairmont XY in your garage?

The car’s set up for drag-racing. I take it out to the racetrack at Eastern Creek, start the car and little horns grow out the top of my head. The car has a powerful V8 engine and I love the sound of it, it sings to me. It’s very loud and it still sings. And, strange as it sounds, it’s really peaceful at the drags. There are some pretty tough-looking people there but everyone is happy.


Robin Powell

Pictures: Nicholas Watt


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