May 25 2013 Latest news:
Robin Cottle, Reporter
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Visitors to Bexley’s Hall Place can often be found standing in awe to admire the topiary in the gardens of the 16th century mansion.
The display depicts the Queen’s Beasts on show at Kew Gardens. They were originally commissioned for the monarch’s coronation in 1953, and depict a variety of beasts connected to the royal family.
For the man whose green-fingered skills have created it at the Bourne Road mansion it is a labour of love.
Head gardener Chris Riley took on the role 20 years ago his aim was to improve what was already there.
But this proved harder than he had originally thought.
Topiary is the process of clipping trees or bushes to develop and maintain a clearly defined shape, and it has certainly been a long process for the father-of-four.
“The topiary is only cut about once a year but it takes an awful lot of time to get it looking like it does,” he said.
The Bexley property’s display is based on the Queen’s Beasts on show in Kew Gardens.
Keeping with the royal spirit, the gardens were chosen to plant Bexley’s rare poplar tree to commemorate this year’s Diamond Jubilee.
Mr Riley said: “It’s changed a lot over the years but I’m very proud of it.
“But the topiary is still growing and there’s still more to come out of it. This is something which I will care for until I retire.
“It is one of the main reasons I’ve stayed here so long and haven’t left – I think it needs the careful touch of the same person over a long period of time and I haven’t felt able to leave it.”
Hall Place is regarded as one of the best topiary gardens in the south-east of England and its credentials are undoubted.
It has been awarded the Green Flag for excellence for park and gardens ever since the award was launched in 1996.
Only four other places in the country have received that recognition, of which two are Royal Parks.
Hall Place was built in 1537 and is now run by Bexley Heritage Trust (BHT). The gardens are one of many attractions alongside three art galleries, the stately home and an education centre which add up to make it one of the most pleasant days out in Bexley.
Mr Riley said: “This is a great place to work. It’s changed a lot over the years but I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved.”
BHT estates manager Tony Nield paid tribute to his employee, saying: “The topiary is Chris’ project and his pride and joy.
“His garden and plants knowledge cannot be faltered and with his intimate knowledge of the estate have come together for this project.”
He said: “My mother saw an advert for the Royal Parks Allotment when I was 17 and suggested I give it a go. I’ve never looked back.