Topiary refers to any plant that has been clipped or shaped into decorative shapes. According to Iowa State University Extension Service, topiaries are a form of "living art" and were first used by the Romans before spreading in popularity throughout Europe. Topiaries range from small potted houseplants to large landscaping schemes. Some are made from woody perennial herbs such as rosemary and lavender and others are sculpted from more traditional shrubs such as boxwoods or yew. Topiaries represent both a landscaping art and indoor decoration.
One of the most common forms of topiary is a simple yet aesthetically pleasing globe. According to "Container Topiary" by Susan Berry and Steven Wooster, ivy or vine plants work well to create globe ornaments. In addition, it is important to select a container that will balance the size and weight of the globe. The book says that you can either use two circular forms or you can cover the entire globe with chicken wire to make the topiary appear full. To begin this topiary, simply fill your container with potting soil. Insert the topiary form and plant an ivy plant at the base of the form. Begin to train the ivy to wrap around the frame and tie any loose ends with florist tape or twist ties.
Spirals add dramatic visual interest yet are easy to start. After choosing a suitable container and two or three ivy plants, insert the frame and anchor it into the soil. Plant the ivy plants at the base of the coil, training each to grow around the first coil of the spiral form. "Once the ivy has started to grow upwards, train the new shoots by tucking them under the existing ones or tying them in," Berry and Wooster state in their book. Once the ivy has covered the spiral, trim any excess ivy or train it to grow back down the form.
Larger topiary shapes often consist of animal shapes. Animal topiaries range from small dogs and cats to large exotic animals such as elephants, giraffes and whales. These topiaries are often constructed differently to allow for plants other than ivy. To use another medium for a large animal shape, fill a form with sphagnum moss. The University of Illinois Extension explains that "the moss is the media that the plant grows in while the frame is the container." After filling the frame, plant your chosen plant throughout the form in the moss. Once the plants have been put in place, the topiary will need to be watered thoroughly. "These figures dry out quickly and need to be watered on a timely basis if they are to fill out as you expect," UIE states.