Artificial Outdoor Topiary vs Real Outdoor Topiary
If you’re looking for a way to bring a little luxury to your home or business, you should look no further than topiary. This elegant plant-shaping technique has been around in European gardening for hundreds of years, indicating class and refined taste. Today, ornamental hedging and plant shaping are no longer trends reserved for those living in large manor houses – we can all use it regardless of the size of our home or business.
Topiary is unusual, striking, and inspiring, but the real thing is still relatively unattainable for the average person. In this article, we will explore what a topiary is, how it is made, and why artificial topiary is usually the better choice for your outside spaces.
What is topiary?
Topiary involves pruning and training plants to grow into different shapes. It’s an art form that requires a lot of time and effort to master if you’re working with live plants. Topiary is believed to have been invented in ancient Rome, where it was first used in the elite’s villa gardens. It wasn’t until the 15th century that it came into fashion for wealthy families, and the traditional shapes were born.
The shapes most wildly used were balls, spirals, cubes, pyramids, and cones, though many other shapes could be found, especially in gardens of those who could afford the most talented of gardeners.
Nowadays, a topiary is considered any type of garden plant that has been clipped and shaped into an interesting shape – whether it be a traditional ball or an elephant!
How do you make topiary?
Creating topiary isn’t something you should take on lightheartedly – not only is the actual trimming of the topiary extremely difficult, but it also takes a long time. You can’t simply buy a big bush and cut it back as though you’re cutting hair – the foliage only forms on the outer edge of the plant, which means that if you were to take a rectangle bush and try to cut it into a ball, you’d end up with a ball-shaped bush with little-to-no leaves on it!
If you plant a young evergreen to turn into topiary, it may take up to 3 years before it’s ready to look like the shape you want – even box hedges need a lot of time before they can be properly shaped into a square.
Certain species of plants are more suited to being shaped than others. Box trees (Buxus sempervirens) and yew (Taxus baccata) are most often used in topiary, but other evergreens like holly can sometimes be found.
You can sometimes buy ready-trained trees and shrubs from specialist nurseries, but they are expensive and it will be up to you to care for them and keep them trimmed to ensure all that money doesn’t go to waste!
For most of us, simply buying artificial topiary is the best course of action – it saves money, time, and gives you instant access to that luxury feel you’re looking for.
Are real topiaries difficult to maintain?
Yes! To keep your topiary in shape, you’ll need to trim it regularly. The Royal Horticultural Society classifies topiary as “moderate to difficult” on a scale of difficulty.
Of course, you’ll have to maintain it the same way you do any other plant, with watering, fertilising, and weeding as necessary, and ensuring it has the right amount of light to thrive.
Is real topiary poisonous?
Real topiary trees, such as boxwood, are toxic, especially to dogs. The entire plant is poisonous but the leaves are the most potent, making real topiary a bad choice if you have a chewer, plan to have a puppy or want a space that is safe for your dogs or your customers’ dogs. This goes for cats, too. While it’s unlikely a dog or cat would decide to chew on these plants, it’s not worth the risk.
What are the pros and cons of a real outdoor topiary?
Now that we know everything that is involved with maintaining real outdoor topiary, let’s look at the pros and cons. Some of the benefits of real outdoor topiary include:
- They may be preferable if you are a purist and prefer the idea of having real foliage in your garden.
- They help purify the air.
- It may be cost-effective if you’re willing to wait a few years.
Some of the negative aspects of real outdoor topiary include:
- You need to be skilled to maintain the shape so it’s not lopsided or hire a gardener (or topiary artist) who can do it for you.
- You’ll need to water and fertilise it regularly if it’s in a pot and do the same (though a little less regularly) if it’s planted.
- They may not last as long outside as artificial plants do. You can’t know if they will do well in the space you want them until you’ve invested the money, and the plants may just die if you don’t provide the right conditions.
- You never know how people or pets will react to each flower in your topiary trees. Some people may be unknowingly allergic to certain plants and can experience unpleasant reactions when they come into contact with these plants.
- Topiary can be expensive to buy.
- If you plant it, you can’t move it to a new place/home unless it’s in a pot.
- You can get a “bald” spot where the topiary hasn’t grown properly or where you’ve over-trimmed.
- You need special topiary shears to get the best results, these cost between £20 - £150.
What are the pros and cons of artificial outdoor topiary?
