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The Beauty of Topiary Gardening

Austina Thiebaut   Gardens   May 17th 2020, 00:00:00

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The term topiary which is the practice and art of pruning and shaping trees and shrubs to create living sculptures comes from the Greek word meaning places. Gardeners who specialize in topiary choose evergreen plants with small needles and leaves, dense foliage, and a relatively compact growth habit.

Wireframes or cages are sometimes used to provide a template for the design and add support to the finished product. Topiary sizes range from small ball-shaped ivy plants grown in six-inch pots to large privet hedges carefully trimmed into an animal or human form. Not for the beginning gardener with rare exceptions, the practice of topiary demands a steady hand, perseverance, and the willingness and ability to keep the topiary plant trimmed to the desired shape.

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The earliest European topiaries date from the time of ancient Rome. After some years spent in obscurity, they regained popularity in the 16th century, when they began showing up in multiple forms in the formal terraced gardens and parterres of wealthy European families, and as single objects in smaller cottage gardens of the less affluent.

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Typical topiary gardens at that time featured low hedges with potted trees trimmed into the shape of balls on posts and hedge plants shaped as obelisks. As the fashion for topiary grew, it became more complicated, especially in Holland and England.

Graceful and elegant as it can be, some topiary gardens feature more historical or even whimsical shapes, such as a huge hedge sculpted by pruning tools into the shapes of a farmer behind his horse and plow. There is little question about topiary being easy to maintain; even the slowest growing plants will need to be trimmed vigilantly if the shape of the original topiary design is to be well maintained.

Famous examples of topiary gardens can be found worldwide. In Manipur, India, what is believed to be the world's tallest topiary stands 61 feet and is high sculpted of a shrub widely used in Indian gardens into a tiered shape that honors a god of the forest.

Englands Cliveden, Hidcote Manor, Great Dixter, and Levens Hall gardens all offer excellent examples of topiary viewed by thousands of topiary lovers every year, as do the gardens at Chateau de Villandry in France and Villa Lante in Italy.

In North America, There is a fascinating topiary garden in Columbus, Ohio that recreates the tableau found in a painting by the French Impressionist artist George Seurrat. Both Massachusetts Hunnewell Arboretum and Marylands Ladew Topiary Garden offer outstanding examples of this interesting gardening art. The Ladew garden features a fox hunt scene complete with horses, riders, hounds and a fox!

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