We get it. Not everyone has the space for a sprawling garden. Enter: topiary and espalier plants - perfect small-space gardening solutions. Topiary plants - like buxus - make for a fascinating living sculpture. Equally decorative are espalier plants, which are trained to grow flat against a lattice or other surface. Many of your favourite fruiting and flowering plants, including citrus, will happily grow as espalier plants. Best of all, you’ll still enjoy full size fruit and flowers.
Topiary & espalier
Topiary and espalier in your own garden
If you don’t have space for a large garden, perhaps you live in an apartment with a balcony or a townhouse with just a small courtyard, you may feel like a dream garden is out of reach.
Lucky for you, that’s not the case at all. Topiary and espalier plants are perfect small-space gardening solutions. What is espalier and topiary? Read on to find out how these fun plants and trees can fill your garden.
What is a topiary plant?
A topiary is a living, decorative sculpture created by training and shaping a plant, either a shrub that’s outgrown its space in the garden or a plant bought specifically to be clipped and trained.
Clipping plants into topiary shapes is a very old gardening practice, one that dates back to ancient Rome. In fact, the word topiary comes from Latin topiarus, an ornamental landscape gardener.
In today’s gardens, topiaries are likely to be clipped into neat, geometric shapes, such as spheres, spires, cones, pyramids and cubes. However, skilled topiarists can also clip shrubs into the shapes of animals, letters or mythical creatures.
Where to buy topiary plants?
Buxus and conifer plants are traditional favourites for topiary in Australia, Japanese box is the most popular of the traditionals. However, any evergreen plant with small foliage that regrows well after pruning is suitable for the task.
Popular choices for Australian gardens are citrus, myrtle, camellia and evergreen azalea. Conifers such as juniper, thuja and cypress are also well-suited to clipped hedges and topiaries. If you prefer an Australian native, look to coastal rosemary, correa or lilly pilly. For a topiary in a hurry, try fast-growing climbing plants like creeping fig, ivy or star jasmine on a wire structure of your choice; the climber will quickly cover your shape and the foliage will give a defined shape easily.
You can shop all of these, and more, at one of Flower Power’s 10 Sydney stores, or online.
How to cut a topiary tree
If you already have a leafy evergreen shrub in your garden that’s due for a prune, you can use that, otherwise you can grow or buy a plant specifically to cut a topiary. Put it in a pot, or plant it in a position that lets you easily access all sides. If you’re very committed, you can also cut your hedge into a topiary shape.
It’s easiest to start with simple geometric shapes like spheres or cubes, but if you’re brave you can also try for clouds or your initial.
If it’s your first attempt, you may want to cut out a cardboard guide to follow and you can use household objects to help, such as hula hoops to check spheres, measuring tapes for symmetry, etc. If you’re confident you know how to cut a topiary tree, you can shape your topiary by eyeballing it.
An easy way to get started is to grow a plant over or through a topiary form made from wire, clipping as it grows. You can make these yourself or buy them pre-made.
For bigger topiaries, you may need to start with shears or a hedge trimmer, and for detailing or smaller topiaries, use secateurs with clean, very sharp blades.
What is espalier?
Espalier plants are ones that are trained to grow flat against a lattice, fence or other surface. Many of your favourite fruiting and flowering plants, including citrus trees, will happily grow as espalier plants. It’s a great way to install your favourite trees in a small space like a balcony or courtyard garden, while still enjoying full-size fruit and flowers.
How to make your own espalier
First, choose your plant. At Flower Power, we like flowering trees such as bay trees, bougainvillea, camellia, crab apple, crepe myrtle, flowering almond apricot, cherry, peach and plum, and gardenia. If you’d rather espalier fruit trees or edible plants, look to apple, blueberry, citrus, cumquat, nectarine, olive, pear, plum, quince or rosemary.
Pot your plant as you would any other. Keep in mind that it’s very difficult to repot an espalier plant, so the pot will need to be big enough to let the plant grow – around three times the size than the nursery pot is usually a good rule of thumb.
Then choose your growing surface; walls, fences, trellis, wire, lattice and mesh are all good options. Leave some room between the trunk or pot and the flat surface behind and tie the trunk of the plant onto the surface firmly, but with a flexible tie.
Look for leading branches and attach these branches horizontally as much as possible to the flat surface. Attach halfway down the branch and again at the end. You want to make the plant’s sap run horizontally so as not to encourage growth in that direction, rather than vertically.
Rather than pruning new growth, train it. When any stem is about 20 centimetres long, train it by attaching it back to the flat surface. Any branches that look out of place can be trimmed to keep in neat.
Feed, water and harvest your espalier fruit trees or flowering trees as you would any other.
Where to buy espalier plants
Shop our range online, or come in-store and let an expert Flower Power horticulturist help you choose the right plants and everything else you need.