Topiary is an art form that involves the shaping of shrubs or trees into specific shapes or figures by pruning and cutting. Designs used in topiary range from simple forms, such as cones or spirals, to intricate objects like buildings, animals and even people. Cutting complex topiary takes quite a bit of skill, but there are a couple of simple designs that many beginners can manage on their own.
Choose a plant that is somewhat in the shape that you are trying to form. Use a plant that is taller than it is wide for a topiary cone.
Find the top of the trunk or main central branch. Begin working at the top of this point downward.
Do not stand directly over the area that you are cutting. Standing to one side and looking at it from the side will allow you to cut a more even slope.
Trim the top of the plant into a small triangular shape. Cut downward from the bottom of the triangle, slanting outward so that the shape gets wider as it moves downward.
Step back occasionally to monitor the shape at a distance. This will help you ensure the cone shape is balanced.
Pick a plant that has a lot of leaves and a straight central trunk or stem. This will be the basis for your cutting.
Lift the leaves up carefully and look at the branches of the plant. Determine the shape of your spiral based upon the largest branches. It will be easier to work around them, if possible, than to cut through them.
Mark a path for your spiral. Start at the top of the plant and use shears to trim just a little of the foliage away, making a path to follow. If the plant you are using is small enough, it might be easier to make an even spiral by turning the plant instead of moving around it.
Work from the bottom of the plant upward. Follow the path that you marked with your shears, cutting away more of the plant to create a distinctive spiral shape.
Stand back to inspect your work once in a while. Try to make your cuts relatively even all the way up the plant, so that the path is the same width.
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Alexis Lawrence is a freelance writer, filmmaker and photographer with extensive experience in digital video, book publishing and graphic design. An avid traveler, Lawrence has visited at least 10 cities on each inhabitable continent. She has attended several universities and holds a Bachelor of Science in English.