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One of the older and more familiar kinds of living sculpture, topiary is the art of growing dense, leafy plants and pruning them into a form, or training them over a frame, to create a three-dimensional object. It relies on pruning and training to give shape to an existing plant. It also can involve training a plant to fill in a form.

Topiary is one type of living sculpture that has gone in and out of favor through the ages.A brief history of its importance and use:

  • Earliest references of topiary date back to 23-79 A.D.
  • It was immensely popular in Ancient Rome using cypress trees, but after the fall of Rome, topiary fell out of favor for several hundred years.
  • It returned in medieval times as a way of training fruit plants, and then was again rediscovered during the Italian Renaissance.
  • Dutch in the 15th century became intrigued with creating topiary in animal shapes, as did 17th century England; the French preferred creating topiary in geometric designs with strict symmetry.
  • 18th century, topiary fell out of favor again, and a natural look returned.
  • Victorians brought back topiary, adding in new plants and details.
  • Topiary spread to North America at Williamsburg, Virginia, around 1690.
  • As houseplants became popular in the 1950s and ’60s, topiary moved indoors.
Suggested list of plants for indoor topiary
Philodendron scandens (Heart leaf philodendron) Pelargonium spp. (Scented geranium) Pellonia pulchra
Helxine soleirolii (Baby’s tears) Santolina Gynura auranyiaca (Purple velvet plant)
Hedera helix Jasminum polyanthum Hoya carnosa (Wax flower)
Saxifraga stolonifera (Strawberry begonia) Hypoestes phyllostachya (Polka dot plant) Lavendula spp.
Ceropegia woodii (Rosemary vine) Sedum spp. Laurus nobilis (Sweet bay)
Leucobrynum glaucum (Bun moss) Scindapsus aureus (Pothos) Argyranthemum (Marguerite)
Ficus pumila (Creeping fig) Pilea microphylla (Aluminum plant) Rhoicissus rhomboidea (Grape ivy)

Topiary tips

  • Plants with different growth habits are needed for different types of sculpture
  • Size and texture of the plant should match the scale of the topiary. (Small forms need small leaves, no heavy stems)
  • Floor-standing topiary need plants with strong central stems
  • Use care if choosing flowering plants; note flowering time and habit
  • If using several plants, make sure they require similar light and watering conditions
  • Most topiary plants take time to mature. Don’t expect instant gratification

General indoor topiary care

  • Provide adequate light
  • Watering is important because moss forms dry out easily
  • Mist moss-filled forms daily and a soak in a bucket or a shower weekly
  • Pinch tips to promote side shoots
  • If plants get too out of control, trim them back
  • Fertilize with a water soluble houseplant fertilizer

Our introductory activities begin with indoor topiary, since it can be created in all seasons

faces in hedge


  • Herb Topiaries. Gallo, Sally 1992. Interweave Press, Loveland, Colorado
  • The Complete Book of Topiary. Gallup, Barbara; Reich, Deborah 1987. Workman Publishing, N.Y
  • The New Topiary (Longwood Gardens). Hammer, Patricia Riley 1991. Garden Art Press, East Sussex
  • Quick and Easy Indoor Topiary. Jones, Chris 1998. Storey Books; Pownal, Vermont

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