If you happen to go to Lalbagh for a walk, you will come across an area where you will see some lovely trees and shrubs which have been converted to beautiful shapes like that of a dinosaur, a small aircraft, a crocodile, an elephant, birds, etc. They comprise what is known as a topiary garden.
Topiary is the art of clipping, pruning and shearing of foliage shrubs into clearly defined ornamental shapes. The shapes thus formed may be simple geometric shapes like cones, spheres, semi-circles, triangles or cubes or they may be some elaborate shapes like animals or birds. It is believed that the art of topiary was started by Cneius Matius Calvena, a friend of Julius Ceasar.
He introduced it to the Roman gardens. Even ancient Egyptians, Persians and Greeks used to clip and shape the plants in their gardens. Later, it gained popularity in England, France, Germany, Russia, China, Japan, etc. Today, it is an important concept of the garden, popular in many countries like Australia, England, China, Japan, Italy, Thailand, France, India, etc.
It is extensively used in gardens and amusement parks to form beautiful decorative forms and also hedges, dividers or fences, logos and hedge mazes, which are the simpler forms of topiary gardening.
The Samban-Lei Sekpil in Manipur is the tallest topiary in the world, growing to a height of 61 feet. This 44-stepped botanical work of art nurtured by Moirangthem Okendra Kumbi, since 1983, has earned him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, Limca Book of records and The Indian Records of Topiary.
The art of topiary gardening is one which needs skill, patience and a steady hand. The plants used for topiary gardening are slow growing, evergreen plants which produce a dense foliage. They have small leaves and compact growth habits. Plants like juniper, cupresses, thuja, boxwood, holly, rosemary, duranta, myrtle, yew, etc are highly suitable for topiary gardening.
When some simple shapes have to be formed, the woody plants are trimmed, pruned and trained to acquire a shape of their own, which has to be skillfully maintained with regular shearing and clipping. When more elaborate shapes of animals, birds or other such objects have to be formed, shaped metal frames are used to guide the growth of the plants. The frames are fixed in the soil and the shrubs are planted at each place where the frame comes in contact with the soil.
The shrubs eventually grow and extend along the shape of the frame and start acquiring the desired shape. As they grow, they are woven around the frame , which becomes a permanent trimming guide. As the shrubs grow, they cover the whole frame to form the desired shape. Regular pruning and shearing is then required to maintain the shape of the topiary. Proper care has to be taken to protect them from pests and insects and also from drying.