There are a number of people who hold a platinum tier 'friend of the Yard' status - and Mr Mark Beacham is, without doubt, one of those.
Having met Mark in the early days of starting Tom's Yard, it quickly became apparent that he had a refined skill surrounding a particular area of gardening; Pruning, topiary and hedgework. You can find him regularly updating his Instagram account with his latest work and he has a band of followers who just cannot get enough of his talent @mcbeacham_ldscpgardener
Should you reside in the Counties surrounding the Cotswolds (West Oxfordshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, N. Wiltshire, N. Somerset) and seek some professional assistance to reshape or refine mature plants - then look no further. We share a number of Clients and they all rave about his neat & tidy workmanship and fantastic attitude

Tell us about how you got into horticulture – where does your story start?  

I fell into Horticulture at 20 years old when I started working for a landscaper. I was pigeon-holed into soft landscaping, where I quickly developed a passion for working with plants. The physical nature of the job, with its hands-on approach, was something that suited my personality perfectly. I’ve always had a fond love of nature and the great outdoors. Being drip fed latin plant names to identify from day one, I soon developed a strong desire to continue exploring Horticulture and develop my knowledge and skills. Alongside plant idents came three essential methods of pruning; thinning, tipping and spur pruning. All of which are still vital techniques in developing the projects I am working with today.

Right now you have a thriving business, specialising in pruning (topiary, trees and wider hedging). Did you fall into this niche trade, or is it something you’ve always loved?

Pruning, topiary and hedgework is something that I have always thoroughly enjoyed. Of course, this is an essential part of every gardener’s journey, but from very early on in my career I found myself most at peace when I could put some music on through my earphones, throttle up a hedge-trimmer and set to work on restoring some garden hedging. Self-employment has given me the opportunity to focus and develop my knowledge and understanding of this area of horticulture, whilst enabling me to show off my creativity.

Are there any common mistakes you spot when home gardeners do their own clipping? Do you have any insider tips?

One thing I do like to advise on when working with shape is not to prune too hard and force a character into something. By creating an outline or a silhouette of the desired shape you are aiming for and allowing fresh growth to develop into it can be a much more beneficial and healthier approach in the long run.

Let’s talk box. It’s a plant that now comes with a heavy dose of hesitation. For a start, should we outright replace future planting with alternatives like pittosporum or ilex crenata? Or is that stance making a mountain out of a molehill… Where do you sit on the matter?

I am very fond of buxus for its outright versatility. Buxus has its heritage dating back to Egypt in c.4000 BC, I feel it would be a huge shame not to consider its future in the garden. With Better Buxus developing four hybrid blight resistant varieties, it gives us a more promising insight into its future. In regards to buxus caterpillar, I believe a coordinated approach to reach out to garden owners, buxus growers and suppliers to educate on methods of identification, prevention and control would create widespread understanding moving forward.
Pictured below is some of Mark's work at a Client's garden on the Worcestershire/Warwickshire border. A great taste in pots and topiary!
I was a huge fan of pittosporum as a buxus alternative but the harsh winter hitting minus eight degrees celsius last year resulted in a catastrophic loss and defoliation of many pittosporum across parts of the country. Ilex crenata is another great alternative. I have several myself, but be prepared to feed regularly with ericaceous feed (depending on soil type.) It prefers a pH ranging from 3.5-6.5. Euonymous green spire however has proven to be a great substitute for buxus. It emulates the dense green habit buxus delivers and therefore it can be very useful in parterres, as seen in person on a recent visit to Bishop’s Palace in Wells.

Do you have any suggestions for ways that trees or shrubs can be used to bring features to a garden? I love yew clipped into a buttress as if holding up a wall.

A personal favourite example of mine for use in topiary, not just for the aesthetics but also for the enjoyment of pruning, is a naturalistic organic form. Whether it be a curvaceous yew hedge ranging up to 150 years old, to a modern cloud buxus design mimicking the hill range or a multi-stemmed cloud pruned parrotia taking centre stage as a focal point. The Japanese have mastered this aspect for centuries merging the garden with the landscape and blending nature with creativity harmoniously. Personally I prefer working on more curved organic shapes that allows my creativity to flow.

What equipment is essential to your work? Do you have any favourite brands or tools that you loyally stand by? 

My go-to tool for the majority of my topiary work is my Niwaki short handled topiary shears. The majority of my hand- clipping projects are buxus designs and I couldn't be without them. I have many varieties of shears, secateurs and pruners, all of which hold their own value depending on the project and plant in question. The Niwaki topiary shears definitely get the most use.

Something I often hear at shows are the struggles people have sharpening their blades. What is your advice for maintaining a razor sharp edge? Is there a simple trick gardeners are missing? 

Little and often is key to maintaining a sharp blade. That is by far much more sustainable than one heavy sharpen once every now and then. Combine that with keeping blades clean from built up residue from excessive use and you will benefit from a clean hygienic cut that will heal successfully.

Shaping animals into greenery... kitsch or cool? 

Cool! You only have to look at the artistry of Charlotte Molesworth’s garden and her creativity to see how topiary birds and animals can add timeless charm to any garden design when clipped well and positioned perfectly.

Often people recoil at the price of mature ready-to-buy topiary. Are you able to help explain these prices? 

Expertly grown topiary in a range of stylish shapes will certainly come at a price! The best way to explain this (taken with a pinch of salt) is in comparison to firewood. The more work and the longer seasoning that goes into producing clean-cut, measured, seasoned slow burning logs the higher the price. Topiary in nurseries has been created from an initial piece of young raw material, nurtured, pruned, sculpted and crafted into an artistic form over many patient years to provide the end result ready for retail. Prices may vary depending on the age and size of the topiary in question but also on the degree of professionalism that has gone into its creation. Sometimes this is evident in the quality of the plant.

What are your favourite gardens for inspiration? Do you have any horticultural heroes? 

I am always enormously inspired by the thoughtful layout of a natural landscape within a Japanese garden design. Combining the elements of water, rocks and plants to create a simplistic and tranquil atmosphere is something that enlightens me. I have visited the Japanese garden at St Mawgan Cornwall on several occasions. I feel it genuinely captures the essence of Japanese gardening perfectly. I have been fortunate enough to see several of Kazuyuki Ishihara’s Gold winning gardens built from start to finish whilst working at Chelsea Flower Show. The precision of detailed placement in every aspect of the garden is sensational.
Pictured below is Kazuyuki Ishihara’s 2016 Chelsea Garden -  “Senri-Sentei”.
Thomas Pearson