Topiary In The Winter Garden – Topiary can be as traditional or as modern, as abstract or representational as you wish. All that counts is that you choose the right plant for cutting, pruning and shaping and that it fits in with the rest of the winter garden.
For traditional evergreen topiary use Buxus (box). It can be used to make all kinds of shapes, from squares to balls and peacocks. The small leaves mean you can create precise shapes with tight angles, and it is quite fast growing, at about 30 cm (12 in) a year. Box responds well to regular clipping.
You can buy box plants at various heights, some of which are already trained, although they are expensive. Alternatively, buy an unpruned box plant that is about three years old. Plant it where it is needed, and then take your time deciding what shape will look best. You can be as unconventional as you want, creating all kinds of intricate shapes, including cubes with a central stem poking out of the top, trained into a globe, with a central stem poking out of that, and a small bird trained on top of that.
The simplest shapes are created by eye and require three things – a sharp pair of secateurs, a clear idea of what you want to achieve and a steady hand. If necessary, buy a ready-made, three-dimensional template to stand over the plant, or make a former yourself using chicken wire. It does not matter if the topiary is not exactly as you would wish because further snippings and growth will rectify any mistakes. And don’t forget – topiary never works when you are standing right on top of it, unable to see how it fits into the rest of the winter garden; it needs to be seen from a distance.
The most formal, structural plants in the garden often make the best topiary, and that includes evergreen hedges. Too often they are left as sprawling, misshapen slabs around the garden, when they can so easily be turned into something elegant, beautiful and striking.
Box hedges can be given a battlemented look, a straight top or one with an array of shapes. They include balls and pyramids, at regular intervals, and merely require someone with a head for hights perched on a sturdy stepladder. Make sure that the shapes have sloping or rounded tops, so that snow can easily slide off. It is easy to swish snow off topiary in the winter garden so that the shapes do not get squashed, but at the top of a hedge that can be extremely tricky.