For fans of the ancient art of topiary, Levens Hall in Cumbria is the ultimate inspiration. The Levens topiary gardens are oldest in the world, incorporating more than 100 pieces, each representing a unique contribution to the landscape. The garden was designed in the 1690s and is a remarkable survivor, considering the various fads and fashions of the last three centuries!
The good news is that you don’t have to live in a stately home to enjoy your own topiary and, although they need time to mature, you can take a few shortcuts. If you’d like to cultivate a mini topiary garden of your own, we have a few tips to help you get started.
Plants suitable for topiary
Evergreens are traditional topiary subjects – and they’re excellent for adding year-round interest to your garden. Box (Buxus sempervirens), yew (Taxus baccata), privet (Ligustrum japonicum) and holly (Ilex) are all good options. They also don’t usually mind whether they’re in a sunny or shady spot so make a handy choice for a cool courtyard.
If you’re impatient, you can buy ready-trained trees and shrubs from a specialist nursery. It will definitely fast-track your garden design but can be a costly route. A good compromise is to buy a selection of affordable box balls (supermarkets and garden centres often have these available) to start your collection and focus your efforts on training one or two ‘star’ pieces.
Frame your design
Clipping topiary into the desired shape can be tricky. The easiest shapes are balls, pyramids and other solid shapes. But if you fancy something a bit more outlandish, you can buy wire frames to help the process. Simply place the frame over a young box and clip as it grows through the frame. Many frames come complete with the shrub already in place.
Keep it healthy
Topiary shrubs will need clipping a few times a year to retain the crisp shape – it depends a bit on how vigorous the growth is. Make sure you feed and mulch them in the spring to keep your display looking fresh and green.