Ever wonder why at Disneyland’s Small World there’s so much magic? Just look at the intricate and whimsical topiaries that greet you outside before you take the magical boat tour inside It’s a Small World.
Topiary, or the art of sculpting, shaping, carving, twisting, grafting and turning a green plant into a real living art form, has been practiced for centuries, going back to the Roman Empire and also the practice of Bonsai in the orient.
Formal hedges of rows and alleys of shrubs and trees entered the landscape in the Renaissance period with forms like pruned boxes, columns, spirals, cones and geodesic shapes. There were complete mazes with hidden tunnels and secret rooms within the green hedges.
Around the holidays comes a whole collection of topiaries of ivies, cones and heart-shapes in Rosemary that are big business in the nursery trade. Another industry has sprung out of this horticultural adventure with the availability of pre-made metal frames. This is where you take a pre-made form, plant a small foliage plant like Japanese boxwood or pyracantha to grow into the form and then prune the shape as in grows to the outside frame.
Bonsai is another true art form that places plants in a shallow container and, over time, twists and shapes them, pines, junipers, azaleas, flowering quince, or pomegranate, into one of the highest miniature plant art forms.
Bonsai goes back centuries. Dedicated plant artists can take black pines, which out in the garden can obtain heights of 20 feet naturally, and grow and train them in four inch deep bonsai ceramic trays where the plants might only be 20 inches in height and be over 100 years old.
The art of topiary and training plants takes patience, vision, commitment and perseverance. Topiary plants will grow whether you plant them in the ground or as a handsome potted specimen at the entrance of your home. If grown in a container, you’ll have to attend to watering/nutrition, use a good pair of pruning shearers and check in from time to time on their development.
In Gilroy, Calif. there was a Swedish man, Alex Erland, who spent years and years training many types of plants into incredible art forms of magnificent specimens. His roadside growing grounds were called the “Tree Circus” where he took sycamore, willow, birch and other trees and made a complete new plant art form called “arbor-sculpture” with 15 feet braided columns, huge sycamore heart-shapes and a complete table and a set of chairs from trees.
I myself have been working for years on growing living tree houses in my own garden