Luxury Living: Designing A Topiary Garden

Topiary can be used to create a theme for an outdoor space, as a focal point, or to add a style of formality or fun.

Topiary is a way of growing plants to form decorative shapes. There are three types of topiary. In the first, a plant is planted either in a container or in the ground. A wire form is placed over the plant and the plant is trimmed and trained to fill up the form.

A second type also involves a plant in a container or in the ground, but no form is used. A woody plant is trimmed and trained to hold a shape on its own. In the third type, a form is filled with wet sphagnum moss and plants are planted directly into the moss. These are often smaller and more delicate in appearance and require more maintenance than plants with their roots in soil. They tend to dry out more quickly and so may not be well suited to hot, sunny, or windy areas.

Topiary can be any size or shape depending on the type of plant used and the imagination of the topiary designer. Topiary frames are available in the shape of animals, insects, angels, globes, hearts, birds, urns, fish, dinosaurs, whales, even a dolphin jumping through hoop or the Loch Ness Monster. The shape or shapes you choose in designing your topiary garden will depend on your personal tastes and interests as well as how formal you want the garden to be. Formal gardens require more symmetrical shapes and symmetrical placement within the garden space, though a more imaginative piece might be used as a focal point. Less formal gardens can be a riot of fun shapes. It is easy to use topiary for a theme garden, perhaps a back yard zoo of topiary animals. Who has not seen the topiaries of Disney characters at Disneyland or the creepy, moving topiary animals in Stephen King's book/movie "The Shining?" Topiary is great to for setting a mood. Rosemary plants shaped to resemble Christmas trees are popular through the winter holidays.

Topiary may contain more than one plant of the same type or different kinds of plants for different parts of the topiary. When the plants are seated in sphagnum moss, small parts of the form, like the ears on an animal form, may require more drought tolerant plants than the rest of the structure because those small parts dry out more quickly.

Consideration should be given to the kinds of plants that flourish in your part of the world and whether or not plants will be indoors or greenhouse sheltered during inclement parts of the year. There is also a choice between deciduous and evergreen plants. Deciduous plants lose their leaves in the winter; evergreens do not. Evergreens generally do not flower, while many deciduous choices will. You may want to consider a scented plant variety as an additional delight for the senses.

In a formal garden topiary tends toward classic abstract shapes like a series of globes or pyramids placed in a symmetrical fashion. Tall pieces draw the eye upward and make the space seem larger. Pieces of topiary can be made to seem taller by planting them in a container rather than in the ground. This gives you more "bag for the buck" in that you may purchase smaller plants that will give a larger visual impact. The containers themselves can add color and style. Angular topiary shapes add to the look of formality. Rounded shapes compliment and soften angular features in the hardscape such as stone, walls and angled walkway corners. Small topiaries can be used as centerpieces on outdoor (or indoor) dining areas or even as a low border for a garden bed.

You can see that there are many choices in designing a topiary garden. Topiary is readily available at nurseries and from growers that specialize in topiary. When starting out, speak with a local nurseryman about what plants are commonly used for topiary in your area and choose plants that are already shaped. Learn how to care for those plants and how to maintain the topiary shape. Clipping topiary is a very creative and relaxing experience. Once you have mastered that, you may want to try making topiary from scratch. Whether you start with pre-shaped plants or shape them yourself, you will be amazed at how much style they add to your yard and garden.

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