Topiaries are no longer just speciality plants. They have become very popular and are showing up in garden centers and nurseries across the country. Topiaries have been used for thousands of years, in places like Babylon and England. Today we take the mystery out of topiaries and discuss pruning trees and shrubs to look like geometric forms. As well we talk about designing topiaries, selecting the trees and shrubs and maintaining them to look their best and show you how to create small topiaries that are ideal for a deck or patio. We also address pruning hedges and shrubs.
Cypress Gardens is an ideal place to discuss topiaries, they have an exciting topiary walk. Bob Gernert is the executive director for the greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce and a student of Cypress Gardens and an admirer of Dick Pope the founder of Cypress Gardens. Mr. Pope was a master at public relations. He opened the park January 2, 1936. The botanical gardens was the first idea of Mr. Pope and came about as a result of the Popes visiting friends and neighbors. If neighbors had an unusual plant, the Pope's would ask for a cutting. The water ski area, the Southern Belles all came later. That is when he started his publicity machine. In the late 30's, early 40's Mr. Pope was known as the king of queens. Each week, sometimes more often, he would crown a queen of "whatever." If a flower was in bloom or a citrus product happened to be on the tree, grapefruit for example, he would have a Grapefruit Queen. If Camellias, a Camellia Queen, etc. He would take an employee of the park, dress them in a robe, put them on a throne and the tourists would then photograph them and take that home as their memory of Cypress Gardens. When the park was recently rescued the new owner made the decision to maintain the topiary area and the magnificent topiaries are on display year round.
Maxine Walton is the topiary specialist and shows us some of the huge topiaries at Cypress Gardens. They have many different forms, most are animals-rabbits, worms, ducks, etc. We first look at a huge snail, with a big shell that is loaded with all kinds of plants. The bottom is made of fiberglass and moves. The plants create a type of swirling effect. She has utilized Begonias, Alternanthera, Variegated Fig and Green Fig. The next topiary is a peacock, although some think it's a turkey. It has a huge fan of leaves. People tend to jump on it and have a ball. At the top of the Peacock's head Maxine has a Cordyline, which is a bright pink and resembles a plume of feathers. The Begonias just kind of pop up where ever they want, Maxine thinks they add color and interest, thus lets them grow. This topiary also has Alterrnanthera included. The next topiary is a Duck or Goose and has the name "Cypress Gardens" carved in its' side. Maxine wanted to do something different, thought it a good idea and used Creeping Fig to create the letters. She says it is easy to care for-just keep it groomed and trimmed.
The full sized topiaries are difficult for most to comprehend, Maxine shows us a miniature topiary squirrel and demonstrates the step by step process of creating a topiary. She starts with a frame then stuffs it with Sphagnum Moss that has been soaked for several minutes. Maxine uses Sphagnum Moss versus potting soil because it holds moisture, it doesn't dry out as rapidly and it doesn't wash away if it rains. She packs the Moss in around the frame, then adds a Variegated Creeping Fig. To do this she makes a little hole in the moss, between the frame mesh, and adds the Fig. She packs it in, adds a little more moss, making the plant nice and secure, then takes the runners and pins them between the nodes. She doesn't clamp the runners tightly, rather leaves them loose so they'll have room to grow and fill out. It doesn't matter the direction of the runners, she's trying to fill the whole form. The runners in a short period of time will take off on their own and usually within 4-6 weeks will fill out the entire form. She then takes off the pins. Many different plants can be used in topiaries.
We resume our walk on the Topiary Trail and next view a Seal with a big ball on it's nose. The ball rotates and upon closer inspection we see the wire mesh frame, similar to the topiary Squirrel we just made. This however is on a much larger scale thus the frame is rebar, it too has Sphagnum Moss and the plants are inserted similarly. This form is hollow on the inside and has only about a foot of Sphagnum Moss on the sides. Maxine shows us an Easter Bunny with a few beautiful colored eggs around. The bunny has a red nose and an earring-they are Begonias. Coming out of its ears is an irrigation system. Water runs through and keeps the plant watered. Sometimes watering is done by hand, particularly on windy days, she uses a sprayer or a hose. One of Maxine's favorites is a Caterpillar. It seems to just sway. She has used Creeping Fig as well as many other unusual plants-things like three different varieties of Alternantheras (they show up well), Begonias and Impatiens. Maxine trims them all about the same, she keeps them short, pruning or trimming them about once a week. She likes to trim them frequently so they don't get all stretched out, she says it is simple, anybody can do it. Maxine says get a bunch of plants together, use your imagination and your too could create something like this Inchworm, that just seems to flow across the landscape. Thanks Maxine for showing us these magnificent topiaries and for sharing your knowledge on the care and maintenance of these beautiful plants.
