Topiary

BirmPots (16)Topiary is the art of pruning, and training a plant to grow in whatever shape you might fancy. Plenty of plant species lend themselves to this kind of treatment.  The above pictured lantana is seven years old.  It began as a small plant, whose side branches were removed until the primary trunk was about four feet tall.  A devoted grower then pinched back the main leader-the first step in the formation of the top.  As I like slightly flattened spherical shapes in topiary, we keep the top pruned, and grow the side shoots wide. Lantana flowers profusely in hot weather, it makes a strikingly statuesque topiary plant. In the fall, I cut the head of the plant back by two-thirds,, strip all the remaining leaves off, and stash it in the greenhouse.  I strip the leaves off, as lantana is a magnet for whitefly-and they multiply like lightening in a green house environment.  What they require is plenty of trouble, but it is glorious in form and flower.  

DGW  22Well grown large topiary plants are expensive. It takes a lot of time to grow them on-sometimes years go by before a plant can be sold.  This dwarf variegated euonymus with a batch of leaves atop a stem tells the story.  In ten years, this plant will not be much taller-just much stockier, with a full head of leafy branches.  As euonymus is a hardy shrub, they like to be wintered in a cool light place. 

2008 Ford SUMMER 6-11-08 (5)Bay Laurel is not hardy here, unfortunately-so a greenhouse is a necessity in the winter.  This plant is 14 years old.  This single ball topiary suckered at the base so persistently, I finally just let it grow.  The formal shape is easy to keep up; you can see it needs a little haircut right now.  There are many kinds of topiary shears available-I like short bladed snips, so I can cut branches without slicing into the leaves.  Any leaf that is cut will show that telltale browing on that cut edge within days. �
 

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Coleus makes a great topiary, but the growing process is different.  As it is a short lived annual plant, they need to be grown fast.  Coleus, irisine, geraniums and the like are given a push with a growth hormone.  The specific hormone causes the cells of the plant to elongate; the stem develops fast.  One crop of 50 tree geraniums I grew 20 years ago got treated five times before they reached their four foot finished height. Topiaries grown from non-woody plants need careful staking of the stem-that stem will never be as strong as a branch. I usually stake with a pair of bamboo stakes, for extra insurance. A beautiful topiary-its head snapped off in a wind- this is enough to make you fall to the ground and weep.

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Some woody plants have such a tight habit of growth that you might suspect they were topiaries from the beginning.  Dwarf Alberta Spruce is one such tree that lends itself to the pruning process with ease.  An Alberta Spruce of this gorgeous shape and size is expensive; many many years has gone into the growing and shaping process.  As they are hardy, they can make a big statement as a centerpiece in a formal garden. 

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Gardenmeister fuchsias are vigorous growers and bloomers; they make an ideal subject for an informally shaped topiary.  They are easy to winter over, and bloom continuously from spring to fall.  This topiary is supported on the interior by a column of heavy grade wire fencing.  Once the multiple stems and flowering shoots grow in, that support fades from view.  Big fuchsias make good subjects for topiary in general-but I like the vigor of this particular variety. 

Aug 28d 361Ivy can be readily be trained over a wire form.  This makes it an ideal subject for fast growing.  The vines are tied to the form to provide completely coverage, and the vines are clipped as needed. Hedera algeriensis ” Gloire de Marengo”, or variegated Algerian ivy, has large glossy leaves, and a prominent white variegation; old topiaries grown from this plant are striking.  A bonus-it is possible to winter ivy topiaries over in the house. 

DSC_0054The coleus topiary I let go after two seasons-they seem to loose vigor.  The minute you decide to grow a plant in any form which is not its natural form, there will be maintenance problems down the road.   Plants tolerate being fooled with by people-they rarely love it.  Plants that naturally lend themselves to this treatment are easier to look after.

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For all their trouble, a well grown topiary plant can instantly provide large scale to a new planting. Handsome, this.  Should you be the patient sort, try growing one of your own.  Lacking patience, the nursery industry offers many different species of  trained to shape plants.  I admire any pair of hands that can make them grow.

At A Glance: Hydrangeas Blushing

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Serious Moonlight

Cranbrook 2005  3 (1)
I have been a supporter of the Cranbrook Academy of Art for some years.  They produce several events a year to raise money to support their programs.  It is a unique institution among graduate art schools in the US, and a considerable asset to our community. I like being involved.  We planted the annual garden surrounding the Orpheus fountain in May, in anticipation of their event to come in July. I took my cue for design and decor from the title of the event.

Cranbrook 05  1 (23)A large tent would be a temporary home to a collection of art destined for auction that evening.   Each work was donated by a previous graduate of the academy; this part of the event generated considerable interest and participation.  Tables reserved for groups representing the major benefactors for this event were placed in the fountain garden.

Cranbrook 05  1 (22)The remnants of puddles you see on the ground in the above picture bring back memories for me; it rained fiercely the afternoon of the event. What I had thought I would have the entire day to accomplish would have to be done in less time.   The threat of bad weather makes any garden party all the more exciting to plan and produce-in this case, it was more excitement than I really wanted. 

Branch Cranbrook & Serious Moonlight CD (38)A cocktail reception would be held in a grassy area immediately adjacent to the showpiece of the Cranbrook landscape-the Triton pools.  We fashioned simple tents for the hordoerves tables from double layers of white fabric attached to bamboo poles.  Steel shoes for the poles were sunk in the ground at an outward angle, stretching the fabric tight and smooth.  Nature had another idea in store; the intense downpour changed that flat profile to a graceful swoop.  This unexpected contribution from the sky was a good one; I liked the swooping fabric against the curving path. We had painted a rambling path for guests arriving at the Lone Pine entrance to the garden to the reception area, with athletic paint. 

Cranbrook 05  1  (1)The big gesture?  I had the idea to affix paper lanterns to slender steel rods anchored with bricks which would sit on the on the pool bottom. Advance measurements of the water depth  enabled us to create the impression that the lanterns were floating on the surface of the water.  What fun it was to get in these fountains; I never expected this opportunity to come along.  A crew of four of us spent the better part of the afternoon wading in the water.

Cranbrook 7 (20)We set up hundred of lanterns of different diameters.  Each steel rod had a platform at the top holding a votive candle.  As we set the lanterns, we lit the votives rated to burn for ten hours, and hoped no more rain or wind would come our way. I was equally concerned that no water from the pools wick its way onto the paper.  I was interested in creating a little moonlight magic, not a wet paper mess.

Cranbrook 05  1 (11)It seemed the rain had cleared off, and we did finish with an hour to spare before guests were due to arrive. The reception would begin at the very far end of the pools, and guests would wind their way uphill.   

Cranbrook 05  1 (12)I was happy to have finished my part as the catering staff was setting up. I was on my way home to get dressed; I did not want to miss how all of this would look at night. 

Serious Moonlight - Jason Ruff (20)Attending an event gives you the chance to experience it as other people do.  There is plenty to be learned from this-what proves awkward, what is not visually strong enough when a space is full of people, what proves to be good that you never gave a moment’s  thought to.  Any party in a garden will surprise you.

Serious Moonlight - Jason Ruff (41)
I made it back just in time to see the garden begin to fill with people.  Little did I realize what the night would add to this party-more on that tomorrow.

At A Glance: Sunny

 

 

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