Topiary shapes

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Topiary shapes

Creating topiary shapes is not easy, but the results can be very pleasing. No matter how much we decry the practice of training and pruning plants into bizarre shapes, we must admit that it has the sanction of age. Topiary was known to the Romans and it is still to be found not only in England and the European continent but also in America, and not only at restored Williamsburg. One great example in the eastern United States is the topiary garden on the Hunnewell Estate at Wellesley, Massachusetts, but in general the art of clipping bushes into geometrical or other figures is somewhat passé.
A garden of topiary

A garden of topiary at the Hunnewell estate, Wellesley, Massachusetts.

However, at the Chelsea Show of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1956 there was an exhibit by Kew Topiary, Ltd., a firm which specializes in topiary work. I missed the well-named house of Cutbush ("Cutbushes by Cutbushes"), now no longer in existence, which used to exhibit wonderful specimens of topiary work about fifty years ago at the Temple Show, the forerunner of the Chelsea Show.

The first thing to be done is to select the plant material which will ultimately be sculptured. The plants must be amenable to shearing and training, easily transplanted, and winter-hardy in the region where they are to be grown, and the sculptor must be patient. Among the plants which are first-class material for this purpose are Taxus cuspidata ( Japanese Yew), Buxus sempervirens and its variety sufruticosa (Dwarf Box), Tsuga canadensis (Hemlock), and Taxus baccata (English Yew). T. baccata is not reliably hardy in northeastern states, with the exception of the variety repandens and to a somewhat lesser degree the hybrid Taxus media (T. cuspidata X T. baccata).

Boxwood cannot be relied on in the regions that have more severe winters than Washington, D.C. Another plant which does not resent close clipping, though not evergreen in severe climates, is Ligustrum oval!folium (California Privet). Other privets, such as L. japonicum (Wax Privet) and L. lucidum (Shiny Privet), are evergreen but not reliably hardy north of Virginia. Among the trees which can endure severe pruning year after year are Platanus acerifolia (London Plane), Tilia cordata (Small-leaved Linden), T. euchlora (a hybrid form), and T. europaea (Common Linden, Basswood, or Lime). The leaves of these, however, are too large for making grotesque and intricate geometrical figures. But I have seen them with a clean trunk up to 8 feet, trimmed to a cube like head.