Topiary can give even the plainest house a look of elegance – but should you choose a real topiary plant, or opt for something artificial? Here we explain a little more about topiary and walk you through the pros and cons of both options.
What is topiary?
Topiary is the art of training plants into different shapes and forms. Historically these have include mazes and labyrinths, together with hedges clipped into geometric or more abstract shapes. Now, the term is used loosely to describe many different garden features that are clipped and shaped. Typically these will use evergreens which means the display can continue through all the seasons.
Is it difficult to make a topiary?
In short, yes. When you first get your plant and begin clipping it into shape, you’ll find that the foliage is sparse. As the plant matures, it will bush out and the leaves and branches knit together, giving it the classic tightly knitted topiary appearance.
You’ll also find cutting a topiary to shape is no easy task. However, templates and wooden frames make this job a bit easier. Here’s a video of a spiral topiary being fashioned out of boxwood so you can see the process:
Of course, many garden centres sell topiary that has already been grown and clipped for you.
Is real topiary difficult to maintain?
Real topiary can be shaped from box (Buxus sempervirens), yew (Taxus baccata), privet (Ligustrum japonicum), holly (Ilex) and Lonicera nitida. Although you can purchase topiary ready shaped, long term care for real specimens is not simple – in fact, the Royal Horticultural Society describes the process as ‘Moderate to difficult‘.
You’ll need to clip your topiary once or twice every year to keep the shape. If you choose a vigorous species you may find you need to clip the topiary more often. You should apply Growmore once a year in Spring – this isn’t just to make the topiary grow (which might be the opposite of what you’d like to happen!) but also helps to keep it in great condition. You’ll also need to mulch the topiary with bark or organic matter unless it is surrounded by gravel.
If your topiary is looking worse for wear, you can hard prune it early to mid spring and start over. You can help your topiary to grow back by feeding and mulching it, and keeping it safe from drought through the warmer months.
Is artificial topiary a satisfactory alternative?
Artificial topiary looks highly realistic, unless you get right up close. Even then, a good quality artificial topiary will look comparable to the real thing.
The benefit of artificial topiary is that it needs almost no maintenance. You won’t need to water, clip or feed it, and you don’t have to worry about it protecting it in harsh weather. Aside from a little wipe down now and then, your topiary will continue to look perfect for years on end.
Of course, not all artificial topiary plants are the same. Some are lower quality, meaning that they fade more quickly and will look dull and unreaslistic after some time outside. Look for UV resistance for a longer lasting topiary.
Which artificial topiary should I buy?
There are two types of topiary to choose from: hanging artificial topiary balls and topiary plants that go in pots. The hanging balls often come with detachable chains, so you can actually place them in a pot instead if you choose (although you’ll need to anchor them down). The topiary plants are often displayed in pots, but these tend to be for show – you’ll need to choose your own container for your plant which will need weighing down and filling with ornamental gravel if you choose.
Some artificial topiary balls have flowers, either dotted among the foliage or around the entirety of the ball. Again, look for UV resistance and make sure you’re happy with the colour before you buy – some lower quality topiary balls can be a little garish, to the point where you’ll actually be hoping they fade just so they don’t stand out in the garden so badly.
- AM Clevely – Topiary: the art of clipping trees and ornamental hedges
- Christopher Crowder & Michaeljon Ashworth – Topiary design and technique
- Margherita Lombardi and Cristiana Serra Zanetti – Topiary basics: the art of shaping plants in gardens & containers