Topiary Plants Can Add Real Class to Your Garden

Hello again to all keen gardeners!

I bet you are really enjoying getting stuck into your garden in October, with new flowers and lush foliage appearing daily.

Today I want to write about TOPIARY PLANTS and how to use them effectively in your garden, and which varieties are the best for waikato conditions. Anyone that knows me or has used my landscaping services will know that I have a real passion about using topiary in a garden. I often use topiary plants, because if the right plant is chosen, it will certainly bring the wow factor to your garden! Whether you are creating a formal english garden, a zanny tropical garden, a seaside garden at your beach property, or a romantic french style garden, there is definitely a topiary plant that will be perfect for the type of garden you are creating.


Defined simply, a topiary plant is a plant that has been trimmed into a some sort of shape, generally with hedgeclippers or secateurs. Once the shape of the plant is completed, it is kept trimmed to maintain that original shape. A few years ago, the only type of topiary plant avaliable was the more traditional lollypop shape on a straight bare stem, like the shape of a typical standard rose. Nowadays there is an amazing assortment of topiary plants avaliable - something for virtually everyones' garden. I like to call them "Living Sculptures". You can get Topiary plants trimmed as standards, tapered columns, cones, espaliered, clouds, abstract, or whatever shape comes from a creative mind and a pair of hedge clippers.


Before rushing off and purchasing some topiary plants for your garden, you firstly need to figure out what sort of topiary is going to best suit the style of garden you are creating. Will the topiary have to be large, or small? I am working on a landscape project at the moment where I am putting a 3 metre high topiary into the new garden layout. We are having to use such tall plants because the house and the property are in themselves very big - if the topiary was only 1 metre high it wouldn't give any "wow" at all to the garden because it would get absolutely lost in the scale of things. But obviously, if you have a very tiny townhouse and a patio area the size of a handkerchief then the size of topiary you will be wanting will be quite different.

You need to consider what the rest of the garden is going to look like. Even the style of the house can play a big part in deciding the best topiary for your particular garden or potted specimen on the patio.

Very importantly, the final selection of which plants make the best topiary is vital. Traditionally,the common Buxus Sempervirens was probably everyones' favourite (especially in england) for topiary because it responded well to trimming,looked great when clipped, it grew slowly so needed very little maintenance, and was very forgiving to little care and attention. There are now other good options that make very worthwhile topiary, and in many cases are far better than the common Buxus.

Suggested Species

From my experience, some of the best plants for topiary are:

  • CAMELLIAS: Most camellias are okay - generally the smaller leafed varieties make the best. Good attributes are their lush green foliage, looking great all year round, good disease resistance (requiring very little spraying), and needing very little trimming to keep their shape.
  • PODOCARPUS: Commonly known as the Totara family - this includes our own N.Z. native species, and other species from South Africa, and China. They are all excellent, reliable topiary specimens, outstandingly tough to wind and drought, and responding extremely well to being kept clipped and shaped. Certainly a good topiary option for a coastal garden.
  • MICHELIAS: This is a big family of plants, and most varieties make outstanding topiary specimens. They like being kept trimmed, and the real bonus is that the michelias have the most delightfully fragrant flowers - a real bonus if the topiary is is going close to your entertaining area, or by the front door. Some of my favourite michelia varieties for topiary for waikato gardens are Michelia Figo (port wine magnolia), Michelia Fairy Blush, Michelia Touch of Pink, and Michelia Gracipes.
  • CITRUS: Most citrus varieties make outstanding topiary plants, as either standards, or espaliering them against a wall - this is a great option if you dont have much room, and you will get just as good a crop when you keep your citrus trees clipped only 15cm away from a wall or fence. Most varieties of citrus perform exceptionally well as a topiary specimen in a pot. They will still flower and fruit just as well, but you must feed them 3 times per year - they are gross feeders, and need much more fertiliser than most other plants, even ones in the ground. My favourite citrus for topiary are C. Satsuma Mandarin, C. Lime Cocktail, C Lemon Meyer, and C. Lime Tahiti. Give the citrus full sun and plenty of feed, and they will respond and give you many years of beautiful topiary plants.
  • BUXUS GREEN GEM: This is a member of the buxus family, but is far superior to the common buxus sempervirens that I mentioned earlier in the article. B.Green Gem has a real lush green foliage, and it appears as if each leaf has been highly polished. They respond well to trimming and shaping, and seem to be more resistant to the dreaded Buxus Blight. This is a disease that is slowly spreading its way around the country, causing dieback and defoliation of the common Buxus. It's a serious issue, so I personally don't advise you purchase Topiary Buxus Sempervirens for your garden. Another good Buxus variety is BUXUS MICROPHYLLA - this has a bigger leaf, and seems to be a good option as well.


Topiary plants are generally more expensive, and that's because a large amount of time and labour goes into creating the specimens. However, if you purchase a high-performing variety they are very easy to look after and maintain, generally requiring about 2-3 light trims a year over the growing months, and feeding each September and March. If you follow these pointers you should have no problem at all in keeping your piece of "living sculpture" in top condition!

Happy Gardening with Graeme

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Graeme Burton - Landscaper - Rukuhia Homestead, RD2, Ohaupo 3882
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