Gardens can be greatly enhanced with the introduction of topiary forms, sculpted shrubs, which transform an ordinary garden into a showcase of floral art. Topiary has been practiced for centuries, evidence of the craft being incorporated in gardens around the world can be found in print and paintings.
Fortunately, shaping and training shrubs can be learned by anyone with the patience necessary to see the project through. Training periods can take anywhere from two to twenty years to be completed and depend on the form you wish to sculpt and the shrub you have chosen.
This guide will lead you through the basics of topiary including types of shrubs that work best, popular forms, and the basics of training topiary to a wire frame.
Shrubs That Work Best
In general, any evergreen shrub with dense foliage you choose for the task can be trained into some form or another. But there are always choices that work better than others and have been preferred for the task for years. Those choices include winter Creeper, Yew, Holly, Boxwood, Cypress, and Privet. Topiary on a wire frame requires a plant with vines that will wrap itself around a form over time, evergreen vines such as English Ivy work best.
The most common forms used in gardens today, and easiest for a beginner to achieve, are simple geometric shapes. Cones, balls, and boxes not only accent a garden, but add dimension. More skilled gardeners have been able to achieve artistic forms that can be viewed as living sculptures. Since ancient Roman times countless figures, animals, and objects have been produced with diligent training and patience.
Basic Topiary Training
The first thing you must realize when you decided to train a shrub is that your form will not appear as you want it to after the first day, training takes years. Knowing that, the first thing you must do is decide on a shrub or vine to use and the form you wish to create.
Training can take place once the shrub has become established in its permanent spot or pot in your garden. Make sure it receives full sun and is allowed to grow all around. Whatever shape you wish to achieve you want to encourage as much growth as possible, in terms of branch structure.
To achieve the maximum bushiness prune the upright branches to achieve the basic design of your desired shape, be it a rounded appearance for a sphere or a flat top for a box. In the case of forms that will be trained vertically and require more top growth let the upright branches remain.
At the end of the first season, prune your shrub enough so that the basic form is achieved, in the following season you can then begin by pruning the shrub into definite outlines. By the second season pruning should be performed on the entire outer edges of the topiary regularly to maintain the form chosen. Prune two inches off the shrub once each season to encourage dense growth, and regularly prune for wayward branches and general shaping.
Training Topiary to a Wire Frame
Training vines to grow into a particular shape takes less patience and is a great deal easier than training and evergreen shrub into a form. To begin you will need to choose a frame that you wish to see covered in vines. This project is best done potted so select a pot that is large enough to support the frame and provide enough room for the ivy to grow.
Fill the pot with a suitable potting soil and insert the frame in the center. Use wire pins, available from many garden stores, to anchor the frame down and provide some stability. Plant your ivy in the pot as near the base of the frame as possible. Starting with the longest stem, wrap the ivy around one side of your frame. Repeat this step for as many stems and initial wire posts as there are.
From now on all you need to do is water your topiary and check for wayward stems, guide them round the wire, and prune extra growth that extends off the frame. In two years, or so, the ivy will grow enough to completely cover the frame you have chosen.