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The Art Of Topiary: Get Inspired

Updated on August 30, 2017

Topiary Art Is Clipping A Shrub Into Any Shape You Can Think Of And Having Fun

Topiary art is one of the most creative and calming things you can do in a garden. Clip a shrub into a shape. It doesn't matter what shape; any shape is fine, just so long as it gives you pleasure and doesn't offend the neighbours.

Topiary is all a matter of taste, but more than that, it is an art form where your character, nature, and the landscape of your dreams gets writ large.

There is great satisfaction to be found in the quiet, meditative art of topiary. Whatever form your shrub carving may take, you are part of a creative history that stretches back to antiquity.

The topiary in the picture above can be seen in The Botanical Gardens of Funchal, Madeira, Portugal, photographed by JmxJoaomaximo on Flickr [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Why Do We Make Topiary?

photo by Steven Feather

With topiary, we mould Nature to fit our dreams and fancies. Do we like to create the illusion that we have some control over nature, at least in our own backyard, or do we just enjoy joining hand in hand with nature to make something new?

At this cottage just before you enter Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, gardeners, for many years, have clipped and shaped these shrubs into strange shapes. These topiaries have evolved over time in this garden out of contingency and whim.

Over two thousand years ago, people in Ancient Rome did a similar thing. It is said that the Romans invented topiary. Who knows. Sadly the topiaries of the past are no longer here to be seen and recorded.

The Art Of Topiary Is Universal - Anyone can make a topiary.

The Waving Man on the A91 near Dollar, Clackmannanshire, Scotland, photographed by Paul McIlroy [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the things I love about topiary is that it is such a non elitist, universal art form. Anyone can make a topiary. It is there to see in grand gardens, public spaces and ordinary folks yards. Obviously space dictates how large your topiary can be. The Waving Man of Dollar is an ingenious use of limited space in a suburban setting.

Hedge Row, Wayside, Farmyard Topiary - A great piece of guerilla gardening

Hugh Craddock [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a truly wonderful piece of annonymous topiary art that can be found on the grass verge of King Lane outside Kings Cottage, and opposite the turning to Froxfield Farm, High Cross, Hampshire, Great Britain. I love the fact that someone took the time to clip and care for these shrub sculptures for fun and whimsy, unconcerned whether they are recognised for their work or not.

Having Fun With A Boundary Hedge - Another example of space efficient topiary.

By Eistreter (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Here a hedge has been carved into something wild and wonderful! This elephant topiary is actually in the Loro Parque, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, but it's something that could equally be done in a back garden.

Topiary Art Also Works Well In Pots - Where space is really limited, topiary can grow in pots.

Evelyn Simak [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The great thing about growing topiary in a pot is that you can move it about the garden, keep it on a deck, and take it with you when you move home.

Have you ever had a stab at making topiary?

Have you ever had a stab at making topiary?

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Here Are Some Of My Favourite Topiary Gardens

The Yews At Athelhampton House - The art of topiary can be mysterious and monolithic

John Lamper [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The garden at Athelhampton House is possibly my most favourite garden in the world. Set in the grounds of a manor house built in 1493, the gardens were laid out and planted between 1891 - 1899 by Alfred Cart de Lafontaine.

Utterly atmoshpheric, it is a garden where topiary isn't an event within the garden; at Athelhampton, topiary is the garden.

Apart from these wonderful living pyramids that stand like great monoliths, there are garden spaces, walkways and vistas that exist simply because they are enclosed by massive walls of clipped yew.

It is a garden where you feel quite small and wonderous as you pass from one green event to another, and a place that puts the worries and anxieties of daily life into a better perspective.

This link will take you to the official Athelhampton website where you can see more pictures of the gardens:

Athelhampton House and Gardens

The Apostle Yews Of Lytes Carey

Photo by Stronach

This is a garden that I used to visit with my mother on a warm summer's day. We'd have tea in the garden and wander across the grass, smiling at the lovely yews. It has an air of ancient timelessness, nestling as it does in the Somerset landscape.

Lytes Carey was the home of the great mediaeval herbalist Henry Lyte, who created a botanic garden there in 1556. His book 'Lytes Herbal' was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth 1 and became a best seller. It was from this time that the gardens became an important part of Lytes Carey Manor.

The house and gardens evolved between the 13th to 18th centuries under the ownership of the Lyte family, but fell into disrepair in the early 20th century. It was rescued from ruin by Sir Walter Jenner, and the gardens were re laid in the Arts and Crafts Style. This style promoted the use of herbaceous borders, walkways and vistas within the framework of outdoor rooms and topiary. Today the house and gardens are managed and owned by the National Trust.

This link will take you to Wikipedia where you can see more pictures of the gardens and the beautiful and ancient house:

Lytes Carey Manor House and Gardens

The Topiary Of Levens Hall

photo by horsesitch

Levens Hall topiary is justly world famous. Levens Hall in Cumbria is one of the finest and oldest topiary gardens in the world. The gardens date from 1694 and are Grade 1 listed.

