Think "topiary" and chances are you picture the kind of perfectly sheared boxwood that graces many an elegant entryway or the perimeter of a formal garden. Or perhaps you envision the miniature potted varieties of rosemary or myrtle—now a staple of preppy decor—that the late horticulturalist Bunny Mellon lovingly tended in her greenhouse. But a new competition show proves spheres and cones aren't the only shapes these plants can take: HGTV's Clipped, premiering May 12 on Discovery Plus, sees talented topiary artists (yes, this is a thing!) compete for a $50,000 prize by impressing judges Martha Stewart, Fernando Wong, and Chris Lambton as they prune and arrange branches into mind-bending botanical masterpieces. (That really is a plant cut in the form of a basketball player—and hoop—spotted in the show's trailer).
Ahead of the premiere, House Beautiful caught up with Wong, founder of the award-winning firm Fernando Wong Outdoor Living Design, which he runs alongside partner Tim Johnson. Since launching the company in 2005, Panama-born Wong has created gardens from Palm Beach to Long Island; his projects span breathtaking historic residences and cutting-edge modern designs, like the Four Seasons Hotels & Residences at The Surf Club in Miami. But he's never seen anything as wild as some of the concoctions dreamed up on Clipped. Read on for his insights from the series—and watch Clipped on Discovery Plus starting Wednesday.
We’ve seen such an increased obsession with gardening in the last year. Why do you think the time is right?
In the whole history of televised home improvement, this was something that wasn’t really thought about. It opened up the opportunity to do something really fun that includes sculpture, vegetation, and really talented artists.
What were some of the standout pieces?
There was so much anticipation in every challenge—translating an idea into a three-dimensional object is quite remarkable. I love to see how artists take a concept through the process to execution.
Was there a particular element that was especially difficult?
Well, the weather was never cooperative so that makes things a lot more interesting. You’ll see a lot of that.
How was working with co-judges Martha Stewart and Chris Lambton?
Everyone was very nice and professional, but the best part was that Martha sometimes came to the show with cookies that she had baked, as well as a coconut cake that she had made for Richard Gere. And you know how she makes her own line of [CBD] gummies? She brought those. They were great.
Love knowing what your favorite HGTV stars are up to? Same. Let’s keep up with them together.
I’m so jealous! Besides the snacks on set, what were the other best parts of filming?
There are a lot of similarities with what I do, and what I’ve done throughout my career. So it’s always nice to see yourself in that context.
Can you talk about some of the changes you’ve seen in gardening and landscape design over the course of your career?
I think that, in general, people are much more aware of nature. People are really raising the bar in terms of what they do with outdoor experiences. For example, when we used to travel we wanted to bring some of those memories back and incorporate them in how we engage with our outdoor spaces, or terraces, or pool areas. People are inspired by those experiences.
Are there specific destinations that inspire your garden designs?
Singapore! The humidity and the heat create all these very lush, remarkable plants.
Do you think the past year has changed how people have seen their outdoor spaces?
You know, young people now don’t want things as much as those experiences—and this year you had to have those experiences at home. So when they’re thinking about their first home, I think now people really think about gardening and outdoor space.
You studied architecture; can you talk a little about how that influences your design? I know people don’t always think about gardens as part of the house, but they should!
Yes! You think of something like the riads in Morocco, where the garden courtyard is in the center; I have emulated that at some houses. Or if you’re looking over the skyline or out to a beautiful yard, I think that landscape can evoke something in the furniture and fabrics inside.
This has also been the year of the houseplant. If someone is starting out and wants to incorporate plants or gardens in some way, even in a small space, what is your advice for them?
Start with potted plants! They look beautiful displayed on shelves. Get some vines that cascade down, or a palm in the corner, or a ficus, which doesn’t require a lot of water. If you want to go another direction, you can paint a mural or do a beautiful wallpaper with a plant motif.
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