Gardens - Container Gardening

Create your own elegant topiaries

By
Beckie Fox
Photography by
Roger Yip

With a beautiful pot, the right plant and some patience, topiaries are perfect for any garden

A bit of formality is not out of place in any garden, and precisely pruned cones and spheres of foliage—a classic form of topiary—are especially suited to containers. All that’s required is a beautiful pot, a plant amenable to frequent pruning, and patience.

There are myriad ways to incorporate topiary into your landscape. Try a container with a herb topiary—say, rosemary or bay—as a focal point in a collection of potted herbs near a back door. A large urn with a dramatic topiary of coleus flanking a front door offers an elegant welcome; two identical specimens standing sentry on either side are particularly suitable for a formal, symmetrical facade. A topiary can also be used to add a contemporary look, especially when it’s housed in a sleek metal planter or minimalistic concrete pot.

Generally, the size of the container should be similar in size to the mature head of the topiary’s foliage. Whatever the material or style, the container must have a drainage hole. If it doesn’t, use it as a cachepot and place the plant in a plastic grow pot that fits inside. Empty the cachepot after watering.

Topiary how-to

  • Choose a specimen with a straight central leader (it’s fine to start with a young plant; transplant it into incrementally larger pots as it grows). Carefully insert a slim bamboo stake into the soil alongside central leader—the top of the stake should reach the bottom of the (ultimate) head of foliage. Using soft twine, secure the stem to the stake with a figure-eight tie.
  • Clip off all side branches from the base of the plant to where you want the bottom of the head of foliage to grow. To promote new branches at the top, prune off a centimetre or two from the tip of the central leader. If you’re starting with a small plant without a lot of foliage, don’t clip off all the side branches at once; do this in stages over a few weeks, as pruning too much foliage at once stresses a young plant.

Now that you have the rough framework of your topiary, wait for new growth at the top before starting to shape the crown. When pruning, step back periodically and look at the plant from all angles. As with bad haircuts, a lopsided topiary will eventually grow in, but it requires time.

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