On the internet, one can easily find countless images of shrubs that have been masterfully cut and trimmed to resemble all sorts of shapes including animals, spheres, and even human figures. These are what you call topiaries and a person who does them for a living is known as a topiarist.

What do you call a NON-PERSON that makes topiaries?

Edward Scissorhands.

Okay, bad joke. But Edward was more of a freaky, virtuoso hobbyist than an actual topiarist, because he crafted those mind-blowing topiaries purely for fun. Plus, he also styled hair and groomed dogs!

Edward Scissorhands and his dinosaur topiary creation

Anyway…there are real topiaries in the landscapes of many gardens. Today you can purchase artificial ones for decorating your house, and both real and artificial ones used as centerpieces for holidays, weddings, and other very special occasions.

I am going to attempt to influence you by incorporating a topiary or two into your landscape. They can certainly add some character and charm to your garden.

The very best topiary gardens are very elegant and have some pieces going back hundreds of years. Your garden topiary does not need to rival those of the ancient English or Roman gardens.

You can easily use classical examples in a scaled down version in your garden, or you can purchase topiary frames and create them easily by following the outlined pattern.

The garden pictured here is certainly on the grand scale.

a garden with lots of topiaries

Your garden does not have to resemble this garden in anyway. Topiary can be simple as several plants arranged against a fence, with contrasting ground cover as in the form of colored stones or mulch.

In other words you really don’t need to be residing on an estate, be a lawn architect, a horticultural expert, or even have a tree that requires creation to make topiary work for you. You can create a work of art by using topiary frames and then growing your plant over this form.

There are also two approaches to this method, as you can purchase already shaped frames ready to grow your plant or make your own frame. I will warn that the purchase of already prepared frame will run you a little money as opposed to producing your own.

This also depends a little on your artistic ability as to which approach you should pursue. The approach that takes a little more effort is creating a wire frame using wire that is heavy enough to stand up, but includes the flexibility to bend into shapes.

Now let’s start with something that is not complicated, like a simple geometric shape this could include a triangle or circle. The frame will be three dimensional and includes leaving a hole large enough so you can position a plant in the hole later.

The hole can be in any location that makes sense in your design. The formed frame would be similar to the one pictured below, although this is a commercially purchased frame and has been welded together it gives the concept of a circle or a sphere.

a circular shaped topiary frame

The picture below depicts some finished balls.

a flawless topiary ball

another nicely done topiary ball

You can reinforce the shape of your wire by the use of chicken wire that can be purchased at any hardware store. You can bend the wire into any shape then reinforce it with chicken wire, and continue to shape and bend until it takes the shape you desire.

There are two approaches you can use next in covering your wire design. You can cover it in sphagnum moss or sheet moss. Sphagnum moss most often comes in bags and has a gray/brownish texture and is rather stringy.

a tub of sphagnum moss
Sphagnum moss

Sheet moss is a springy light green moss that is ordinarily packaged in big sheets, so it is easy to unroll and wrap what you need around the frame.

With the sphagnum moss, you will want to dampen it and stuff it through the hole in the frame tightly, until the frame is filled and secure the moss by wrapping and attaching fishing line around the moss and tying off to the frame.

Make sure you don’t cover your hole and in fact, I would place a pot inside the frame to marker the location.

I would use ivy and any ivy will work. Just plant your ivy as you would in any other situation in the pot or buy it already in the pot. Now using the individual stems of the ivy, pin it to the moss using hair pins for this.

Make sure you have purchased long enough trailing ivy to work with on the outside of your frame.

There Is Still Another Approach With Sphagnum Moss

Instead of after stuffing your frame with the moss packing it tightly and keeping it moist, close the frame opening with more wire. Now your plants are removed from the pot, rinse the soil off the roots of the pot.

Then make holes in the moss with your fingers and insert the roots, making sure you cover with more dampened moss. Again use pins into the moss to hold your plants in place.

It is not necessary to cover the entire frame because ivy or whatever you used, will spread to cover the whole frame in time. As your plants grow, it will be necessary to pin and trim as needed.

The Use of Sheet Moss Is a Whole Different Story

The placement of the sheet moss on to the outside of the frame requires attachment with a thin wire, by stitching onto the frame with a basting type stitch. Again in this method, make sure you don’t cover the hole in your frame where you are going to place your potted ivy.

It is not recommended to attempt the rooting to the moss method by making holes in the moss as in the sphagnum moss, because of the tightness of this moss vs. the sphagnum type.