Charlie shows us a frame anyone could buy, they come in animal shapes-squirrels, dogs, cats, turtles-that can easily be used with a shrub. It is a simple process. Start with a 12 inch container, fill it with soil, get a shrub that can be topiary pruned, something like a Boxwood or Rosemary, open the frame (it has a latch and hinges) and place it around the plant, get the frame securely in place, then trim any of the plant sticking outside the frame. As the plant continues to grow, as the Boxwood fills out, as it grows outside the frame, snip it off and within a month or so you'll have a beautiful green Squirrel sitting in your container.
Charlie next visits with Glenn McKelvie, landscape supervisor at Cypress Gardens. Glenn shows us other forms of topiaries. They have spirals, pom-poms, poodle tails, terraces, all kinds of shrub topiaries. We first look at a Juniper spiral. Glenn says they aren't difficult to maintain and are a lot of fun. They can be purchased at local garden centers already pruned and all one needs to do is keep up with the pruning. He keeps the spiral shape, just think about going up a mountain road, keeping the nice spiral shape. Other than maintaining the shape, he doesn't treat this Juniper differently than any other. It needs full sun, adequate water and regular fertilization.
We next discuss trimming regular hedges. Most people just want a hedge that's tidy and neat, one that performs a function of blocking a view. We discuss some newly planted Boxwoods. Glenn planted these several months ago and wants to keep these low growing, about the height of the wall behind them. When the new growth starts to come up and the plant has reached its desired height, he prunes them. Glenn leaves an open space between the plant and the wall, this allows for good air circulation, which helps in reducing disease. He prunes by hand, periodically clipping off individual branches. In a short period of time the shrub will fill in nicely.
Many people have huge hedges, many are out of control. There are several ways to care for these evergreen hedges. We view a Viburnum Suspensum. We could use a hand sheer or use power equipment. Glenn uses hand sheers, hand clippers, making the shrub a little shorter or narrower at the top than at the bottom, almost like a pyramid. By making it wider at the base it allows light to get to the bottom of the plant. If light can't get to this part of the plant it will become leggy. That is the reason one sees hedges with areas underneath that are dead, allowing one to see right through the hedge. This is caused by improper pruning. At the top, the platform area, Glenn cuts off the new growth, all the way down to where there are a lot of woody stems, where it makes it unattractive to the eye. He then curves the sides a little, cuts at an angle, just to keep a softer feel or touch not as formal looking. When all the new growth is cut back, the buds along the stem form side branches making a bushier hedge. It fills in nicely in a short period of time.
For hedges that are really tall, power equipment is probably needed. We look at one piece of equipment, a string trimmer engine with an attachment that is a hedge trimmer on the top. It is a great tool to use if your hedges are really tall-10-15 feet tall. Using this piece of equipment means you don't need to get on a ladder. It has an adjustable swivel allowing one to cut flat or vertically.
There are 2 types of shrubs as far as flowering goes. Those that bloom on current seasons growth and those that bloom on old growth. We look at a Buddleia or Butterfly Bush. It is an example of a plant that blooms on the current seasons growth. Glenn likes to cut it back so that when it warms in early Spring this plant will flush out with a lot of flowers, particularly since butterflies are attracted to this plant and its flowers. By cutting it back, it stimulates new growth, allowing more flowers to form. Go to the bottom of the plant, look for old growth, the big stems, cut them back and they'll start sending up new growth like the light green colored shoots. Snip the old growth off at the base then remove it. This may seem drastic but it must be done. With the new growth either cut it back or remove them. For the bigger diameter shoots, those about the diameter of a pencil, cut those back to right above the bud, cut at an angle. When all this is done it will be hard to tell its a Butterfly Bush but in a short period of time, probably a few weeks it will fill back out and flowers will form.
We next look at some Hybrid Teas, Roses and have been here for years. When they flush out there is a profusion of color. These have started to leaf out, thus is a good time to prune. When determining when to prune Roses look for the buds, when they start to swell, when the leaves come out, at that point you'll be able to see where the dead foliage is, where winter damage occurred. Some of the canes will have blackened. If it's green on the outside and green on the inside that is a good cane, those should be kept. This plant has a nice structure, it has three or four main canes that are in good shape. Here the tops seems a little crowded, a little clustered in. With the humidity in this area and all the leaves that will come out Black Spot or Powdery Mildew could become a problem. Fungal diseases thrive in this environment and climate so it is probably best to prune this Rose so it will have better air circulation. This is a technique used with Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, those kind of Roses. Shrub Roses and other more disease resistant varieties don't pose as much of a problem. In this case Charlie thinks it best to prune out different shoots, thin it out a little so there aren't as many crossing branches, not as many crowded areas. After that is done it can be left alone. Add a little water, a little fertilizer and within few weeks this Rose will take off, flowers will form, it will be beautiful.
Thanks Glenn for showing us how how to prune all these beautiful Topiaries and shrubs at Cypress Gardens. We've all benefited from your advice and appreciate the beauty of these gardens.
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