Topiary is the art of creating sculptures in the medium of clipped trees, shrubs and sub-shrubs. The word derives from the Latin word for an ornamental landscape gardener, "topiarius", creator of "topia" or "places", a Greek word that Romans applied also to fictive indoor landscapes executed in fresco. No doubt the use of a Greek word betokens the art's origins in the Hellenistic world that was influenced by Persia, for neither Classical Greece nor Republican Rome developed any sophisticated tradition of artful pleasure grounds.

The shrubs and sub-shrubs used in topiary are evergreen, have small leaves or needles, produce dense foliage, and have compact and/or columnar (e.g. fastigiate) growth habits. Common plants used in topiary include cultivars of box ("Buxus sempervirens"), arborvitae ("Thuja" spp.), bay laurel ("Laurus nobilis"), holly ("Ilex" spp.), myrtle ("Eugenia" or "Myrtus" species), yew ("Taxus" species), and privet ("Ligustrum" species.). Shaped wire cages are sometimes employed in modern topiary to guide untutored shears, but traditional topiary depends on patience and a steady hand; small-leaved ivy can be used to cover a cage and give the look of topiary in a few months. The hedge is a simple form of topiary used to create boundaries, walls or screens.



European topiary dates from Roman times. Pliny's Natural History and the epigram-writer Martial both credit Cneius Matius Calvena, in the circle of Julius Caesar, with introducing the first topiary to Roman gardens, and Pliny the Younger describes in a letter the elaborate figures of animals, inscriptions and cyphers and obelisks in clipped greens at his Tuscan villa (Epistle vi, to Apollinaris). Within the atrium of a Roman house or villa, a place that had formerly been quite plain, the art of the "topiarius" produced a miniature landscape ("topos") which might use the comparable art of stunting trees, also mentioned, disapprovingly, by Pliny ("Historia Naturalis" xii.6).

Far Eastern topiary

Clipping and shaping of shrubs and trees in China and Japan has been practised with equal rigor, but to entirely different esthetic aims: the artful expression of the "natural" forms of venerably aged pines, given character by the forces of wind and weather. Their most concentrated expressions are in the related arts of Chinese penjing and Japanese bonsai.

Japanese cloud-pruning ("illustration") is closest to the European art: the cloudlike forms of clipped growth are designed to be best appreciated after a fall of snow.

Renaissance topiary

From its European revival in the 16th century, topiary has historically been associated with both the parterres and terraces in gardens of the European elite and equally as features in cottage gardens. Traditional topiary forms use foliage pruned and/or trained into geometric shapes: balls or cubes, obelisks, pyramids, cones, tapering spirals, and the like. Representational forms depicting people, animals, and manmade objects have also been popular.

Topiary at Versailles and its imitators was never complicated: low hedges punctuated by potted trees trimmed as balls on standards, interrupted by obelisks at corners provided the vertical features of flat-patterned parterre gardens. Sculptural forms were provided by stone and lead sculptures. In Holland, however, the fashion was established for more complicated topiary designs; this Franco-Dutch garden style spread to England after 1660.

Decline in the 18th century

In England topiary was all but killed in fashion by the famous satiric essay on "Verdant Sculpture" that Alexander Pope published in "The Guardian", 29 September 1713, with its mock catalogue descriptions of:*Adam and Eve in yew; Adam a little shattered by the fall of the tree of knowledge in the great storm; Eve and the serpent very flourishing.:*The tower of Babel, not yet finished.:*St George in box; his arm scarce long enough, but will be in condition to stick the dragon by next April.:*A quickset hog, shot up into a porcupine, by its being forgot a week in rainy weather. In the 1720s and 1730s the generation of Charles Bridgeman and William Kent swept the English garden clean of its hedges, mazes, and topiary. After topiary fell from grace in aristocratic gardens, however, it continued to be featured in cottagers' gardens, where a single specimen of traditional forms, a ball, a tree trimmed to a cone in several cleanly separated tiers, meticulously clipped and perhaps topped with a topiary peacock, was passed on as an heirloom.


