How to Grow Topiary
Here are a few basic rules to get you started
If you do not have any, first go out and buy some patience. Topiary isn’t fast and don’t forget that yew trees can live to a thousand years old. You can’t!
2. Select the right tree or plant:
All plants can be cut or shaped but many can be killed in this way! Yew (Taxus Baccata) and the various forms of Box (Buxus Sempervirens) are the king and queen of topiary plants but there are many others. I have done a (non exhaustive) list of plants here.
When planting a hedge or specimen, smaller sized plants are best as they will acclimatise to local conditions more quickly and often outgrow their bigger friends in the first year or so.
4. Finished shape:
All topiarists have some plan in mind for particular specimens, however it is not uncommon for finished shapes to suggest themselves over the years by the tree or bush at hand. All plants, like all humans, grow differently!
5. Geometry or whimsy?
Well it’s a matter of personal taste if you want an eight foot Mickey Mouse in your garden, or a steam locomotive, as someone in the Bristol area has. Geometric shapes are, however, more traditional and if you give some thought to the overall plan or design of your garden then you will find well placed geometrical shapes are a positive joy in this unbalanced world.
6. To feed or not to feed?
Probably yes, especially those in pots. A liquid seaweed fertiliser is best as nutrient can be taken up through the foliage as well as through the roots. Don’t overdo it though. (Remember the last time you drank too much alcohol?) There is a propriety liquid box feed available from all good garden centres which maintains the nutrients in it help stave off box blight so it is worth investing in. Mature specimens, such as at Levens, don’t need individual attention but will certainly benefit from any fertilising or mulching which is applied to surrounding flower beds and many gardeners including myself swear by blood, fish and bone as a good all round slow release fertiliser.
7. Where to buy topiary:
Your local garden centre will probably have at least some items in Box, usually ball or pyramid shapes. The people having a heart attack at the price are those who do not realise that the plant is probably already five to ten years old and represents a considerable investment on the part of the nursery. Large, ornate topiaries usually run into hundreds of pounds as they have been longer in the growing and training. So, Rule One is buy small plants from a nursery and create your own (unless you require just one or two instant specimens). In this way plants will acclimatise to your conditions and you can have any shape you want!
For more information see our Which Trees to use Page
Anthony’s ebook entitled “How to do Topiary: A beginner’s guide” is available from Amazon. (published 2012). It tells the beginner how to create topiary from scratch or from specimens bought at a garden centre. It covers topiary made from different types of trees and bushes as well as moss topiary where plants are moulded around a medium. It shows you the best trees and bushes to buy, when to clip or form them and what time of year is best to do the work. It discusses the freeform art of topiary as well as that of using preformed frames.
(Please note that this Kindle edition was published before the inclusion of images was possible, however a new updated version is coming soon.)