Think of topiary and you may envision a whimsical ivy sculpture of a Mickey Mouse or Cinderella at Disneyworld. But the art of topiary has been around for ages and was actually practiced in early Roman and Greek gardens and courtyards. Shaped wire cages are sometimes employed in modern topiary to help guide pruning, whereas traditional topiary depends on a trained eye, skilled patience and a steady hand.
Latin for an ornamental landscape gardener, topiary is the art of creating sculptures using clipped trees, shrubs and plants. The shrubs and plants used in topiary are evergreen, have small leaves or needles, produce dense foliage, and have compact and columnar growth. Common plants used in topiary include boxwood, arborvitae, bay laurel, holly, myrtle, yew, and privet. Shaped wire cages or frames are used in modern topiary to guide plants. Wire frames can be homemade by bending wire to form shapes, or purchased commercially in many unique styles and sizes.
Using frames for topiary, or American Portable style topiary, was introduced to the US at Disneyland around 1962. Walt Disney helped bring this new medium into being – recreating his cartoon characters throughout his theme park in landscape shrubbery. Today topiary creations can be found in many places including Cypress Gardens, Disneyworld and Disneyland, Longwood Gardens, Sea World, Universal Studios, in the store windows of upscale jeweler Tiffany’s, as a prop in the movie Edward Scissorshands, zoos, botanical gardens, and even the courtyard of the royal family of Japan.
Planting a topiary, taking care of it, determining its development and watching it grow-is a rewarding and fulfilling craft and art.
Best Practices for Planting and Growing Topiaries
Place the topiary form over a living plant
Place the empty frame over a live plant and let the plant (box wood, euonymus, ivy) grow into the form. Trim the plant until it fills the form. Once planted, fast growing and small-leaved ivy can completely cover a small to medium wire frame, creating a topiary in a few short months.
Add plants to the outside of the mossed frame
Soak the moss filled form in water and let drain. If you have ‘cell pack’ sized plants (3/4”-1 ½” sq.) you can poke a hole into the damp moss from the outside of the form and insert the plant.
Add plants to the inside of the wire frame
Soak the moss filled form in water and let drain. Snip the plastic connecting ties and open the form into its parts. (exclusive to our topiary) Pull out some of the moss. Remove a little of the soil from around the root ball and insert your plant into the form. Wiggle the leaves up through the wires. Repack the moss around the roots. When planted, reattach the form with the cable ties provided.
Water with starter fertilizer 10-52-10, and keep in a shaded area, out of the wind for several days before moving to the selected area in your garden. Check for water daily, as you would a hanging basket. Fertilize every other week with a 20-20-20.
Use plant selection to mimic animal texture and color
Take a few moments and study the look of the animal you are replicating – pay close attention to its textures and colors. Are they smooth, fluffy or maybe scaly? Consider fur, feathers, manes and coats, and don’t forget details like whiskers for kittens, stripes for bees, and eyes for personality. Then look for plants which best represent the those characteristics. For instance, grasses would be a good choice to represent a long slim mane and tail on a horse. Low growing plants like sedums, will give the body a smooth look, and are also a good drought tolerant pick.
The use of color is always fun, and plant color can create a pattern in your animal. To make a pattern, use a plant that is available in two colors like sedum acre in the green and gold. It can also be an unexpected bonus when your plant flowers. For instance, a horse could have a dark mane and tail, and light body (or visa versa)
Choose a plant with a leaf size that is small enough for the frame
Scale is simple: the smaller the animal the smaller leaved plants work best. The idea is to compliment not overwhelm the form. Smaller leaved plants work best on smaller animals. The idea is to compliment, not overwhelm the form.
Choose plants that like similar conditions
It is best to use a mix of plants that like the same growing conditions. Succulents are a good drought tolerant choice. Rockery type plants which are invasive and low growing make great topiaries. Because smaller portions of the topiary (ears, legs, tails) tend to dry out faster than fuller areas, it may be necessary to leave some areas just mossed as plants can quickly wilt in these thin or elevated areas in dry conditions.
Determing the how many plants to use to fill the wire frame topiary
Are you having a garden party and need spectacular results, instantly? Plant every 2 inches. If you plan to watch the season’s growth unfold, plant every 4 to 6 inches.
Storing a topiary during the winter
Water well before frost, mulch and /or move to a protected area or unheated garage near a window (water about once a month)
Topiary Wire Frames from New England Birdhouse
Whether indoors or out, filled with live plants, moss or even lights, our handmade wire frame topiaries are as beautiful as they are unique. Our stuffed topiaries are handcrafted wire frames, hand-filled with sphagnum moss to give it a finished look. They are used indoors and out, can be fitted with live plants, decorations or exterior grade lighting. This highly detailed, uniquely hand crafted mossed topiary frame will make your gardens first impression a lasting one.
Our topiary wire frames are used to guide growing plants into a desired shape, and provide a template to trim and prune by. The sculpture slowly transforms into a permanent topiary as it grows in and is trimmed. Wire frame topiary can also be filled with gifts for a very special gift basket, filled or wrapped with lights for festive occasions in a garden or store display, or simply placed in your garden and enjoyed as is. Our topiaries come in a wide variety of styles including topiary cows, dinosaurs, dogs like poodles, airdales, corgis, boxers and chihuahuas, elephants, butterflies, monkeys, moose, pyramids and a big selection of other styles of topiaries. Each of these topiaries are available in either a basic wire frame or stuffed with sphagnum moss, and will add a unique flair to a garden giving it a lasting impression.
Our topiaries are constructed of high quality metal and finished in an elegant matt black powder coating to resist the elements. Each topiary frame is hand made, making it an unique artisan sculpture for your garden or yard. Most of our topiary forms are designed and produced in sections (or sometimes several sections). This allows the wire frames to be shipped in smaller boxes, and makes the topiary frames portable, and allows for a greater variety of planting options.