The revival of topiary in English gardening parallels the revived "Jacobethan" taste in architecture; John Loudon in the 1840s was the first garden writer to express a sense of loss at the topiary that had been removed from English gardens. The following generation, represented by Shirley Hibberd, rediscovered the charm of specimens as part of the mystique of the "English cottage garden", which was as much invented as revived from the 1870s::"It may be true, as I believe it is, that the natural form of a tree is the most beautiful possible for that tree, but it may happen that we do not want the most beautiful form, but one of our own designing, and expressive of our ingenuity" (Shirley Hibberd).

The classic statement of the British Arts and Crafts revival of topiary among roses and mixed herbaceous borders was "Topiary: Garden Craftsmanship in Yew and Box" by Nathaniel Lloyd (1867-1933), who had retired in middle age and taken up architectural design under the encouragement of Sir Edwin Lutyens: Lloyd's own timber-framed manor house, Great Dixter, Sussex, remains an epitome of this stylized mix of topiary with "cottagey" plantings that was practised by Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Luyens in a fruitful partnership.

Topiary, which had featured in very few eighteenth-century American gardens, came into favour with the Colonial Revival gardens and the grand manner of the American Renaissance, 1880–1920. The beginning of a concern with the revival and maintenance of historic gardens in the 20th century led to the replanting of the topiary maze at the Governor's Palace, Colonial Williamsburg, in the 1930s.

The title character in Tim Burton's movie "Edward Scissorhands" is lauded for his skill in the art; a real-life topiary artist is one of the subjects of Errol Morris's "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control".

Topiary in the twentieth century

Notable topiary displays

* [ Railton Town of Topiary] (Railton, Tasmania):Railton is a part of the Kentish Municipality, Tasmania's "Outdoor Art Gallery". Railton's topiary is one facet of the outdoor art gallery. There are many topiaries underway in various stages of growth.

* [ Mosaiculture 2006] (Shanghai, China)
*The Samban-Lei Sekpil in Manipur, India, begun in 1983 and recently measuring 18.6m (61ft) in height, is the world's tallest topiary, according to "Guinness Book of World Records". It is clipped of "Duranta erecta", a shrub widely used in Manipuri gardens, into a tiered shape called a "sekpil" or "satra" that honours the forest god Umang Lai.
*Royal Palace at Bang Pa-In in Thailand

;Central America
*Parque Francisco Alvarado, Zarcero, Costa Rica

*Cliveden (Buckinghamshire, England)
* [ Levens Hall and Topiary Gardens] (Cumbria, England): A premier topiary garden started in the late 17th century by M. Beaumont, a French gardener who laid out the gardens of Hampton Court (which were recreated in the 1980s).
*Canons Ashby, Northamptonshire: A 16th-century garden revised in 1708
* Stiffkey, Norfolk: Several informal designs including a line of elephants at Nellie's cottage and a guitar.
*Hidcote Manor Garden (Gloucestershire, England)
* [ Knightshayes Court] (Devon, England)
* [ Great Dixter Gardens] (East Sussex, England): Laid out by Nathaniel Lloyd, the author of a book on topiary, and preserved and extended by his son, the garden-writer Christopher Lloyd.
*Much Wenlock Priory, Shropshire
* [ Drummond Castle Gardens] (Perthshire, Scotland)
*Portmeirion (Snowdonia, Wales)
* [ Parc des Topiares] (Durbuy, Belgium):A large topiary garden (10 000m²) with over 250 figures.
*Château de Villandry, France
*Villa Lante (Bagnaia, Italy)
*Castello Balduino (Montalto Pavese, Italy)
* Guggenheim Museum, (Bilbao, Spain): A huge sculpture of a West Highland White Terrier designed by the artist Jeff Koons, which is thought by experts and scientists to be the world's biggest topiary dog.

