Topiaries in the Modern Landscape



shutterstock_264550568 resizedI have to admit right off the top I think topiaries are way cool. I know there are some strong opinions about them but I have to fall down on the ‘what great fun they are’ side. I love the formal elegant spirals, globes and cones. Single ball lollipops are just dandy. I enjoy the cloud form ones best of all, even when they are called poodles. The ones shaped into animals just tickle me. Any form you pick will really add a spark to your flower beds or entryway.

Topiary pairs can be used to flank entrances or driveways. A single specimen can be the centerpiece in a bed or the spectacular end to a pathway. You can surround it with a low geometric hedge or wall to give a sense of formality, or you can center it in a soft fountain of flowers. An animal topiary nestled next to a small garden bench can make a special place for a child.  Of course they are a perfect choice for pots and urns.

Because topiaries take years to grow and shape, they can be something of an investment, so you want to choose one that will prosper where you put it. Full sun topiaries are often shaped from junipers. Arborvitaes, ligustrums and dwarf Alberta spruce don’t mind full sun but are fine with only morning sun. Boxwood, ivy and yew topiaries are best in shade.

Topiaries are purchased already finished and can be kept at their current height and shape. They do require maintenance to remain topiaries. They must be pruned regularly or they will revert back to ordinary, albeit very expensive, shrubs.  Dwarf Alberta spruce only need a haircut every few months. Ligustrum, on the other hand will require trimming every month during the growing season. The best pruning tool for most topiaries is a sharp sturdy pair of scissors. Ligustrum, holly and loropetalum will need hand pruners. Shears, especially electric shears are for the brave. Prune errant branches back to within an inch or less of the original cuts. Evergreens should never be cut back into the old dead wood as they will not regenerate and you will be left with a gaping hole and a world of regret. Broad leafed topiaries are more forgiving.

You can try your hand at making topiaries yourself. The easiest is to tree form a shrub by taking out lower branches and leaving a canopy of leaves which can be left in a more natural shape or formed into a mushroom. The cloud form, or poodles, are also less tricky for the home gardener. If you feel unsure of yourself, do an internet search for ‘A Man Named Pearl’ and be inspired.