Topiary is seen as the art of pruning and training plants into perfect, intricate shapes and designs. Usually being evergreen shrubs, the plants will stay green and perfect year round!
Topiary can come in many forms, but these have been (and still are) the most common forms found in gardens around the world:
Knot gardens- During the reign of Stuarts and Tudor, topiary became a highly popular feature. Knot gardens and clipped shapes were introduced to Great Britain, involving topiary being formed from a range of coloured Box, and planting in crisscrossing patterns to create a ribbon effect- this made the hedge appear as though it had been tied up in knots.
Parterres- Originally found in classic Italian gardens during the renaissance period, Parterre gardens consisted of simple but large, perfectly clipped plant specimens both in and among statues. Often Box hedging would be used for this type of topiary, creating stunning geometric, mirrored designs.
To begin with, some Parterre gardens left gaps in the hedges and filled it in with decorative gravel to create a perfect, concise effect. However, as time went by, Parterre gardens ended up becoming greatly elaborate, and other plant species besides Box were added in to create extra colour, texture, and interest.
Labyrinths and Mazes- Originally introduced by the Normans, pleasure gardens were developed with mazes and labyrinths, made up of perfectly clipped plants. Many gardens, both private and public, still have these features today!
Many forms of topiary have been continued on, and are still used in gardens today. For instance, Ball, Spiral, and Square topiary create a simplistic, clean effect, often used as a single, standalone specimen in borders or at entrances to housing.
Which plants can you use for topiary?
Evergreen plants are most often used for topiary, as they will retain a permanent, perfect feature year after year. The most common species include Box (Buxus sempervirens), English Yew (Taxus baccata), Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium), English Holly (Ilex aquifolium), Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata), and Shrubby Honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida). These are the best choices when wanting to create topiary, as each specimen has a compact nature that's perfect for clipping to ornate forms.
If you're looking to buy a ready-trained topiary plant, you can do so here at Glenmore- check out our Topiary section. This will save yourself both time and effort, but they are expensive as the plants have had so much attention to keep them looking the best they can.
Elsewise, if you're happy to give it a go yourself, we always recommend choosing from the species above, and ensure it has compact, healthy growth- particularly near the base of the plant.
When can you clip your topiary plants?
All topiary plants can be clipped once a year, usually at the beginning/end of Summer. This will maintain the shape of your topiary, and keep it looking neat. With that being said, some faster growing specimens (i.e., Shrubby Honeysuckle) will need to be trimmed twice or more each season to keep things looking formal. You may also want to remove any unwanted branches etc. each time you trim your topiary plants.
How do you start your own topiary?
- Begin by deciding on the shape you'd like to create. Some of the easiest shapes to start with include balls, cubes, and pyramids. Horizontal or large shapes may need more than one stem to create the effect your looking for.
- Pick the plant you wish too use, and whether you want it in the ground or in a pot, and plant it.
- Annually apply some mulch to encourage healthy, strong growth.
- For standard topiary specimens, like lollipops, choose one upright shoot for your main stem, then tie this to a cane or stake and remove any other stems. Ensure you gradually clear aware the lower part of the plant- all stems, shoots and foliage, until you're left with the desired height of your main stem (this will likely take a few years).
- Once your plant has established nicely, begin clipping it into the shape you desire. Do this by eye or make a wood frame template to ensure it's clipped perfectly.
- As the plant grows and establishes further, it will begin to bush out. The branches and leaves will knit tightly together to give a dense, compact appearance. This will take years, depending on how fast the plant growths and the ultimate height you're looking for.
- Lastly, just leave the plant to grow to the desired height before the main part of it is trimmed. It does involve a bit of time and patience, but it's totally worth it if you don't have the budget to buy pre-grown topiary!
How do you maintain your existing topiary plants?
You should trim your existing topiary plants once or twice a year to keep them in form. Faster growing plants may require more than this. We recommend applying some mulch and After Plant Evergreen fertiliser each spring, too, in order to help maintain the plant's appearance and growth.
Is it possible to rejuvenate topiary plants?
Though you may think it's not possible, you can most definitely rejuvenate neglected topiary plants. Most evergreen plants can tolerate a hard pruning during Spring- particularly English Yew, Holly, and Box.
Once you have given it a hard prune, feed and mulch the plant as this will encourage new, healthy growth, as well as avoid any sudden plant exposure stress in the following seasons
With that being said, it may take a few years for the topiary specimen to grow back into the shape you're looking for- you just have to look after it well and have a bit of patience.
Can you grow topiary in containers?
You can easily grow topiary in containers, and many people do. It creates a lovely clean effect when placed either side of your front door or patio doors, for example.
With that in mind, when planting/growing topiary in containers, you must ensure the pot is large enough for the plant's root system to grow and establish strongly. You will also need to make sure the pot is weighted enough to prevent the wind blowing it over.
How can you use topiary frames?
You can usually train simple shapes, like balls, by eye- hence many people tend to go for topiary balls etc. in their borders. However, when it comes to topiary with intricate designs, frames are often most useful- you can get a wide range nowadays, too, making it a highly useful investment when wanting to create your own topiary.
To use them, you need to place the frame over the plant in its early stages of establishment, so that the plant is able to grow and fill out the frame- training the plant to create the desired shape. Once the plant's growth then begins to creep through the frame, you will need to give it a prune. Annual pruning should be done during spring/summer to maintain its shape.
You will often find that topiary frames are made of green/grey, plastic-coated or galvanised wire. It is possible to remove and reuse the frame, but it's most commonly known for it to remain part of the structure of the plant, as it is hidden by the foliage.
Are there any potential problems?
Maintaining and looking after any plant is essential for not only its performance, but also its survival. But for lager and more ornamental plants, often more care and attention is needed.
Most topiary is grown from Box (Buxus sempervirens), so you must be cautious of box blight- a common disease that effects Box plants only. It's important to remain aware of box blight as it can spread devastatingly fast amongst a garden full of Box plants.
Another disease to be cautious of is Phytophthora root root. This can be found especially in Yew specimens- another species that is commonly used for topiary.
With that all being said, topiary can be a highly effective feature to have in any garden, with the crisp, clean design each piece can create. We highly recommend using topiary as a way to decorate your front porch/patio, or to outline pathways.