Topiary is the practice of sculpting distinct shapes and designs from live perennial plants. Topiary gardening practice has its origin in the Latin word topiaries, meaning ornamental garden landscape. Cneius Matius Calvena, a friend of Julius Caesar, was the first to introduce topiary art to Roman gardens. This gardening architecture was a favourite of European elite in 16th century. Renaissance led to the development of distinct topiary styles, such as Italian, Franco-Dutch, and cottage garden styles. In 1962, Walt Disney introduced American portable style and recreated cartoon characters in landscape shrubbery at Disneyland. Distinct forms of topiary, such as cloud pruning, curved sculptures, boxes and lines, and bonsai, have been practised in the Japanese Zen gardens since decades.

Choosing the Right Plant for Topiary

To make a beautiful topiary, always go for evergreen plants that grow vertically and have dense small leaves. It is easier to shape a slow growing topiary with dense foliage and pliable branches. Juniper, Boxwood, Rosemary, Brush Cherry, Privet, and Myrtle are some evergreen trees and shrubs that are the first choice of every topiary craftsman.

Topiary Designs

Topiary is an individualistic style and you can create it in numerous shapes and sizes, depending on your personal taste and plant species. The following are various common topiary art forms found in the gardens around the world.

  • Creature topiary designs, such as angels, animals, birds, human figures, heart, and cartoon characters.
  • Geometrical shapes, including cone, cube, globe, and spheres.
  • Plant patterns, such as
    bonsai, cloud-pruning, lollipop style, and fence plantation designs.

Human imagination has also led to the development of various imaginative styles of topiary gardening. Fun shapes, lighted topiaries, staged pattern, four-faced pyramids, free standing domes, mosaiculture, logos, and green roof softscapes are some of the latest innovations in the field. The traditional conical pattern is easiest to maintain, while mosaiculture is a complex topiary form that includes multiple plant types and styles.

Pruning and Shaping Your Topiary Garden

  • Pruning should be avoided during spring, when shrubs bloom and continue to be young and sappy. The onset of summer is the best period to prune your topiary garden when shrubs have leathery leaves. Timely pruning is a must to maintain the shape. For complex designs and fast growing plants, frequent trimming and clipping is required.
  • Shape is paramount for creating a beautiful topiary garden. Decide on the shape, size, and pattern to train the plant before pruning. If you are a budding topiarist, start from simple shapes. Plan well on your designs before cutting and proceed with care. Inaccurate style may look odd.
  • Training and patience are important. Wait till the plant is in full bloom and practice well before cutting a shrub to a distinct shape. It is a slow process and plants are allowed to grow for years before training. Inaccurate cutting may dilute the shape and harm your garden landscape.
  • Use the right tools. Ensure that shrubs are not torn during the pruning process. Take special care to make sure that soft leaves do not have to bear the brunt of a blunt tool.
  • You can grow topiary in a container or in the ground. They require water and fertilizer as per their natural growth requirements.
  • Water topiaries consistently so as to ensure that it does not shed leaves and remains evergreen. Also, ensure that insects and weeds do not grow in the shrub, taking advantage of its dense foliage.

Shaping a topiary garden requires patience and artistic attention. A combination of human creativity and nature, topiaries adorning parks, outdoor home yards, and courtyard gardens attract onlookers for their unusual shapes and exude a sense of fantasy.

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