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Modern revival: traditional topiary again fills the squares of the parterre at the Château de Villandry, France
Elephant topiary, Ayutthaya, Thailand
Squirrel topiary, Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire, England

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.).[1] 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.


[edit] History

[edit] Origin

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).

[edit] Far Eastern topiary

Cloud-pruning in a private garden, Matsumoto, Nagano

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. Japanese Zen (karesansui, dry rock) gardens make extensive use of so called Karikomi, (topiary technique of clipping shrubs and trees into large curved shapes or sculptures) and Hako-zukuri (shrubs clipped into boxes and straight lines).

[edit] Renaissance topiary

Topiary at Fingask Castle, Tayside. Second half C19th

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.

[edit] Decline in the 18th century

Levens Hall's Elizabethan Topiary in 1833

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.

[edit] Revival

Beckley Park, Oxfordshire: cottage garden topiary formulas taken up for an early 20th century elite English garden in a historic house setting

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 art of topiary, with enclosed garden "rooms" burst upon the English gardening public with the matured example of Elvaston Castle, Derbyshire, which opened to public viewing in the 1850s and created a sensation: "within a few years architectural topiary was springing up all over the country (it took another 25 years before sculptural topiary egan to become popular as well").[2] The following generation, represented by James 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" (James Shirley Hibberd).

The classic statement of the British Arts and Crafts revival of topiary among roses and mixed herbaceous borders, characterised generally as "the old-fashioned garden" or the "Dutch garden"[3] 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 Lutyens in a fruitful partnership. The new gardening vocabulary incorporating topiary required little expensive restructuring in plan: "At Lyme Park, Cheshire, the garden went from being an Italian garden to being a Dutch garden without any change actually taking place on the ground," Brent Elliot noted in 2000[4]

Americans in England were awake to the renewed charms of topiary. When William Waldorf Astor bought Hever Castle, Kent ca 1906, the moat surrounding the house precluded adding wings for servants, guests and the servants of guests that the Astor manner required: he built an authentically-style Tudor village to accommodate the overflow, with an "Old English Garden" including buttressed hedges and free-standing topiary.[5] In the preceding decade, expatriate Americans, led by Edwin Austin Abbey, created an Anglo-American society at Broadway, Worcestershire, where topiary was one of the elements of a "Cotswold" house-and-garden style soon naturalized among upper-class Americans at home. 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.

[edit] Topiary in the twentieth century

American Portable style Topiary was introduced to Disneyland,CA around 1962. Walt Disney helped bring this new medium into being - wishing to recreate his cartoon characters throughout his theme park in landscape shrubbery. The frame allows the plants to grow into every curve with a built in guide. This style of topiary is based on a steel wire frame that is either stuffed with sphagnum moss and planted, or a frame that has shrubbery growing from within as a permanent cutting guide. The sculpture slowly transforms into a permanent topiary then as it grows in. This style has led to imaginative displays and festivals throughout the Disney Resorts and Parks, and Mosaiculture (multiple types and styles of plants creating a mosaic,living sculpture) competition worldwide includes the impressive display at the 2008 Chinese Summer Olympics. Living corporate logos along roadsides, greenroof softscapes and living walls that biofilter air are offshoots of this technology.

[edit] Notable topiary displays

A topiary at Railton, Town of Topiary, Tasmania, Australia
Topiary elephants at Bang Pa-In Royal Palace
Topiary at Parque Francisco Alvarado, Zarcero, Costa Rica.
Free-standing topiary balls tend to develop into gumdrops: a garden in Tours, France.
A topiary dinosaur at Epcot
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.
Central America
  • Parque Francisco Alvarado, Zarcero, Costa Rica
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).
A 16th-century garden revised in 1708
  • Stiffkey, Norfolk
Several informal designs including a line of elephants at Nellie's cottage and a guitar.
A large topiary garden (10 000 m2) 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.
  • The Tsubo-en Zen garden in Lelystad, Netherlands is a private Modern Japanese Zen (karesansui, dry rock) garden that makes extensive use of so called O-karikomi combined with Hako-zukuri (see above).
    All seasons close-up of the Tsubo-en (Netherlands) O-karikomi, hako-zukuri topiary.
North America
140-year-old topiary garden of native white pine and arborvitae.
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.
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

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ A list of common subjects, including the now rarely-used Phillyrea common in 17th-century topiary, forms the second part of Miles Hadfield, Topiary and Ornamental Hedges (London) 1971.
  2. ^ Brent Elliott, "Historical Revivalism in the Twentieth Century: A Brief Introduction" Garden History 28.1, "Reviewing the Twentieth-Century Landscape" (Summer 2000:17-31) p. 19.
  3. ^ Elliott 2000:19.
  4. ^ Elliott 2000:19.
  5. ^ Elliott 2000:19.

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] External links

  • 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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