One of the most striking ways to add visual interest to your garden is through the art of topiary. Pruning and training plants into geometric or whimsical shapes combine art with gardening skills, and it can help you relax.
However, not all trees and shrubs can be made into a topiary. The best plants for topiary are those that have a dense growth habit, respond well to pruning, and can withstand repeated shearing.
Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out, selecting the right plants can be a challenge. Here are a few of the best options.
Scientific name: Buxus
Boxwood is a versatile evergreen shrub, widely used in gardens for its lush foliage and exceptional adaptability. This hardy plant is one of the most popular choices for topiaries, mostly thanks to its dense, slow-growing foliage.
The plant’s small, glossy leaves are packed closely together, creating a thick and uniform appearance. This allows for the creation of intricate shapes and designs, which are easier to maintain due to the plant’s slow growth rate.
As an evergreen, boxwood retains its color year-round, ensuring that topiary creations remain visually appealing throughout all seasons. This is particularly advantageous in winter, when many other plants lose their leaves and gardens can appear barren.
Scientific name: Ligustrum
More than a species, privet is a group of deciduous and evergreen shrubs that belong to the Oleaceae family.
Similar to boxwood, privet has small – albeit oval-shaped – leaves that grow closely together, forming a thick and lush appearance that is easy to prune in all kinds of designs.
Furthermore, the privet’s rapid growth rate enables gardeners to see the results of their efforts relatively quickly and allows for more frequent reshaping.
Since privet offers both evergreen and deciduous varieties, you can easily select the right plant for your topiary project based on the climate and soil characteristics in your area.
Scientific name: Taxus baccata
Yew is a group of coniferous evergreen trees and shrubs belonging to the Taxaceae family. All shrubs in the family feature needle-like leaves that grow closely together into a thick bush that can be easily shaped.
As an evergreen, yew topiaries can add visual interest to your garden all year round. However, these are not the only advantages of the plant.
Yew plants can live for decades, if not centuries when cared for properly. The long lifespan means that it can be trained and shaped over many years, allowing the development of elaborate, intricate designs. The topiary creations can also be enjoyed for generations.
Scientific name: Ilex
Similar to privet, holly is a group of evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs belonging to the Aquifoliaceae family. The characteristic of all holly species is the presence of spiny leaves that grow closely together. The dense foliage can be easily shaped into a topiary.
Beyond leaves, holly topiaries are particularly attractive thanks to the vibrant red, yellow, and orange berries they produce. Not only do these berries add a splash of color, but they attract birds and wildlife to the garden, enhancing the ecosystem.
Although not entirely immune to pests and diseases, holly is relatively resistant when compared to other popular topiary plants – another reason why it is a popular choice among gardeners.
Scientific name: Salvia rosmarinus
Rosemary is an evergreen, aromatic shrub belonging to the Lamiaceae family. It is widely appreciated in kitchens across the globe for its fragrant, needle-like leaves and culinary uses. However, rosemary is also perfect for topiaries and can add visual interest to your garden.
Like other bushes on this list, this shrub features small, needle-like leaves. Together with its naturally upright growth habit, the leaves make rosemary ideal for creating vertical topiary designs, such as spirals, cones, or pyramids.
One of the most distinctive features of rosemary is its highly aromatic foliage, which releases a refreshing scent when touched or brushed against. This makes rosemary topiaries not only visually appealing but also a sensory delight for the garden.
Scientific name: Cupressus
Cypresses are widely appreciated for their attractive, columnar growth habit. Their small, scale-like leaves and evergreen foliage make cypress an ideal candidate for vertical topiaries. Designs can vary from spirals and tiers to obelisks or more elaborate shapes.
The vertical growth habit also lends itself to use in hedges or privacy screens, where topiary can add an additional level of visual interest.
Moreover, most cypress species are particularly resistant to strong winds, making them a great choice for topiaries in exposed locations or coastal regions where other plants may struggle.
Scientific name: Euonymus
Euonymus species come in a wide range of sizes and forms, from low-growing ground covers to tall, upright shrubs. This diversity allows for the creation of topiary in various scales and shapes, suitable for different garden settings and design preferences.
Thanks to the plant’s natural tendency to remain compact, euonymus topiaries are easier to maintain – a feature that makes this plant ideal for beginners.
Another highlight is the plant’s colorful foliage. Various euonymus species display yellow, gold, or variegated leaf patterns as opposed to solid green. Choosing a variegated plant can transform your topiary into an eye-catchy focal point.
Scientific name: Lonicera
Honeysuckle is typically known for its scented flowers that attract pollinators, but the fast-growing plant is also a perfect choice for topiaries. The main advantage of honeysuckle is its flexible stems that lend themselves to shaping and training into a specific growing pattern.