;North America
* Hunnewell Arboretum (Wellesley, Massachusetts):140-year-old topiary garden of native white pine and arborvitae.
*Ladew Topiary Gardens (Monkton, Maryland): A topiary garden in Maryland established by award-winning topiary artist Harvey Ladew in the late 1930s. Located approximately halfway between the north Baltimore suburbs and the southern Pennsylvania border. Ladew's most famous topiary is a hunt, horses, riders, dogs and the fox, clearing a well-clipped hedge, the most famous single piece of classical topiary in North America.
*Topiary Garden at Longwood Gardens (Kennett Square, Pennsylvania)
* [ Columbus Topiary Park at Old Deaf School] (Columbus, Ohio): A public garden in downtown Columbus that features a topiary tableau of Georges Seurat's famous painting "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte":Pearl Fryar's Topiary Garden,Bishopville, South Carolina
*The Freedom Shrub, also known as Yankee Doodle Topiary (Cranford, New Jersey)

ee also

* History of gardening
* Topsham railway station A fine example of topiary lettering.
* Levens Hall
* Hedgerow


*Curtis, Charles H. and W. Gibson, "The Book of Topiary" (reprinted, 1985 Tuttle), ISBN 0-8048-1491-0
*Lloyd, Nathaniel. "Topiary: Garden Art in Yew and Box" (reprinted, 2006)
*European Boxwood and Topiary Society

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(as the trimming of hedges, trees, paths, etc, in a garden)

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  • topiary — [tō′pē er΄ē] adj. [L topiarius, concerning an ornamental garden < topia ( opera), ornamental gardening < Gr topos, place: see TOPIC] designating or of the art of trimming and training shrubs or trees into unusual, ornamental shapes n. pl.… …   English World dictionary

  • Topiary — Top i*a*ry, a. [L. topiarius belonging to ornamental gardening, fr. topia (sc. opera) ornamental gardening, fr. Gr. ? a place.] Of or pertaining to ornamental gardening; produced by cutting, trimming, etc.; topiarian. [1913 Webster] {Topiary… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • topiary — (adj.) 1590s, from L. topiarius of or pertaining to ornamental gardening, from topia ornamental gardening, from Gk. topia, plural of topion, originally a field, dim. of topos place. The noun is first recorded 1908, from the adjective …   Etymology dictionary

  • topiary — ► NOUN (pl. topiaries) 1) the art of clipping shrubs or trees into ornamental shapes. 2) shrubs or trees clipped in such a way. ORIGIN Latin topiarius ornamental gardener …   English terms dictionary

  • topiary — /toh pee er ee/, adj., n., pl. topiaries. Hort. adj. 1. (of a plant) clipped or trimmed into fantastic shapes. 2. of or pertaining to such trimming. n. 3. topiary work; the topiary art. 4. a garden containing such work. [1585 95; < L topiarius… …   Universalium

  • topiary — I. adjective Etymology: Latin topiarius, from topia ornamental gardening, irregular from Greek topos place Date: 1592 of, relating to, or being the practice or art of training, cutting, and trimming trees or shrubs into odd or ornamental shapes;… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • topiary — UK [ˈtəʊpɪərɪ] / US [ˈtoʊpɪˌerɪ] noun Word forms topiary : singular topiary plural topiaries a) [countable] a bush or a tree cut into a particular shape for decoration b) [uncountable] the art or act of cutting bushes and trees into particular… …   English dictionary

  • topiary — to•pi•ar•y [[t]ˈtoʊ piˌɛr i[/t]] adj. n. pl. ar•ies 1) bot (of a tree or shrub) clipped or trimmed into fantastic or ornamental shapes 2) of or pertaining to such trimming 3) bot topiary work; the topiary art 4) bot a garden containing such work… …   From formal English to slang

  • topiary — /ˈtoʊpiəri / (say tohpeeuhree) adjective 1. (of hedges, trees, etc.) clipped or trimmed into (fantastic) shapes. 2. of or relating to such trimming. –noun (plural topiaries) 3. topiary work; the topiary art. 4. a garden containing such work.… …   Australian English dictionary

  • topiary — 1. adjective a) In the manner of a topiary. b) Of, or relating to art of topiaries. 2. noun a) A garden decorated with shrubs which have been trimmed in artistic shapes, often of animals. b) One such shrub or tree …   Wiktionary

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