What is topiary? Topiary is simply the art or practice of trimming and shaping plants into ornamental shapes. The shapes can be any object or geometric shape one can think of. History tells us that Pliny the younger (AD 62-110) described his villa in Tuscany as being embellished with various figures and adorned with animals out of boxwood. So topiary has been around for nearly 2000 years. Its still popular in mansions as well as in the home garden. The term topiary today can mean a large specimen, such as a garden giraffe or a small tabletop centerpiece, but its always related to shaped plants. Here are some of the most popular uses for topiary today.
Topiary is found in a wide variety of home gardens as well as commercial establishments. Formal gardens will often include pyramids or arches, maybe even cones or teardrops with little birds pruned on top. Whimsical topiary shapes such as animals or birds or even trains and airplanes may grace a park or zoo, or accent one’s garden, bringing pleasure to all who visit. Topiary children may dance through a cottage garden and topiary dolphins look natural near the swimming pool. Topiary bunnies may welcome visitors by the front door, or human shapes ‘help’ in the garden. A scene of topiary ducks with a mother and her ducklings brings a smile to anyone’s face. Commercial gardens enjoy using garden topiary to delight their visitors, as Cypress Gardens did a few years ago with a huge topiary exhibit with over 75 large frames, including a moving carousel of topiary animals. Elli’s Great American Restaurant in Salinas California has a topiary Statue of Liberty in its front garden. Topiary is so versatile it can be at home in any garden. Its sure to be around for another 2000 years!
TOPIARY FOR CONTAINERS
Container gardening has become especially popular in the last few years and topiary for containers is a natural fit. Picture a duck or goose in a ‘nest’ of grasses. Or a tall ivy cone graced with impatience around the base with trailing ivy between the flowers. A grouping of containers with a large quail topiary surrounded by smaller quail would make a nice patio vignette. Two ivy standards flanking a door way in victorian urns would enhance an entrance. Container grown topiary has the advantage of being able to be moved around the garden as desired, it serves as a focal point and can be adorned around the base with flowers or grasses to accentuate the topiary.
Another kind of topiary that is very popular is the table top topiary, most often done in ivy, but also found in herbs such as rosemary. Wreaths, hearts, cones, spirals, standards, double standards and many geometric shapes have all found their way to the table as a centerpiece, often decorated with seasonal decorations. With over 500 varieties of ivy to choose from, the possibilities for many different looks are endless. Many of these shapes are instant if one starts with a long ivy. A simple 13” ivy topiary wreath can be made with an ivy that has 18” runners in 10 mintues and they become more beautiful as they grow. The tabletop topiary is very popular for weddings and parties as it makes a pretty and appropriate centerpiece. Its also easy to tie a topiary in to a theme: hearts and flowers for weddings and anniversaries, wreaths and ivy trees for Christmas, custom topiary fish for a fisherman’s birthday, you get the picture!
Martha Stewart Living magazine featured topiary baskets a few years ago that were shaped like different animals and decorated for Easter. Ducks, bunnies, roosters, goats and deer all became topiary baskets that held flowers or colored eggs. Ivy baskets can hold champagne or flowers and make unique gifts.
So topiary can be used as an accent in the garden or as a statement. It can serve a formal garden with repetition of geometric cones or spirals, or be at home in a cottage garden with whimsical animals. It fits commercial gardens with large exhibits or single specimens. And tabletop topiaries are widely used for adorning the home or party centerpieces. And with ready made topiary frames, the whole process has become user friendly and likely to keep growing in popularity.