Urban gardener, Cleve West: Box clever

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What would we do without box? Since the late 16th century, when the French successfully invaded this country with their embroidery-influenced hedging patterns, Buxus sempervirens has been virtually indispensable. It has charmed everyone from kings and queens on horseback (the only way to view a knot garden, don't you know), to the humble cottage gardener.

Left to its own devices it will grow into a most beautiful tree. Instead, most of us choose to enslave it at an early stage of growth to fulfil our insatiable desire to clip, tweak and shape. Box topiary, hedging, parterres and knots are never far from our minds when we think of the archetypal English garden. From their Elizabethan origins to the present day, they have become a staple for garden makers, who take full advantage of box's willingness to be exploited in order to create a framework for their garden. Even the drive towards a more contemporary style of gardening recognises box as one of the most useful shrubs - either as a feature in itself, or as an adjunct to a more frothy, abandoned perennial mix, where slabs, cones and balls of tight evergreen foliage accentuate both hard structures and loose forms admirably.

This ability to transgress, deviate and morph to fit in with pretty much any given situation presents the urban gardener with a number of opportunities, and can help raise the profile and integrity of the tiniest space. Elizabethan architecture as a back-drop is not a prerequisite, though it does help if your home affords views from above. The living room of our 1960s townhouse sits above the garage, giving us views of our own box-whimsy, which takes the form of three rings that somehow eek out an existence in the shadiest part of the garden. It's a relatively recent addition (some two years old now) as I have experienced a wide range of feelings for knot-gardens, from being completely infatuated to a point where just a glimpse of anything overtly traditional would turn me off completely. However, as I suggested a few weeks ago, even the most hackneyed ideas can be nudged along a bit to create a more contemporary look.

Knot gardens rely heavily on geometry and can be as simple or elaborate as you wish. Some of the more complicated Celtic knots rely on a modicum of mathematics, so making one can be incredibly rewarding, especially if you have taken cuttings from summer clippings. Provided you have been diligent with weeding and watering, they will have sufficient roots by this time next year to be transplanted to their final position.

But if you are impatient, or if your good intentions often result in a motley collection of scrawny twigs languishing in a forgotten corner of the garden, help is at hand. Boxknot is a company specialising in the design and supply of everything you need for a knot garden. Three-year-old, trough-grown plants that have already knitted together can be planted to provide an instant effect. The design itself comes printed on a mat, like permeable landscape fabric, that doubles as a weed suppressant while providing a clean base for whatever gravel you decide to use as a mulch. The kit also includes pegs and a mallet to secure the mat, a small trenching spade, a trowel, snips to cut out the design, gravel and a bucket (to make pouring the gravel easier).

All of this is delivered to your door complete with instructions. The designs range from traditional to contemporary and vary in complexity, so each one is graded in terms of difficulty and a guide is given for how long the job should take. Boxknot also provide a bespoke service, with garden designer James Alexander-Sinclair, to produce site-specific and original designs.

Prices range from just under £1,000 to £3,500 for the full kit. Not a bad price for an instant focal point. Buying a horse from which to view it, however, would add significantly to the cost, not to mention the inconvenience in an urban garden, so if you haven't got a vantage point to view it from above, a small step-ladder may suffice.