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Topiary, artful blending of beauty, perseverance, and imagination


Topiary is the art of pruning shrubs into specific shapes.

Topiary key facts

Shrubs: evergreen, dense foliage
Level: easy>expert, shape-dependent
Time required:  4 hours per shrub per year, in 3 or 4 sessions

Suitable for: teenagers, adults
Start to end: 3 to 4 years
Season: spring, mid-summer, late summer, early fall

A square hedge is already a basic form of topiary. Topiary masters, however, create wonderful eye-catching shapes from standalones. You’ll need to work on the shrub for around three years before the shape matures properly. Once finished, it will grace your garden for decades with only minimal maintenance!

How to start a topiary shrub

Topiary sounds like a hard challenge. But everyone can try and succeed!

Starting from an already formed shrub

The simplest way to start is to purchase a shrub that has already been formed.

  • Starting topiaryAlthough these used to be very expensive, nowadays it’s possible to find topiary shrubs at somewhat affordable rates.
  • Nurseries work with experts that work quickly and well. Special trimming machines prune each shrub in a matter of minutes. They produce shrubs in great quantities, which helps lower costs.
  • However, you’ll normally be limited to very basic shapes such as spheres, cubes, pyramids or cylinders. Cloud pruning is a form of topiary.

The advantage of beginning from a shrub that is already shaped is time. You can immediately savor the elegance of your topiary shrub from day 1!

  • Important: you need to refresh your topiary around 4 times a year.
  • You don’t need to be an expert. Following the original design is very easy if you stick to the calendar.

Starting from a normal, young sapling

You’ll obviously take greater pride in admiring a shrub formed on your own over time!

  • However, success isn’t always guaranteed, especially if you find it difficult to follow-up on garden work on a regular schedule.
  • Learn first to keep overgrown lawns under control. It’s an excellent way to build up the patience and regularity that’s needed for topiary!

You can start from a sapling or shrub of any age, depending on the size of the shape you wish to grow.

  • Less than 3 feet (1 m) – start with a shrub one or two years old, at most three.
  • Over 3 feet (1 m) – a fuller, taller shrub such as those pre-grown for an evergreen hedge are perfect. They’re usually 5 to 6 years old.

Steps to start your topiary

First, choose the species that you want to train into topiary. Then, find the perfect spot for it to grow… and be seen!

Best shrubs for topiary

Topiary shrubs share a few common traits:

  • Species for topiaryThey are usually evergreens
  • with slow growth
  • which cope well with pruning.

Such shrubs abound in nature and in our gardens.

The most famous topiary shrub is certainly boxwood, but others also excel:

Less known, but equally great are abelia, hornbeam, privet and tree germander.

Location and landscaping

Topiary creations are usually a highlight of the garden. They should be planted in a dedicated growing bed that has a place of honor in your garden.

Landscaping with topiaryThink about where you spend time in the house.

  • Maybe a spot in front of the breakfast window will be suitable?
  • A view from the cozy tearoom, for guests to admire over a cup and scones?
  • A spot in front of the terrace or near your all-season resin garden furniture set?

Sometimes topiary can be used to define different garden areas. A leisurely pathway can be lined with cute, regular shapes. A vegetable patch can be lined with a low hedge.

  • Lastly, you can also simply grow topiary shapes in a container! A garden box or large pot can make excellent growing spots for topiary shrubs.

As a second step, consider soil, exposure, lighting, drainage… These conditions must match the shrub or plant’s requirements.

  • Topiary is usually performed on resilient shrubs. They bounce back easily after pruning and trimming.
  • However, it’s important that they benefit from excellent growing conditions.
  • A shrub with little light or constantly wet roots will never look good as a topiary.

Next, think about whether ornaments are desirable.

  • An arbor or an arching framework can bear climbing roses nearby to encase your topiary sculpture.
  • Conversely, a well-formed but discreet topiary shrub can highlight a magnificent piece of art.
  • It can guide the eye to a timeless wrought iron garden creation, for instance.

Lastly, consider which companion plants you’ll have growing around your topiary.

Images: Pixabay: Pam Macdonald, Judith Shore, Yves
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