By Alan Jolliffe
Topiary, is the art of pruning, clipping and cutting shrubs and small trees into ornamental or fantastic shapes. It takes its name from the Roman ars topiaria (ornamental gardening) as practiced in the 1st Century AD or even earlier. Topiary reached its greatest popularity in England in the 16th & 17th Centuries. In recent years it has again become very popular.
Topiary usually looks better in a formal garden with older buildings in the background. This however is not the case today where we find topiary being used in many imaginative ways.
When planning a topiary or topiary garden keep it simple as simple designs often look better. Many of the more elaborate shapes take many years to achieve. Consider different viewing angles allowing space in front and behind. All topiary must have maximum sunlight to produce regular vigorous growth necessary for shaping to occur. Ideally they should be placed in a level, sheltered position protected from the wind.
Topiary can come in many different forms. Pruning plants into hedge shapes is one of the common forms of topiary. Other shapes can be in the form of animals, letters or symbol. The simpler the design the more quickly it will establish and the easier it will be to maintain.
The best plants for topiary usually have smallish leaves and compact habit of growth, with a steady controlled growth rate being essential. One of the best is the Buxus sempervirens the English Box. This plant is ideal because of its very slow, compact growth, holding its shape for long periods of time.
Regular trimming and training of the plant is required to create and maintain the shape. If the shape is being held together by wire and wire netting make sure that the main stems are in the right place before trimming. Use clean, sharp tools for a perfect finish.