The Art Of Topiary

Topiary is the art of training plants into distinct shapes and forms and has been used historically in many garden styles from early Roman times.  Levens Hall in Kendal, Cumbria dates back to the 1690’s and is the home to the world’s oldest topiary gardens with it’s collection of ancient box and yew trees.  

There is something quite addictive about topiary - start with one plant and you will soon be collecting more.  Immersing yourself into trimming topiary can become quite meditative as you carefully shape your piece of living architecture.  

There are many plants that are suitable for creating topiary with evergreens usually preferred to give permanent features in the garden that will last throughout the seasons.  Traditionally box (Buxus sempervirens) was often used, but as there have been problems with box blight and now the box tree caterpillars many people are now using other plants such as yew, holly (Ilex), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and lavender (Lavandula) to create topiary.  If you are looking for instant effect ready made topiary can be purchased in various shapes with balls and cones being some of the most popular shapes.  You can, of course train plants and create any shape that you wish, but this does take time.  

Top left: Rosemary cones, bottom left: Lavender cones, right: Ilex cone.

Trimming existing topiary:

It is recommended that topiary should be trimmed annually in early or late summer, but do bear in mind that faster growing species may require trimming more often when new growth is produced. 

For the purpose of this blog Dave (our topiary expert) used special topiary shears to carefully trim all around the plant until he was happy with the shape.  He recommends doing this slowly to begin with until you feel comfortable with it.  Any unwanted suckers or branches can also be removed as you go along.  

Dave getting ready to start trimming.