Adorning Your Garden With Shaped Hedges
Topiary is the horticultural technique of shaping perennial plants, bushes or shrubs. It is considered an art skill and requires precision, skill and also vision. Topiaries are a great way for one to liven up a landscape or empty garden, lending character or even an air of whimsies and fantasy, depending on the shape or style of the bush.
A Walk Down Memory Lane
The practice of topiary dates back to the Ancient Roman times between 38 BC and 14 AD. Written records demonstrated that the first person to engage in this gardening activity was a Roman man who went by the name of Gnaius Mattius. However, it is also believed that the cutting and shaping of trees and bushes had been practiced by earlier Mediterranean and Asiatic cultures. Nonetheless, topiary was a familiar and natural embellishment of the gardens of the wealthy.
During the Italian Renaissance period, gardens were developed for pleasure and to reflect the wealth and power of their owners. Topiary was especially evident during this period, and once again, shaped shrubs were viewed as a symbol of status and wealth. It was during this time the Renaissance’s influence spread like wildfire through Europe, and of the many aspects of the Italian culture that was adopted, strangely enough topiary was one of them! Such countries that had begun to display this gardening technique in their gardens included France, the Netherlands, England and even America (not European, but European influenced nonetheless.)
The history of England even acknowledges an era known as ‘Topiary’s Golden Age’ – a period when William of Orange, from Holland conquered England and brought over his fanaticism of topiary. It was during this time that topiary shrubs and bushes became a common sight in English gardens, a trend that has lived on ever since. The world famous topiary garden at Levens Hall in Kendall, which spans a massive 10 acres, was also created during this golden age by French gardener Guillaume Beaumont between the years 1689 and 1712. Till this day, the gardens are still maintained and have become a common tourist spot for horticulturalists and non- horticulturalists alike.
The world famous topiary garden at Levens Hall, boasts an impressive array of various shaped perennial plants, bushes and shrubs.
Topiary today however, is not viewed in the same way as it was in the past. Shaped trees are no longer regarded with the same prestige and neither are they indicative of the status or wealth of a family or person. Instead, topiaries are noted as garden beautifiers, adding appeal to blank canvasses of grass and boring and shapeless bushes.
As mentioned previously, topiaries can even lend an air of charm, whimsies and flights to any space, depending on the shape of the topiary. And this is only because topiaries to this writer, is extremely reminiscent of the cartoon movie and fantasy film Alice in Wonderland!
Hedges of Perfection
Topiaries are nonetheless still a work of art for one to ponder at and be mesmerised by. If you do however plan to DIY, there are tons of articles and videos to consult online.
Besides that, you need to consider what the rest of the garden is going to look like. Even the style of the house can play a big part in deciding the best topiary for your particular garden or potted specimen on the patio.
You also need to figure out what sort of topiary is going to best suit the style of garden you are creating. Will the topiary be large or small? From there you can then proceed to identify what type of bushes and plants are most suitable for shaping and pruning. Boxwood, holly, laurel and privet are just some of the types of bushes and shrubs that can be used to create topiaries. The most popular of the four is boxwood, due to the nature of the plant, of being able to stay compact without much trimming.
To create the more complexly shaped topiaries such as spirals, pyramids and cones, taller shrubs and hedges with a dense leaf structure is required. Yews, hollies, arborvitae and Alberta spruce are good choices for taller formations. The common yew (Taxus baccata) and Anglo-Japanese yew already have a somewhat cylindrical habit and so are naturals for this shape. Any of the hollies with traditional holly leaves can be trimmed into nearly any shape. Arborvitaes are better for statuesque forms like obelisks or truncated cones (cones with the tops cut off), and can even be used for spirals. Alberta spruce are popular for spirals.
Do note that some of these species may not necessarily thrive in our tropical heat! Consulting with your local gardener, nursery or even a landscape artist can help in determining which type of bush or hedge is best suited to be grown here.
Also unless your skills rival those of Edward Scissorhands, topiary gardening is a landscape art that requires regular maintenance and time — a lot of time. And patience, too. But fret not, as there’s no need for any fancy topiary equipment - ordinary garden shears or clippers and possibly hedge cutters when things grow and get that bit bigger are all you need. Give yourself a helping hand and buy a frame in the shape you want. You can even buy plants ready planted with a topiary frame over them to get you started.
Ornamental shrubs are the workhorse in the garden. These are the plants that can provide privacy screens and hedges to make your outdoor living space more intimate and your home more colorful by forcing blooming branches. They can be artfully combined with perennials to create mixed borders and they’re often placed throughout the landscape as specimen plants to highlight a beautiful seasonal flowering habit. So consider adding topiaries to your landscape, especially if you’re looking to spruce some character into the outdoor of your home!
(Written by: Rekha Shankar, 1st September 2016)