Topiaries

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Topiaries

When most people think of topiaries (the act of pruning evergreens into living sculptures), they think of formal gardens, perhaps conjuring up images of the not-a-leaf-out-of-place formal gardens of Europe, with their tightly clipped geometric shapes creating a very ‘Alice In Wonderland’ effect.

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In my own garden (which is definitely not formal) I love using topiaries throughout, in unexpected ways. The style of my garden is casual, with a hint of ‘old world’ thrown in, and with a little creative placement, topiaries not only add a whimsical effect but can also add a little structure as well.

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For example, in my raised vegetable bed I include a bay leaf, pomegranate and kumquat tree, all in a ‘standard’ form. ‘Standards’ are also known as lollipop trees because of their shape. Including standards in my small bed allows for layered planting beneath, therefore increasing the number of edibles I can plant. In addition to the extra planting space, the tall shapes allow for variation in height, which is always visually more interesting.

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Vegetable beds are also notorious for not looking their best in the winter months. By including a few evergreens, such as naturally round Golf Ball Kohuhu (Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Golf Ball’), and an ornamental pomegranate ‘Toyosho’, my vegetable garden is no longer drab in the winter, and boasts fall color as well. Admittedly, these evergreens take up valuable space where I could otherwise plant additional edibles, but since this vegetable bed is in the middle of my garden, I don’t want it looking bare for several months out of the year.

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Typically, evergreen plants with small, closely spaced leaves are excellent candidates for topiaries (such as boxwood, ivy, or brush cherry) as the finished shapes are compact and dense. But other plants work as well – including many edibles. Even if you don’t have a large garden, you can enjoy the benefits of edible topiaries. For example, rosemary responds very well to pruning, is evergreen, and even provides blue flowers in the dead of winter. Grape vines also make excellent standards and are ideal candidates for balconies or patios with full sun.

To keep your topiaries tidy requires lightly pruning them several times a year, depending on how quickly your plant grows. Lucky for me, this is a garden chore that my husband enjoys doing and to make the job easier he’s created a simple template out of cardboard.

He places the template over the plant, which helps guide his cuts (and, subsequently, preventing a ball to accidentally be clipped into a lopsided shape). To catch the clippings, drape an old towel or tarp around the plant (not unlike getting a haircut). When you’re finished, just gather it up for easy clean-up!