The season for cutting Buxus (box) hedging has well and truly started for us maintenance gardeners. Can you recommend any powered hedgetrimmers that are delicate enough to do a comparable quality of job to hand shears?

Your question reminds me of when I visited garden-maker Frank Lawley at his home, Herterton House, near Morpeth in Northumberland. He and his wife Marjorie moved there in 1976, when it was a derelict Elizabethan farmhouse. No-one had lived there for 16 years and there were no signs of a garden.

I arrived to find him meticulously trimming box topiary in the front garden. On the ground to one side was a rule and spirit level. In his hand was the tiniest pair of scissor-like clippers I had ever seen.

If the trimming of box needs to be very precise, then there is nothing to better the skilled and patient work using hand clippers. When the work has to be speedy, I suggest you look for a powered trimmer with the smallest tooth-spacing and fastest blade speed you can find.

Stihl offers a hedgetrimmer designed to cut "delicate" hedging and undertake fine trimming of young and tender growth. When the company introduced HS81 models two years ago, it brought out two versions - the T and the R. Stihl recommends the T for box, so you might find it does the job.

Model HS81 T has a rapid rate of 5,000 strokes/min - an increased rate of 2,000 strokes/min over the R version. The blade geometry of the T unit is also different. The tooth spacing is just 30mm, rather than 38mm.

We have only used it on Escallonia but we found the 22.7cc machine easy to start. It has Stihl's Ergo Start so a short, soft pull on the starter cord is all that is needed to fire the engine into life. It is also comfortable to use, having a recorded vibration level of 2.4m/s2 and weighing in at a little over 5kg.

We compared the T and R versions and appreciated the more rapid blade speed of the T. The problem I see with the HS81 T is the blade length. The smallest blade offered is 20". That might make trimming some box features difficult. The list price of the HS81 T with 20" blade is £435 ex VAT.

- If any reader has used the Stihl HS81 T or any other powered hedgetrimmer on box, please email me with details.


- Sally Drury has reported for HW and its forerunner GC&HTJ for 27 years and has spent more than five years testing machinery for HW and What Kit? The advice in this helpline is independent.

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