Place your pot of trailing ivy in the frame and begin attaching with hair pins. The rest is up to Mother Nature to spread the ivy over the moss. The pruning and pinning needs to continue to develop the topiary frame shape.

In both cases, using either sphagnum moss or sheet moss, you will need to water the roots of the ivy by watering the entire sculpture on a regular routine schedule.

It is necessary to maintain moisture on the entire frame and not just the roots. Also be aware that sphagnum moss dries out very, very quickly, so this requires checking at least once a day.

You May Want To Plant Your Sphere in the Ground

In that case, you can either plant trailing ivy, or use what is in the garden and train it over your frame by using pins to hold it in place. This will require mounting your sphere on some kind of wooden or wire legs, maybe wrapping it in green tape or covering with green florist wiring to blend with the surroundings.

ball shaped topiary in an interior pot

If you keep it with the interior pot, it will also need some kind of staking by placing it in a decorative pot filled with stones or soil, and burying your stakes in the stones or soil. You could also plant your ivy in the pot providing you with a great topiary look.

The Easy Way Out—Purchase A Commercially Made Topiary Frame

If the above is just overwhelming, no time for another hobby, or your artist techniques are not that good, don’t despair! Buy an already made topiary frame in almost any shape or size you desire.

ready-made topiary frame in the shape of an elephant

However, be aware that these frames are not cheap but will last for years with the proper care. These can be purchased already stuffed with sphagnum moss in the frame. You just have to follow the instructions that are supplied with the frame to complete your project.

Why Not Take Some of Your Own Shrubs and Practice Topiary?

In your garden, you may spot a shrub or a small pine to try making an attractive spiral like you find in a garden center. Check out the spiral topiary below.

an incredible looking spiral topiary

This started with a cone shaped plant that you have pruned and clipped a number of times to create dense growth. Deep cutting requires that all the branches radiate from a single central trunk.

A piece of string is tied to the top of the plant and wind around in a spiral shape. It is important that you angle the string along the diagonal to make a tapering coil.

Attempt to match the string with natural openings in the plant. The number of turns will be the result of the plant height which is normally three or five.

If you have them, use a pair of topiary shears or small hand shears to initially cut the indentation or groove using your string as the guide.

Work your way from the top downward and attempt to keep the grooves as even as you can. Work your way to the center removing any larger branches with your shears. You continue your clipping by making your indentation deeper and in the process, create a coil with a rounded appearance.

The plant should then be removed to a sheltered area to provide the best growing conditions, so that your plant will recover quickly into its new topiary shape. You should clip in spring and late summer in order to continue the shape produced by your trimming.

The best plants for this type for this are upright plants or cultivars with fine foliage such as oxwood, juniper, bay laurel, sweet bay, yews, and thuja pines.

Try a Standard Topiary as Another Avenue In Design Of Your Garden

Shapes like this whether in a single setting or planted in multiples against a fencing background, the standard is an elegant plant in your garden setting.

topiary from a standard plant

If you are going to purchase a plant to turn it into a standard, make sure it is dense and bushy with an obvious clear upright stem at the center. Or you can train a shrub or bush that is presently in the garden, as long as it has the same characteristics as the description above.

Any branches that are emerging from the base, base being a pot or soil, should be cut off leaving a single upright stem with side shoots. Remove all side shoots up to the bottom of where your head is going to begin.

A few individual leaf shoots should be maintained to enable the trunk to grow in strength. Now begin by shaping the head, making the side shoots shorter to form an approximate ball.

The leading growth at the top of your topiary standard should be cut out; much like you would do to a tomato plant to encourage side shoots to form.

Place a vertical cane either in the soil or in the pot, as to the method you chose to follow. This vertical cane should extend to the base of the ball of shoots, and attach firmly using garden twine or other suitable garden ties.

The plant will need continual shaping as it grows. A good slow release fertilizer would be appropriate to encourage your topiary standard to grow and water frequently.

The best types of plants for this procedure are box, cypress, bay laurel, sweet laurel, shrubby honeysuckle, holly, and rosemary. These topiary standards are excellent in pots where small patio gardens exist, apartment complexes, and small terraces.

You can also purchase these plants already shaped and ready to go at a much greater expense than doing it yourself. There are many other types of topiary design, ranging to the most difficult like shaping animals, large trees, cloud topiary, surface patterns, and more. Animal shapes in particular, are very popular and they may even piqued your child’s interest in gardening.

meticulously crafted elephant topiary

I think there will have to be a part two topiary along the way. I hope you enjoy this page and learn something valuable which transcends your ordinary landscaping.