Green Meatballs

Years ago I attended a gardening seminar featuring a noted garden designer.  Her presentation was basically “Things to Avoid,” with a variety of photographs on the big screen of various gardens, many of which were located in nearby areas.  What a relief that none of mine were shown!  One of the pictures she focused on longest was of a row of evergreens along a sidewalk, all pruned into balls.  “This is one of the worst mistakes a gardener can make,” she declared adamantly.  “Green meatballs!  They don’t belong in the dining room, and they don’t belong in a garden either.”  I took it to heart, never forgot it, and never pruned a shrub into a ball.  However……..


A decade or so later, (for my 50th birthday!) I traveled to England to visit many gardens that have been praised by experts, some for hundreds of years.  Lo and behold, I found many “green meatballs” in distinguished gardens.  I took the photo above in Rosemary Verey’s potager, where there were several examples there, including this one as well:


This one is from Hatfield House, the famous Dowager House maze and garden:

hatfield-7  And this one is from the famous Powis Castle gardens in Wales (one of my very favorite gardens!)


I discovered that “green meatballs” not appear frequently in England, but years later in trips to France, Italy, Ireland, and Germany notable gardens included them as well. (You’ll just have to take my word for it.  I’m not sorting through all those photos!)  Finally, taking courage in hand, I asked the owner of one excellent garden why she pruned some of the shrubbery into balls.  “Oh, that’s a good question,” she began.  “You see, the human eye finds the ball shape comforting, a good place to rest, especially if there are a lot of other shapes and colors in view.  That moment of eye-rest allows the viewer to appreciate the entire picture more pleasantly, more completely.  It’s a shape not commonly found in gardens, other than allium blooms, so it’s good to create it.”

When I planned the front island border last spring, I thought about those green meatballs and decided I wanted some.  So, I purchased ten boxwood plants, pruned them into balls and added three to that garden.  I chose boxwood because I like it, it’s evergreen, and because it can boxwood-balls-compressed  survive growing under black walnuts, which are the majority of the trees in our front yard.  I liked them so much I’ve added two more in pots by the potager entrance, plus a double on the right for height.  potager-gate-compressed  Three more were planted in the front garden, along the sidewalk to the front door and a gold gazing ball echoes the shape.  box-wood-front-garden-2-compressed

In the autumn, the round shapes were echoed by pumpkins.  And at Christmas, by Santa gourds (See “Seeing Red”)   boxwood-pumpkins-compressed

I’m really happy with my green meatballs.  They provide interest right now when the rest of the garden is flat or bare sticks.  They provide unity as a design element throughout, linking the various gardens visually as people stroll from one to another.  They make me happy every time I see them.  I think I’m going to add more this season.  So, the lesson is, listen to the experts but realize no one else should make the rules for your garden.  Some “experts” hate green meatballs; others love them.  Develop your own tastes and follow your heart.


About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
This entry was posted in garden design, garden travel, gardening, pruning, shrubs, topiary, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Green Meatballs

  1. I heartily agree!
    We need to stop listening to the “experts” and follow our heart. After all, a garden should be for our own pleasure first and foremost.

    And a PS–I love your green meatballs!


  2. simoneharch says:

    Wow, I love them in my garden and cannot believe that someone wouldn’t!!! I agree with you – be guided but not ruled! – and I think they look lovely in your garden. The fun comes when you shape – I couldn’t buy a frame anywhere over here, so my husband made me one by tying two hanging basket frames together (a little tip just in case you can’t buy over there)!!! x


  3. What a lovely lesson and tour of “green meatball” places. Enjoyed your post very much. We have 4 boxwoods in front of our home and I shaped them into balls because I loved how they looked behind the larkspur and later zinnias. Hadn’t thought of planting any in my garden but you gave us a neat idea. Such a delightful post. Thank you, Carolee!


    • carolee says:

      THank you for reading and responding! I’ve been looking at my potager this bleak winter, and am thinking I need 4 meatballs at the corners at the intersection of the two main paths, and maybe two more (one on each side) at the end of the path near the bench. Think I’ll plant them in pots and “live” with them for a while to make sure it’s a good look.


  4. simpleheresy says:

    Beautiful images all, but the labyrinth from Powis Castle is stunning! The “green meatballs” and mums look so well together in the fall photo, too. Isn’t a garden an expression of its keeper? Do what you love. If you want to grow green spheres or prune green pyramids – go for it! 😉


    • carolee says:

      There is nothing at Powis Castle that isn’t a postcard-worthy view. And, I heartily agree, do what you love and make the garden an extension of your heart’s desires.


  5. Ha! Green meatballs. I guess I’ll never look at the pruned shrubs the same way again, but I’m with you. I see no problem with having some green balls, though I didn’t realize the reasoning behind them. I especially like your last photo with the shrubs paired with pumpkins and the clumps of flowers.


    • carolee says:

      Thank you. Now that I’m more aware, I realize that many of the gardens I’ve seen and loved have them. Isn’t it funny how some people are drawn to some plants/colors/shapes/people/pets/books and others are not?


  6. jane says:

    I’m a big fan of ‘green meatballs’ so glad to hear you’re coming round to them. I use them in my garden like punctuation – to me they are the full stops. Without full stops in a paragraph the words don’t make sense. I think that in the same way gardens need structure and shape to give them meaning. I look forward to hearing how you get on with your meatballs!


  7. Steve says:

    Like the idea of Green Meatballs. I have several in my garden both yew and box. see


  8. Pauline says:

    So glad you have been converted by your trip over here! I have others that are at either side of some steps and one acting as a full stop at the end of a border. Go for it, ignore the experts!


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