IF YOU’VE been struggling to keep your topiary in trim, spare a thought for head gardener Dan Lawrence and his team at Danesfield House near Marlow, writes Sandra Carter.

They have been hard at work giving the hotel’s unique collection of topiary shapes and miles of box hedging their annual makeover.

“We have inherited some amazing topiary forms that are close on 100 years old,” Dan explains, “and it is a huge but very worthwhile task to keep them going for the future.”

Trimming each one of the massive yew spirals below the terrace takes a couple of hours spent high on a ladder, working with shears or a long-reach hedgecutter.

“Over the decades these have been allowed to grow unchecked into unorthodox shapes that are tricky to trim, so we just allow them to be themselves.”

Another large topiary shape looks to me like a pawn from my chess set.

Ann Priest, our photographer, thinks it is a smiley emoticon.

“It appears that these were chickens or another bird when created a century ago,” Dan says. “They had been left to their own devices and there is no way we can recreate the original form.

“So we clip them into an interesting shape.”

We watch as the team continue their labour of love throughout the 65 acres of formal gardens and parkland which were created in the 1920s.

They include an extraordinary castellated wall of yew, 110ft long and up to 25ft deep, and a pretty secluded water garden as well as some unusual plantings from generations of owners.

The gardeners have some challenges that most of us don’t face when out in our gardens.

“This is a working garden so we need to accommodate whatever is happening around us.

“No two days are the same. We may have 300 Ferraris on the back lawn, or carousels for a private party.

“There are 50 or 60 weddings a year.”

And when we visit, a film crew is working on a TV programme in the grounds.

Even so, I think of my struggles with a small flamingo willow lollipop in my own garden. How do I keep it symmetrical?

“To get a perfect sphere, take it slowly,” Dan says. “Make a cut, then step back and look before making another.

“It’s time-consuming but worth it. The secret of success with all small shapes is the same as with the monsters at Danesfield: patience.

“And do keep your topiary at a height you can comfortably work with.”