Topiary is the practice (perhaps the art?) of clipping trees and shrubs into ornamental shapes. We often see examples in the gardens of stately homes, whether neatly clipped tree ‘cones’ lining a pathway or walls of wavy hedges providing the backdrop to a long border.
Topiary has had a long but chequered past and has often been held in contempt by the ‘landscaping school’. Therefore it is interesting to witness its revival and listen to garden designers championing its cause. Box and yew are still amongst the most popular choices for clipping into shapes and for providing evergreen interest all year round but beech and hornbeam have become popular for more unusual and colourful displays, particularly during the autumn.
Just because you don’t own a stately-home sized garden, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some topiary. Domestic gardens lend themselves to smaller examples (which are also quicker to grow) as well as having a bit more fun. Perhaps you want to take a leaf out of Monty’s book and grow your own topiary Nigel?
Topiary does require some patience to grow and shape your own particularly if you chose box as it is very slow growing. However, perhaps you are looking for something to give instant structure and form? Plenty of local nurseries and garden centres stock interesting and varied mature topiary in all shapes and sizes. Begin by leaving your chosen topiary in its pot and experimenting with clipping its form for a couple of years. Soon you will gain confidence. The trick is not to take it too seriously and treat it as a little bit of fun.
For inspiration, you can visit Stansted House near Rowlands Castle. Here the walled garden features some very fine pieces of formal topiary. You can see how topiary helps to soften and shape an area of hard landscaping. As the original ancient art of topiary often depicted hunting scenes, you may also like to know that Stansted House began life as a hunting lodge 800 years ago.
We also love the topiary examples at Hinton Ampner, managed by the National Trust, just east of Winchester. They use topiary as features around the garden, for example to flank the view down steps and out into the wider landscape. However, we particularly like the ‘cloud’ topiary hedge that leads away from the house: it shows that topiary can be a bit of fun, even in a formal setting!
Box plants have had to cope with two challenges in recent years: box blight (a fungal infection) and the box tree caterpillar (which has a voracious appetite!). Both can see previous topiary stripped bare pretty quickly. Fortunately, there are alternatives to Box if you fancy having a go at some topiary yourself. Depending on the look you’re going for, Ilex crenata, Yew and Podocarpus nivalis all have small leaves that lend themselves to clipping. Pop into our Garden Centre and have a chat with one of our plant experts if you need more advice.