Topiary or living sculpture was first created on outdoor trees and shrubs by the Romans. Tree or shrub topiaries have been practiced for centuries in many formal European gardens. However, this concept of living sculpture is a great way to grow and maintain several types of houseplants and tender herbs. While many different types of topiary have evolved since its creation by the Romans, three basic types of indoor topiary are pruned, hollow, and stuffed.
Pruned topiaries often take the longest to achieve because they require regular pruning. Special forms like cones, spirals, and stacked spheres are achieved through careful training and pruning. Herbs like myrtle, rosemary, and lavender are a few plant possibilities. When plants are young, they are carefully grown and pruned until the desired shape is achieved. A stake may be necessary until a strong central leader has developed. The best plant choices often become woody enough to support themselves without any staking.
Hollow topiary utilizes creeping or vining type plants grown around a wire frame. Common frame shapes include hearts, spheres, pyramids, and animal forms. Simple frames can be constructed out of wire coat hangers or other types of flexible, heavy wire. Ivies are the most common and one of the easiest plants to use for hollow topiaries. Establish the vining plants in a large container, then carefully insert the frame. The vining plants should be loosely attached to the frame. The plants will eventually cover the frame completely. Hollow topiaries utilizing fast growing vines will take less time to complete than the pruned topiary. Plants will require frequent pruning to maintain shape.
Stuffed topiaries are not grown in a container of soil. Instead, the plants are grown in a moss stuffed wire frame. A number of shapes or forms are available. The form is stuffed with moss and secured to the frame with fishing line. Small plants are planted directly into the moss and kept in place with wire or greening pins. Creeping or vining type plants are often used to cover the frame quickly. The moss will dry out faster than most potting soils and therefore must be checked and watered more frequently. To water this type of topiary, submerge the frame into room temperature water until evenly moist. Complete rejuvenation of plants will be necessary in several years as the moss deteriorates.
Care for topiaries
Besides regular pruning to control unwanted growth and maintain the basic shape, most topiaries require about the same amount of care as typical houseplants. Irrigation may be needed more frequently and should be checked often. A dilute solution of a houseplant fertilizer should be used monthly during the growing season. If fertilized too often, the plants will require more frequent pruning. Keep plants in a brightly-lit location with moderate temperatures. It is important to rotate the plant weekly to maintain the full appearance of the plant.
This article originally appeared in the March 5, 1999 issue, p. 21.