Like other species, honeysuckle comes in evergreen and deciduous varieties. The latter offers visual interest all year long and is ideal for colder climates.
Regardless of the honeysuckle species, the fragrant flowers can attract a variety of pollinators, including bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.
9. Bay Laurel
Scientific name: Laurus nobilis
Bay laurel is an evergreen tree or shrub belonging to the Lauraceae family.
Like rosemary, it is widely appreciated for its aromatic leaves that have many culinary uses. However, gardeners also appreciate bay laurel for its characteristic leaves and bushy appearance that is perfect for topiary shaping.
The main advantage of bay laurel is the slow growth rate compared to other evergreens. This makes it easier to maintain the topiary shape, especially if you’re a beginner.
The aromatic foliage also releases a pleasant fragrance in the garden, enhancing the topiary’s appeal. The main disadvantage is the susceptibility to various diseases and parasites. Bay laurel needs constant care to maintain the plant’s health.
Scientific name: Juniperus
Like most plants on this list, juniper refers to a group of evergreen coniferous shrubs and trees rather than a single species. It belongs to the Cupressaceae family and is mostly valued for its culinary uses, most notably in the production of gin.
However, juniper shrubs are also particularly suitable to plant as hedges and turn into topiaries.
Depending on the species, the leaves are needle-like or similar to small scales. They grow closely together, the plant’s natural tendency to stay compact allowing for easy pruning into the desired shape.
Due to the variety of juniper types, you can also use this plant for topiaries of any size or design.
Scientific name: Myrtus
Myrtle has a long history of use in various cultures, symbolizing love, fertility, and purity. This symbolism, combined with its aesthetic qualities, makes myrtle topiary a meaningful addition to any garden.
The plant showcases attractive, glossy foliage that remains impressively beautiful year-round. This makes myrtle a good choice for all climate zones, especially if you don’t want your garden to look barren in winter.
Foliage aside, myrtle also produces delicate white flowers with a sweet fragrance, adding an additional level of visual and sensory interest to your topiary creation. The fragrant flowers not only enhance the beauty of your garden but also attract pollinators.
12. Dwarf Alberta Spruce
Scientific name: Picea glauca
Dwarf Alberta spruce is a slow-growing, compact evergreen conifer belonging to the Pinaceae family. It is admired in gardens for its naturally pyramidal shape, a characteristic that makes it a good topiary plant choice for beginners.
If you’re not too confident, the conical shape acts as a blueprint for a simple, geometric topiary. However, experienced gardeners can also prune it into intricate shapes or sculptures.
Pruning a dwarf Alberta spruce is as easy as it gets, but that isn’t the only advantage of this plant. Spruces are also resistant plants that aren’t subject to many pests or diseases. Moreover, the plant can withstand a wide range of climates and soil types.
13. Dwarf Japanese Black Pine
Scientific name: Pinus thunbergii
Japanese black pine belongs to the Pinaceae family, but is a rather compact tree. In its dwarf form, this pine can be found in gardens, pots, or even turned into a bonsai. Regardless of where you keep it, creating topiaries out of it is easy.
Like many evergreens, it has a slow growing rate and is ideal for beginners. Maintaining your topiary won’t be difficult, and you can take your time to shape and train the branches in the right direction.
Another highlight is its distinct appearance, characterized by its irregular branching pattern and unique texture.
The structure adds visual interest and a sense of movement to topiary designs. This sets it apart from other more commonly used topiary plants, making it a fascinating choice for gardeners looking to create a standout focal point.
Scientific name: Carpinus
A deciduous plant perfect for topiaries is the hornbeam. It belongs to the Betulaceae family and is known for its smooth gray bark. The tree features small, oval-shaped leaves with serrated edges that grow into dense clusters.
This characteristic makes it easy to shape into a geometric topiary. The attractive foliage changes color with the season, while the hardiness and adaptability of the plant allow for growth in most environments.
Hornbeam is highly responsive to pruning and develops new growth quickly after being cut. This facilitates the recovery of the plant after more aggressive pruning and allows for easy maintenance of well-defined shapes.
Overall, this is the best choice for formal, geometric topiaries.
Almost all shrubs and trees are suited to turn into topiaries, but some of the best candidates include evergreens like boxwood, privet, and pines. Mediterranean evergreens, including rosemary, myrtle, and bay laurel, are other great options.
As a rule of thumb, plants with larger leaves suit beginners and experienced gardeners alike. Plants with small or needle-shaped leaves are easy to turn into geometric shapes, but an expert hand might be needed to turn them into intricate works of art.