Have you ever seen shrubs that are cut and trained into decorative shapes and designs, perhaps in the garden at a formal dinner party? Ever wondered how they make it shaped that way? These kinds of plants are called topiary plants or topiaries.
Topiary is the art or practice of cutting, training, and trimming sculptures using small trees and shrubs as mediums. These shrubs are usually cut and shaped into odd or decorative designs. Popular shapes are of animals, balls, cubes, domes, and pyramids, but you can also see unusual shapes like cartoon characters, human figures, and obelisks.
History. The art of cutting trees dates back to Roman times. Some historians name Cneius Matius Calvena, from Julius Caesar’s circle, as the one who introduced the first topiary to Roman gardens.
In the Far East, the most concentrated forms of topiaries are of the Chinese penjing and the Japanese bonsai. Far Eastern topiaries are a little different from Roman topiaries in aesthetic aims. Far Eastern topiaries try to express the natural form and character of venerably aged plants.
Topiary almost disappeared in the 18th century, only to be re-introduced in 1962 by Walt Disney in Disneyland, trimming evergreens into shapes of their cartoon characters.
What to prune. The plants that are usually used for topiary are evergreens. They are the best choice because evergreens grow dense foliage, have small leaves or needles, and have compact or columnar growth habits. Some of the most common plants used are box, myrtle, holly, yew and privet.
When to prune. It is best to prune foliage in mid-June when the shrubs have hard and leathery leaves. It is not advised to prune shrubs when they bloom, usually in March, because it will likely bruise the plants when they are still young and sappy.
How to prune. After learning the basics of topiary, what and when to prune, just follow these simple steps in creating shaped foliage in your own garden.
- Shape, shape, shape. First on the list is to decide on the shape you would want for your garden. Budding topiarists should start with simple geometric shapes. Starting with rigid geometric shapes like pyramids and cubes would produce inaccurate cutting, as these shapes are less forgiving than simpler ones.
- Training your hand. Steady hands and patience are the main tools you need in topiary. So start guiding shears by using a mesh wire and start training your hand.
- Using the right tools. Shrubs are vulnerable to disease when torn using the wrong equipment. Always use sharp and clean tools for cutting plants, as the soft leaves are sappy. Using a blunt tool would make it hard for you to cut accurately on a flexible and wobbly plant.
- Maintenance. Simple shapes in slow-growing plants will require little attention. The frequency of clipping topiary depends on the speed at which the plant grows and the complexity of the shape. If the plant doesn’t look the way it is supposed to, then get a pair of shears and trim it.
Follow these easy and simple steps for you to be able to create your own shape and design on your plants for that more attractive garden.