Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Art of Topiary Gardening from Walt Disney World Resort


Topiary gardening, the art of fashioning living plan into ornamental shapes, has been practiced for centuries. Found throughout the gardens of the Walt Disney World Resort are hundreds of topiary figures, ranging from traditional hedges and sheared trees to fanciful shapes and a whole menagerie of "chlorophyll" Disney characters.

Types of Topiary
Four different types of topiary at the Walt Disney World resort have developed out of our desire to put on an award-winning horticultural show. Free-form topiary and standard form topiary require your imagination and some sharp shears - the other two utilize a frame specially suited to their needs. A lightweight frame is used for shrub topiary, while sphagnum topiary require a much stronger frame specially designed to support the weight of the figure.

Standard Form Topiary
The world standard is used to describe a plant that is grown to a designated height and then encouraged to bush or form a "head" at the top – many think this resembles a small tree.

Free-Form Topiary
Free-form topiary is the oldest form of topiary and his practice for centuries. Look around your neighborhood and you can probably spot free-form topiary in many yards. Shrubs and trees, with some imaginative shearing, can change into balls, squares or rectangles, or other geometric forms. Before starting, check your yard to see where a topiary will add to the landscape and be able to grow for a long time – then, you are ready to begin.

Tips for creating a free form topiary
  • Begin with sharp, well-oiled pruning shears.
  • Prune hedges such as boxwood or holly so they are broader at the bottom than at the top.

Tips for creating standard form topiary
  • Select a plant that grows quickly and will eventually become rather sturdy such as Podocarpus macrophyllus or Ligustrum japonicum - you may still need to stake your selection.
  • Remove buds and lateral branches that form at the base of the leaf, leading the leaf intact until maximum height is reached.
  • When the plant reaches the desired height, the terminal or top bud is pinched to stop upward growth – this encourages lateral branching in the leaf axils, also called "breaking."
  • As soon as "breaking" occurs, remove leaves from the base to the desired height on the stem.
  • "Tip"or trim back the head until the desired size is achieved.
Shrub Topiary
Shrub topiary take 3 to 10 years to produce. A sculpted metal frame is used as a guide to assist in training and shaping. The frames, which are placed over the plant, must be large enough at their smallest points to allow for growth - usually no smaller than 4 inches in diameter. Shrubs that shear well and are naturally full should be selected. Below is a list of plants that work well:
  • Buxus microphylla japonica
  • Ilex cornuta "Burfordii"
  • Ilex vomitoria
  • Juniperus chinensis "Sylvestris"
  • Ligustrum japonicum
  • Podocarpus macrophyllus
  • Pyracantha coccinea
  • Rhododendron cultivars
Tips for Creating Shrub Topiary
  • Fill a container with a well drained soil mix.
  • Plant a shrub at each place the frame comes in contact with the soil – if you have a four-legged pig, place a plant in each of the four legs.
  • After planting, place the frame over the plants.
  • Water in and mulch.
  • Constantly clip, prune and tie to achieve the desired shape.
  • Fertilize and water regularly.
  • Maintain by shearing as needed.
Sphagnum Topiary
Sphagnum topiary produce quick results. These topiary are grown using heavy steel frames. The frames for sphagnum topiary must be heavy-duty since they are the only support for these figures. The frames are stuck with unmilled sphagnum moss and planted with either fast growing vine plants or uniform compact plants.

Tips for Creating a Sphagnum Topiary
  • Cover the steel frames with plastic mesh - secured with wire ties or hog rings.
  • While wearing latex gloves, stuff with moistened unmilled sphagnum moss.
  • Make a hole in the moss and and plant small plants or "plugs" into the sphagnum. 
  • Pin vines into the moss with hairpins or fern pins. Creeping fig is a favorite.
  • Water daily and fertilize regularly. 
  • Trim, pin and prune weekly until the sphagnum is covered, then trim and pin as needed.

Here, Lady and the Tramp are sphagnum topiary created with creeping fig (Ficus pumila). Lady's hair is created with Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima).

For More Information...

Topiary Art Works and Greenhouses, LLC
PO Box 574
Clearwater, Kansas 67026
620-584-2366

Noah's Ark Topiary
Tarpon Springs, FL
727-938-9527


*The Walt Disney World Company does not endorse any of the above-mentioned products or services.