The Topiary Of Hidcote Gardens - Topiary Is Essential To The English Garden Room Style

Photo by Pradeep Sanders [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This is the English Garden Room Style, developed over the last 150 years in large country gardens,.

Here at Hidcote Gardens, clipped hedges create the framework and backbone of the famous garden rooms. Within this framework, summer flowers can flourish in contrasting abandon.

The Maze At Longleat

photo by Niki Odolphie

In the grounds of Longleat this young maze, planted in 1978 has matured rapidly into something mysterious and wonderful. The maze was made by planting 16,000 English Yews, creating almost 2 miles of paths.

Famous Topiary Gardens

These gardens are famous for their topiary. They contain growing shrubs that have been carefully clipped and maintained over the years. These topiary gardens continue to live on long after their original artist has gone on to greener pastures and the great garden in the sky.

Boxwood And Yew Are Best For Topiary - Topiary can be made out of many shrubs but Box and Yew are best.

photo at wikimedia

Box, or Buxus sempervirens to use its Latin name, was one of the first plants to be used for topiary. It is thought to have been grown for formal hedgeing by Ancient Egyptians and then later by the Greeks.

It can grow into a small tree, but its value in gardens lies in its tough evergreen compact growth, and the ability to withstand frequent clipping.

About Yew

By Simon Garbutt. SiGarb 20:02, 4 December 2006 (UTC) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For more about the wonderful Yew, visit my ancient Yew trees lens

And is this the craziest topiary art in the world?

Geometric topiary - Reflecting the patterns that underlie everything...

This geometric layout has been calculated with great accuracy, and is very satisfying to the brain. There is something strange and wonderful about massive living shapes that mirror the geometry of the universe. Topiary maintained and photographed by Steve

Thanks For Visiting The Art Of Topiary - Please feel free to say hallo

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    • ForestBear LM profile image

      ForestBear LM 5 years ago

      Love this lens and the photos. It's amazing! thank you for sharing

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I love the elephants! Beautiful photos, great job.

    • greenmind profile image

      GreenMind 5 years ago from USA

      Great lens! I love the images. These topiaries must take forever to design and grow.

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 5 years ago from Virginia

      Awe some clip jobs on the topiary. Thanks for sharing. Don't see this in my future, but I'm glad to know someone still cares enoug to do it!

    • BobZau profile image

      Bob Zau 5 years ago

      Fantastic photos of the Elephant Topiary, great lens.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

      Those box elephants are amazing! Thanks for sharing tips on successfully growing and maintaining box, and in such a fun way.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      This is just lovely, the hedges are perfect. It would take years of TLC is to have gardens like this. You have done such a nice job in creating a green lens. That elephant hedge is my favorite because I do love elephants. ~ Awesome!

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 6 years ago from California

      What a lovely lens! I learned a lot. I had not realized the Egyptians made hedges, for example, and I did not realize the maze at Longleat (which I visited in 84) was boxwood!

      I have one more tidbit for you. The Roman poet Martial, who refined being crass to an artform, insulted one lady by saying her teeth were boxwood. So evidently the Romans used it as a material for false teeth. I learned the hard way; I failed a Latin exam because I couldn't figure out the word Martial was using -- I saw the word "box," and thought I must be mistaken -- and made a guess which turned out to be wrong and distorted the meaning of the sentence.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      great lens and magic pictures!

    • Craftyville profile image

      Craftyville 7 years ago

      Now, I want an elephant. Truly amazing!

    • GramaBarb profile image

      GramaBarb 7 years ago from Vancouver

      At times like this - I am thrilled to be a SquidAngel so I can bless your wonderful lens! I am going to lensroll it to my elephants too. I want an elephant hedge :)

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 7 years ago from Central Florida

      These are just amazing. I see topiary at Disney World, but they use creeping fig over a wire frame. These box hedges must take awhile to grow to the right size.

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 7 years ago

      excellent len! 5* well done, just loved it...

    • greenspirit profile image
      Author

      poppy mercer 7 years ago from London

      Hallo Julie, thanks for visiting. What sort of soil do you have, and will the plants be in sun, shade, wind etc.?

      As an English gardener I always have to think about frost tolerance...I have no idea how cold your part of the world gets in winter.

      When you say succulent, do you mean like catii and succulents, or evergreen, or drought tolerant?

      Would you like flowers, or fruits, or autumn colour, or something that looks good all year round?

      Something wild, classic or romantic?

      If you tell me more I will try to make a suggestion or two.

      poppy

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 7 years ago

      My dear! Do you know that it is our Boxwoods which we had to finally cut out of the front yard -- in the area that we put the lighted palm trees for Christmas decorations. They kept succumbing to some diseases or bugs each year ... so now we are contemplating other shrubbery. We'd like shrubbery which is succulent and will be hardy to weather a couple of frosts. Got some ideas?