The art of topiary dates back to ancient times, when Egyptians sculpted hedges into geometric shapes. The art was later adopted by the Romans and carried through the Middle Ages by monks in monasteries. Today topiary is popular both for fanciful structures such as the kind found at Disneyland, as well as the hedge mazes found in English Gardens. You can even create your own topiary at home using wire frames for guidance or by free-hand trimming a square, circle or spiral.
When people refer to topiary, they typically mean any type of greenery that is forced to grow into a man-made shape. Although traditional topiary involves cutting shrubbery such as boxwood or holly into a proper shape, today topiary artists may also create topiary shapes by filling a wire frame with sphagnum peat moss and then planting ivy inside the frame. As the ivy grows inside the peat moss, the grower can twine the ivy around the wire frame. Eventually the ivy will cover the entire surface of the topiary and hide the structure.
A wire frame may also be used to shape shrub topiary. Many wire frames for topiaries are manufactured in fanciful shapes, such as bunnies or deer, that can be assembled around a shrub. To trim a shrub to a wire frame, assemble the wire frame around the shrub. Then pull the branches of the shrub through the frame so that you can no longer see the frame. Trim the branches so that they are even with the frame. Leave the wire frame in place to guide future trimming and maintenance work. As the branches grow, they will become fuller and hide the framework.
For less complex shapes such as a geometric square, circle or rectangle, it is possible to cut your shrubbery without a wire frame. Begin this process by planning the cuts you will make through the entire trimming session. Plan to never remove more than a third of the shrub's total volume in a single session. If you must remove more than a third of the shrub's size, plan multiple sessions that are spaced three months apart. In order to cut complex shapes freehand style, use a wire guide. You can use a straight wire to create a straight-edge guide for the sides of a cone or box-shaped shrubbery. A ribbon wrapped in a spiral becomes a good guide for a spiral-cut topiary.