Topiary is the art of cutting, trimming and sculpting plants into specific shapes. These shapes can range from simple geometric designs to exceptionally sophisticated forms such as animals or people or words. Topiary traces back to the first century after Christ in Rome, but it is suspected that it was actually Greek slaves who introduced this landscaping art form to the Romans. Topiaries in the Middle Ages were quite common among royal courts. A certain elegance is attached to a topiary, but today you don’t have to be a member of the monarchy to enjoy the results. Some of you may be familiar with topiaries as a result of the presence of a malevolent topiary at the Overlook Hotel in the novel version of “The Shining” by Stephen King. Fortunately, Stanley Kubrick quickly jettisoned this aspect in his film version and transformed the topiary into a maze.
Many different types of trees and shrubs have the potential to be transformed into topiary works of art, but evergreens provide are the most suitable candidates. Some evergreens are better than others, such as yew, boxwood and holly. Look for a tree with durable woody stems and small but dense leaves. You also want to make sure that the tree or shrub you choose is able to withstand heavy pruning.
The most common way to easily shape a plant for use in topiary garden is to manipulate wire into the form or figure you want. Place this wire frame over the plant and start trimming it back to about two to three inches as the plant grows. You will need to continue this trimming process as you find necessary from spring and into the latter part of summer.
The best way to enter into the world of topiary trimming is to start out with simple shapes and master them before heading into more complex forms. Some good shapes to work with at first include columns, circles and spirals. Once you have learned the basics, then you can gain the confidence to move onto animals like sheep, peacocks and rabbits.
The addition of moss to your topiary forms will help keep the tree moist. Gather some sphagnum moss and pack it tightly inside your wire frame. The moist quality that results will improve the ability of the roots to gain a stronger grip beneath the soil.
Strength and health of your topiary trees can be improved by making sure that grass and weeds are not allowed to spread into the area occupied by the topiary. Both grass and weeds provide competition for the nutrients in the soil that your tree needs to grow. An effective method for keeping away these competitive plants is to spread mulch around the plant.