Creating a hedge from scratch could be compared with the trick of distressing new furniture to give it character and make it look old, or intentionally ripping your jeans. It works, but never quite as satisfyingly as doing it the slow way, letting time add character. As with so much in the garden, time is the master.
So, where to begin? If you have less time than money, there there is a short cut. Thoughtful nurseries have started growing ready-made cloud hedges, planted in rows to be numbered, root balled and replanted in formation. This is the quickest solution, and its off-the-shelf appearance is not to be sniffed at, for the techniques used to get it this far are exactly the same as you would use when doing it yourself. Scale is an issue here though, as inevitably the size of the hedge is limited by what is available for sale. One nursery I visiting in Belgium, Solitair, had an enormous piece of box for sale, the size and shape of a resting elephant, but this was an exception, and more often the material available is much smaller. Tom Stuart-Smith used this approach in his 2010 Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea garden, arranging established box balls into a shape to give the impression of a far older, more mature hedge, although interestingly he chose not to clip them for the show, preferring a softer look that was more in keeping with the rest of the planting. Once planted in situ, it would only take another year or two for the lines of the box to become more fluid, were some of the shapes allowed to flow into each other.
A more hands-on, halfway compromise is to buy a collection of topiary balls of varying sizes, as well as a few cones to add vertical presence and to plant them in a row, creating the bones of a hedge. Look for irregular arrangements and think about how the hedge will look within the context of the garden. Allow a degree of depth to the hedge, and introduce varying height with the cones. An important question is how close to plant: no doubt you intend the hedge to fill out from the original size of the balls and cones, so you will want to leave some space between each plant, but knowing how much depends on your expectations.
Finally, the long-term, low budget and perhaps most satisfying solution, is to first plant young hedging plants, exactly as if you were planting a formal hedge. Small bushy plants, planted 8–12 in. (20–30 cm) apart for box or 18–24 in. (45–60 cm) apart for yew, perhaps in a double, alternate row to add depth. This way, the hedge develops at its own pace, keeping it nice and dense the whole way through. For the first few years, pinch out the growth with secateurs or shears to help it consolidate and fill out. Right from the start, some plants will be more vigorous than others, but these differences should be exploited. If plants die out, there is no need to replace them, as the empty space will soon be filled from either side.
All that holds you back from now on is your imagination. As you and the hedge find a natural equilibrium, your creative role will give way to one of maintenance. Keeping any topiary in shape is much the same as a regular hedge, but something many people have trouble understanding is how to keep it the same size—how to stop it from getting too big. The answer, unsurprisingly, is pruning. Luckily, organic topiary is more forgiving than its more straight-laced siblings—there are no straight lines or tricky corners. Although there will come a point where the hedge is definitely finished, it can continue to grow and evolve with yearly clips, with more detail able to be added to large, featureless shapes, or overworked areas being filled in and simplified—it is all down to you.
Learn about Cloud Pruning An Existing Hedge here. To come over the next few days: Tamazukuri From Scratch & Tamazukuri Using An Established Tree Or Shrub.