During the fall season the key architectural ingredients start to grab the eye. And some of the best are topiarized shapes that range from traditional birds, urns and simple geometric shapes, to clouds, animals, chairs, and even cars.
The best way to decide where to place your topiary is to walk round the garden on a late fall afternoon when it is looking quite bare, and decide where it really needs livening up.
Topiary invariably works best as surprise features. It is remarkably simple to grow your own. Start with a sturdy 30 cm (12 in) high Buxus cutting. You can prune it in the spring to the desired shape, or to make a spiral, wait until the plant reaches the height you want, then start making cuts. You can either cut it by eye, or use a piece of string and run it round the plant so that you have a line to follow. Thereafter trim once in the spring and fall to keep it looking smart and stylish.
To make a more elaborate, intricate shape, grow the box cutting inside a strong 3-D frame. Get one made to your design by a blacksmith, or buy one ready made. Stand it over the plant, and clip the growth as it pokes through. Again, trim it twice a year.
You can also create a topiarized hedge, turning one into a battlemented wall with windows, doors and turrets. Some types of conifers, such as yew, respond well to being cut back and provide a dense, even surface. If you want really quick results, however, you might consider using Leylandii, which grows at 1m per annum in its early years. It will make an effective topiarized shape, smooth and solid, but you will have to be prepared to clip it very frequently to keep it looking neat.
Cryptomeria japonica is suitable for ‘cloud’ pruning (niwaki), a Japanese technique which can be applied to a range of shrubby plants. Prune the plant to leave a limited number of stems, strip off their lower leaves and create geometric shapes at the ends. You can even apply this to a Leylandii, reducing it to three or four vertical stems, each one having a ball of bright green at the top, swaying in the wind.