Topiary History

Overview

Topiary is the art of shaping trees and shrubs into specific shapes. It's history coincides with the history of planting trees, shrubs and hedges in ornamental gardens or to delineate property boundaries. Both western and eastern cultures have developed their own techniques for shaping trees into visually pleasing forms.

Romans

The famous contemporary historian Pliny the Elder documented topiary around the first century A.D. Its existence in Mediterranean culture is suspected to be older.

Middle Ages

With the fall of the opulence of Rome also came a decline in topiary. As the Renaissance picked up, the wealthy started to hire topiary gardeners again.

17th Century

In 17th-century England--as well as in Europe--topiary gained favor once again and elaborate hedges and mazes were created. Some of these still exist, such as at the Gardens at Levens hall in the United Kingdom.

Penjing

Chinese documents that are more than 1,000 years old mention shaping trees into sculptures (the art of penjing, which is sculpting plants into miniature or dwarfed scenery), and the tradition is still being continued today.

Bonsai

Japanese bonsai is thought to have derived from penjing arriving from China around the sixth century. Bonsai is much more rigidly structured art and consists of a single tree rather than a scene or landscape, although scenes are becoming more popular in modern bonsai.

References

  • Timeless Topiary
  • History of Topiary and Baytrees
  • Penjing: A Chinese Renaissance

Who Can Help

  • International Association of Topiary Growers and Suppliers
Keywords: hedge, bonsai, roman gardening

About this Author

Brian Albert has been in the publishing industry since 1999. He is an expert in horticulture, with a focus on aquatics and tropical plants like orchids. He has successfully run an aquatic plant business for the last five years. Albert's writing experience includes the Greater Portland Aquarium Society newsletter and politics coverage for a variety of online journals.