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Topiaries have been in existence since Romans wore togas. They are ornamental figures made in several different ways, using plants and natural material. Most often, topiaries involve shaping with nippers and clippers. Wire forms facilitate the process. Whimsical animals and formal clipped evergreens all fit into the topiary theme.

You don't have to be a 'Pearl Fryar,' the famous topiary artist whose garden, in Bishopville, South Carolina, is filled with unusual living sculptures. Simple topiaries, easily constructed, can add sculpture to your own garden.

Some are uncomplicated outlines, which can be placed above foliage in a pot. Others are wire forms filled with sphagnum moss. These creations are most often animals and can even be left in their natural state.

With not much more effort, planting holes can be made in a mossy topiary. Then fill the holes with succulents. Using different leaf shapes and textures gives the sculpture interest.

When the figure gets shaggy or overgrown, just give it a haircut by trimming back the succulents. Start at the base and work upwards on the form.

One of the easiest to fashion is probably the wreath. There are no forms to buy, just bend a coat hangar into a round shape, straighten the hook to make a stake, push it into the center of the pot holding the plant, and wrap potted ivy or potted rosemary around it. Hold the plant in place with monofilament line.

For a more unusual wreath, purchase a living wreath kit and plant it with succulents. Hang it on a wall or use it around the base of a floral arrangement.

Many topiaries consist of balls perched atop long stems. These tree-like forms are referred to as 'Standards.' Shrubbery or tall annual or perennial flowers lend themselves to this kind of trimming. Roses, Rosemary, Culinary Bay, Lantana, and Sun Coleus are examples of perennial and annual plant material that can be trained in this manner.

Since men really love to wield those pruners, a Father's Day gift of topiary might just feed a pruning habit. The bonus might be that your prized boxwood hedge won't become meatballs.

---Anne K Moore June 12, 2009---

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By Stacey Hirvela, Spring Meadow Nursery
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners/ColorChoice Shrubs

Landscaping is often an exercise in problem solving: we may have an ideal plant in mind, only to find that it won’t thrive in our yards because our site or soil isn’t suitable. Fortunately, plants are wonderfully diverse and adaptable, so you’re guaranteed to find beautiful, landscape-worthy shrubs that withstand most any of Mother Nature’s curveballs. Think of the plants listed below as the landscape equivalent of the old saying, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” — they tolerate and even thrive under the difficult conditions commonly found in backyards everywhere. This means less work for you and a better performance from your plants!

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