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Types of Topiaries

By Ma Wen Jie ; Updated September 21, 2017
Topiary can range from very simple shapes, like these bushes, to very complex shapes.

Topiary is the art of forcing a bush or plant to conform to a different shape than the bush or plant would normally take. For example, a juniper in a pot can be shaped into a round ball, or a series of climbing plants can be trained to a frame to create a complex shape like a dragon or a horse.

Free Form Topiary

Free form topiaries are made from potted shrubs cut into specific shapes, such as balls, twisting shapes, formal pyramids, squares, triangles or rectangles. Free form topiary is suitable for simple shapes but will not work well for complex shapes that might require more than one stem. Yew and juniper are examples of shrubs that can work very well for free form topiary. Create free form topiary using basic pruning tools.

Shrub Topiary

Shrub topiaries use a frame into which one or several shrubs are planted. For example, to grow a topiary of a four-legged animal, sink the frame into the ground and plant a shrub at each leg, or contact point. As the shrubs grow, they are trained to follow the frame. Excess growth outside of the frame is trimmed to just above the surface of the frame. Making a shrub topiary can take between three and 10 years, depending on the complexity and on the type of shrubs used. Boxwood, juniper and yew are among the shrubs suitable for training via this method.

Sphagnum Topiary

Sphagnum topiary is a much quicker-growing form of complex topiary. By stuffing a topiary frame with sphagnum moss, you can grow climbing plants on the outside of the frame. Because you are growing plants that grow quickly via runners, the topiary can grow in much less time than those grown from internal bushes. In addition, because the plant portion of the topiary grows on the outside of the frame, you can create more intricately detailed topiary forms. Creeping ficus, mondo grass and begonias work well in a sphagnum topiary. Create interesting visual effects and looks by using different types of plants on different parts of the topiary.


About the Author


Although he grew up in Latin America, Mr. Ma is a writer based in Denver. He has been writing since 1987 and has written for NPR, AP, Boeing, Ford New Holland, Microsoft, RAHCO International, Umax Data Systems and other manufacturers in Taiwan. He studied creative writing at Mankato State University in Minnesota. He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, English and reads Spanish.