As you can see from the picture, working with hedges and evergreens doesn’t have to be dull. It doesn’t matter if you have children, or do it for your own inner child, creating fun and amusing ‘pet plants’ around the garden is easy with Thuja Green Giant. Because this plant is so incredibly fast growing, it takes just a few months to do what might take years with something slower, like Yew. And because it is so fast-growing, if you get bored and want to go back to a plain look, then most of the time that will be easy too.
You are only limited by your imagination in what shapes you can create with Thuja Green Giant. This skill, called topiary, has origins going back centuries. There are paintings on the walls of ancient Roman tombs showing plants clipped into ornamental shapes, and the art was very popular in Italy during the Renaissance and in Holland too.
Some simple shapes are still commonly used in gardens – balls, pyramids, both round and square, and spirals are seen in a lot of more formal gardens. These simple geometrical shapes are easy to produce, but more complex shapes, like puppies, pigs or elephants, are possible, or objects like teapots, cars and trains too. So here are some tips of how to set about making interesting topiary objects to bring fun and entertainment to your garden. Your own, and all the kids in the neighborhood too, will love you for it, and you will put a smile on the face of everyone who passes by. Make sure you choose a place where your work of art is easily seen – why keep it all to yourself?
While you might use electric or gasoline hedge trimmers for a regular hedge, for topiary hand clippers are best, at least for the detailed bits. Not the big ones your grandfather used to use for hedges, but smaller, sharper ones available today, with narrow blades and a pointed tip, that allow you to get into corners and cut into, as well as across, the plants. Keep these sharp and well-lubricated, and you will find that hand-clipping is great exercise for your pecs.
A good pair of battery operated shears is still helpful for larger areas. Go with an 18” or 24” blade, nothing longer. A longer blade will just get in the way, as will an electric cord, and gasoline trimmers are noisy to work with. Choose a new-generation battery trimmer by a reliable manufacturer – they work like a charm, and with two batteries you will have no ‘down-time’.
Remember that the key to success is frequent trimming. The more you trim, the denser the growth becomes, and the more pronounced your design will be. Four to six clips a season is not too much, and in fact it is when you are only taking an inch of that you know you are on the road to success. Plan on clipping at least once a month, and maybe every two weeks during spring and early summer.
To build the framework for narrow shapes, like the handle of a teapot for example, you need some stiff wire. Copper wire is best, although for a bigger project aluminum wire is a lot cheaper. If you have some scrap electric cable, that is a good source of copper wire. 6-guage wire, which is 4 mm thick, is good for smaller to medium-sized branches. You need to anneal the wire first, and this is easy, the next time you have the barbecue on. Roll up the wire, and place the coils on the hot coals until they are glowing red-hot. Once they cool, clean them in a solution of vinegar and salt. Use 2 tablespoons of salt per cup of vinegar, and boil the coils in it until they are clean. Once you have annealed the wire, you will see that it is soft and easy to bend, but once twisted it stiffens and holds its shape – exactly what you want.
Imagine you want to make a teapot handle. Select a long shoot – it doesn’t have to be the full length yet, and twist one end of a wire loosely around the branch the shoot is coming from. Then coil it around the stem, and bring it out and around until you have the shape you want. If the stem is not long-enough, continue with the bare wire, and you can gradually attach the stem as its grows. Another approach is to use thin flexible long rods to create a framework, and then tie-in a branch or branches to cover the rod. Once you have the branch in place it will soon start to send out side-shoots. Trim these when they are still short, and as more and more are produced, gradually you will have the material for the part you are creating, and you can thicken and shape it as you wish.
Depending on the shapes you want, sometimes bamboo poles can be used to guide you for the basic form. To make a cone, just make a tepee shape out of four bamboo poles, space around the tree and tied together at the top. For a square cone, place on at each corner of a square drawn on the ground in string. For a circle, use 6 canes, or 8 for a big cone. Use a string attached to the trunk at the base to draw a circle on the ground, so you know where to place the canes. These canes act as a trimming guide, so you keep everything straight.
Growing to Order
While simple shapes can be made from one tree, for larger objects the quickest way is to plant several trees in a group, placing them so you have plants where you need them. Remember to allow at least a foot of growth outwards to the final shape you want, and for bigger shapes allow 2 feet. By planting exactly where you need them, you can create four-legged creatures, with each leg a plant, with the upper parts bend over and tied together to make the body. Look on-line for inspiration – you will be amazed at what can be done. For a fun garden hobby that will soon get you a name in the neighborhood, take up Green Giant topiary and amaze yourself.