Here are some pros of artificial outdoor topiary:
- They don’t require any watering, trimming, or pruning. They’re more than low-maintenance; they’re zero maintenance so that you can relax and enjoy your garden without all the fuss.
- Topiary won’t attract any unwanted insects.
- They won’t shed leaves or petals and you don’t have to worry about water spillages when watering them. Also, if one of your artificial plants is accidentally knocked over, you don’t need to clean up any spilled mulch or soil.
- They are not prone to rotting. Many topiary pieces are grown from the box plant which can fall victim to box blight and box suckers. Box blight is an unpleasant fungal disease that leads to bare patches in a hedge. Box suckers are tiny insects that extract the sap from the leaves, leaving it wilted and often rotten. If this is left undiscovered it can completely wipe out a garden full of box plants. The second most common tree used in topiary is yew, which is often hit hard by Phytophthora root rot.
- The lack of maintenance artificial topiary plants require also makes them a budget-friendly option. Once you’ve bought your plants, that’s it. Nothing more to splash out on, unless you want to mix it up and change your pots later down the line.
- You can take them with you if you move, even if they’re “planted”.
- They don’t care about light, so you can put them in the darkest or brightest areas of your outside space.
- They are easy to clean, only requiring occasional dusting. Plus, you can use whatever product you like without worrying about killing a plant!
- They look extremely realistic and authentic. These days, the quality of artificial plants is so high that it is often impossible to tell what’s real and what’s artificial.
- They don’t trigger uncomfortable allergies. This is a huge bonus in the summertime when some of us are prone to sneezing fits as it is!
- They’re non-toxic and harmless to your pets. Good news for those of us with curious cats who are drawn to the ball-shaped foliage in the garden!
- You can easily store them if you decide to do something different or while you move to a new house or location.
- You won’t get odd “bald” spots where your foliage hasn’t grown properly.
- They look the same year-round – while topiary is typically evergreen, pruning it at the wrong time of year can have disastrous consequences. That means you may have to let your topiary look a little wild until it’s safe to prune it.
- Your topiary won’t gradually get bigger overtime – most plants used for topiary won’t grow new leaves from “old” wood (the thickest, most mature branches), which means you’ll need to let it get a little bigger over time or end up with a plant that can no longer be in the shape you desire.
- You can use them by a pool – if you use chemicals in your pool (whether in-ground or a temporary summer pool), then splashing water on your topiary may kill it. Artificial topiary won’t be affected by pool water.
Here are some disadvantages of artificial outdoor topiary:
- If a topiary tree or ball is made with cheap materials, it is significantly more likely to deteriorate in the sun. However, you can get around this by looking out for UV resistant topiary that won’t lose its vibrant colour.
- They don’t reduce the CO2 level in the atmosphere as real plants do.
Will artificial topiary look as good as a real topiary?
Modern artificial plants are now almost indistinguishable from the real thing – in most cases, you actually have to get up close and touch (and even try to dig a nail into) the leaves before you are sure it’s artificial!
Of course, you get what you pay for, so make sure you buy your artificial topiary from a specialist (like us!) so you get high-quality artificial topiary that will elevate your outside space and give it a luxurious feel.
If you purchase any artificial plants you want to use outside but don’t have UV-resistant leaves, you can buy a UV spray to cover the leaves so you won’t have to worry about the colour fading in the sun.
What types of artificial topiary are there?
For most people, what attracts them to topiary is the interesting shapes it provides. The most common type of artificial topiary comes in ball form and can usually be seen hanging outside people’s front doors or on patios. Topiary can also come in the form of:
If you’re looking for an elaborate shape, that is usually best done with artificial topiary so you can get that dense, all-over-leaf look without gaps, as real topiary takes time and may not produce the results you’re looking for. If you’ve seen a small shape, such as a dog, chances are it was made from artificial topiary!
Should I choose artificial topiary or a real topiary?
The argument of real versus artificial topiary depends on your needs, gardening abilities, and budget. If you’re happy to spend a few hours every couple of weeks or months tending to your topiary and are an experienced gardener, then you may find that real topiary works for you. It may also be the right choice if you employ a gardener, though you may need a topiary artist for more elaborate shapes.
Artificial plants are a great option for those who love the look of foliage and intricately shaped plants but don’t have the time to maintain them. They won’t flare up allergies, they don’t need watering, and you don’t have to enjoy gardening (or paying for a gardener) to reap the aesthetic benefits of topiary.
If you’re ready to bring artificial topiary to your outside space, click here to shop our range.