'Topiary' is the gentle art of clipping shrubs or trees into ornamental shapes.
Topiaries make ideal indoor plants because of their small sizes and compact shapes. Herbal topiaries, such as lavender or rosemary become perfect plants for the kitchen-- offering fragrance, taste or a touch of green to any sunny room. It's easy to keep them in shape with a small, hand pruner or even a scissors... simply, snip the delicate stems that emerge from the original clipped shape. Don't let the winter months go by without tending to a topiary or two... or three!
Lavender (Lavendula) topiary: In summer, a lavender topiary can give a patio an elegant touch, while in the winter months, a brush against lavender leaves emits a fresh, clean scent into your home. As a topiary, lavender is trained into a single, woody stem that is topped with a globe of fragrant, gray-green leaves. The flowers range from purple to blue.
Light: When indoors, place the plant in a bright, southern window. Rotate it a quarter turn each week to keep a balanced shape.
Water: Do not over-water. Keep soil consistently moist but not too wet. During the winter, water less frequently. It is best to begin by planting in a well-drained, potting mix. Over-watering can lead to root rot.
Humidity: Lavender likes it warm and dry. Good air circulation is important-- especially indoors. Too much humidity can cause fungal diseases and root rot.
Ideal temperature: 68 degrees in daytime and 58-62 degrees at night.
Pruning: Prune in spring before buds form and give the topiary a good shaping in summer.
Tips: Plant in a smaller container (only 1-2 inches larger than the root ball) because the roots like to grow in tight spaces. If needed, add a bit of lime to potting mix to shift soil to alkaline. Spanish lavender (L. stoechas) and French lavender (L. dentata) are good varieties for topiaries.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) topiary (pictured):This elegant herb is cherished for its aromatic and flavorful, narrow, dark-green foliage. If happy, it will bloom with tiny, pale-blue flowers. Rosemary will grow into a large shrub in zones 8+, but in the north, we have to be content to grow it during the summer months or indoors. As a tjopiary, rosemary can be clipped into a green globe or two of needle-like leaves on top of a tiny trunk.
Light: Rosemary thrives in a bright, sunny location. Place in a south or west window with at least 4 hours of full sun daily. Give it a quarter turn every week so it grows evenly all around. Also, the stems and leaves won't elongate.
Water: Keep soil consistently moist but not soggy. During winter, water the plant less often. Mist it or add a tray of pebbles with water to offer it more humidity. When outdoors, add mulch to keep the roots moist.
Humidity: Give plant a weekly misting in the sink. Allow leaves to dry off quickly. Too much humidity can cause powdery mildew.
Ideal temperature: Rosemary likes temps that most humans prefer. 65-70 degrees in daytime and 55-60 degrees at night.
Pruning: Prune stems often to keep its shape and use its pungent leaves to flavor recipes.
Tips: After highlighting the virtues of rosemary, it's not that easy to maintain it indoors. However, I love it and I am willing to fail... many times. Since rosemary is native to cool and wet, Mediterranean winters, it really prefers a cooler location such as an unheated porch or a room temperature that doesn't rise above 50 degrees.
Myrtle (Myrtus communis) topiary: If your house or office has lots of bright light and you don't see watering as a chore. Myrtle is the perfect plant for you. It will thrive in a sunny kitchen, bathroom or sunroom. If you want to keep this topiary happy in winter, provide it with extra humidity. The profusion of small green leaves can be sculpted into one topiary with one, two or three globes of leaves supported on a single trunk. Depending on the number of 'puffs' the height of this type of topiary could range from 1-5 feet in height.
Light: Bright, indirect or full sun. Rotate topiary a quarter turn each week to keep its nice shape.
Water: Water consistently. Keep soil damp but not wet. This plant doesn't like to miss a drink!
Humidity: Mist plants often--especially in a heated home.
Ideal temperature: 68 degrees in daytime and 58-62 at night
Fertilizer: Feed 3 times a year during the growing seasons in spring, summer and fall but not winter.
Tip: Myrtle loves to be pruned! However, most trimming and shaping is done during the growing season in spring and summer. It is always happy to summer outdoors in bright, indirect light.