Green sculptures for gardens large and small
Topiary pruning has a rich history. A highly respected art with foundations in the Rome of 2,000 years ago, it’s now enjoying a renaissance. Topiaries definitely have a charm all their own.
There’s plenty of potential for encorporating artistically pruned plants into your own yard, ranging from a unique and uniquely shaped, living work of green art to stylishly trimmed hedges and pathways to very formal gardens. The only thing that really matters when selecting designs is creative thinking: once you start envisioning forms beyond the simple, geometric shapes (boxes, spheres, cones), you can plan artfully cut spirals, animal, and fantastic creatures.
In addition to boxwood, there are a whole host of evergreens suitable for topiary, such as holly, juniper, and even pine. Yews tolerate pruning very well, too, and count among the classics of topiary design. They used to be found above all in traditional English gardens and parks, where they were known to grow ten feet tall – eye-popping showpieces lovingly maintained over generations. It’s also possible to achieve great effect without much pruning at all: woody plants that have a naturally even, dense, and shapely growth habit also have a place in a topiary garden. Among these are Irish juniper, ball-shaped Arborvitae, pillar Taxus, as well as Rocky Mountain juniper, which, with its extremely narrow growth, is reminiscent of Italian cypress. And it’s not just evergreens that are fit prospects for topiary: common hornbeam is a classic choice for hedges, having a naturally sculptural form, but it’s also possible to whip privet, hawthorn, field maple, and even forsythia into shape.
Topiaries invite designs that play with contrasts, and effect isn’t necessarily dependent on number: one single, well chosen plant can become a rich, shapely stand-out against a backdrop of unpruned trees, bringing vigor into a small yard. On the other hand, groups of topiary are ideal for creating an oasis in the garden by dint of repetition and for lending it structure.
To maintain form and achieve increasingly dense growth, evergreen topiaries must be pruned at least once a year. The ideal time for this runs from mid-May through the end of June, but it can be done until August. Abstain from trimming them any later, however, as the new growth would be susceptible to damage from the approaching frost.