Topiary is basically a formal way of referring to a living plant sculpture. This official form of landscape gardening dates back to 23 A.D., where cypress trees, pruned into various shapes, adorned notable architectural buildings in Ancient Rome. Today, topiaries are fashionable for both indoor décor, as well as outside design. Typically, indoor topiaries are done on a small scale and kept simple and clean. An outdoor design can be much larger and more elaborate, oftentimes involving a plant being trained to grow inside a wire form, with clipping and trimming to enhance the shape.
There are three basic styles to consider for your topiary:
- Free-form style – This requires the use of woody-stemmed plants. This topiary would have a bare stem that is topped with a ball of vegetation. Herbs are often used for this style and grow nicely in a window in the kitchen. Lemon verbena, bay and rosemary are good choices for this design.
- Basket style – This presents the same look as the free-form style, but because you utilize a basket on the top to create the bush ball, you’re able to choose different varieties of plants for the top and bottom, giving the appearance of mature topiary immediately.
- Multilayered topiary – A form is used for support, allowing plant material to grow upwards while following the shape of the form. This versatile style is great for small scale projects that look natural in a foundation bed or for creating a large accent piece to adorn the middle of your yard.
For option number 1 – Choose a small rooted cutting of your desired plant. Select a small pot, with or without a drainage hole at the bottom and deep enough to bury a chopstick half way, which will be the support for the plant. Place some gravel on the bottom of the pot for drainage, and gently push the chopstick into the gravel, near the center of the pot. Fill the container half way up with an all-purpose potting soil. Place your plant in the center near the stick and continue to fill the pot with soil, adjusting the stick as necessary to keep it straight and upright. With garden pruners, remove any stems and leaves along the main trunk of the plant, stopping near the top where you want to start your ball shape. Secure the trunk to the stick with a few pieces of soft twine. Hand prune to start the general shape of the globe at the top, and pinch any shoots to encourage more growth. As the ball fills in, keep clipping to shape and pinching shoots until you achieve the fullness you desire.
For option number 2 – Select the appropriate sized pot to house the topiary you desire. Make sure the pot has a drainage hole at the bottom. You’ll need some type of topiary system, which you can purchase at any nursery, or you can construct your own. To begin, place the center pole over the drainage hole, and pour in a layer of small pebbles around the pole. Stabilize the pole with the included circular metal support or bottom basket, whichever comes with the system you purchased. Next, add a multipurpose potting soil to the pot and begin the planting process. Choose plants with similar growing requirements. Plant some ivy at the center, which you can train to grow up the pole for camouflage. Line the top basket with sphagnum moss or coconut fibers and either place a decorative pot full of brilliant posies in there or plant your own assortment.
For option number 3 – You’ll need a topiary form, which can be purchased at any nursery or you can construct your own from wire fencing or simple coat hangers. For this topiary style, the plants you choose should be climbers, such as ivy or trumpet vines. Once you’ve chosen your plant material, the next step is to secure the form to the container. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions included with your purchased form, or if you’re constructing your own form, seek the advice of the experts at your favorite nursery. Once the form is secured, add some drainage material to the bottom of the container and top with potting soil to about half way up the pot. Place at least one plant on each side of the form and fill in with more potting soil. To train the plant material, wind one stem at a time around the form, alternating the stems from one side to the other, and secure with soft twine. This design will take some time to fill in, so patience is required, along with some trimming, pinching and shaping to achieve a beautifully shaped, full bodied piece of garden art.
Let your artistic juices flow, and have fun crafting your own personal collection of living sculptures.