A Topiary Garden

garden.jpgI have been planting pots for this client since 2005.  He really enjoys his garden, and I look forward to planting for him every year.  As for the landscape, it was not my favorite.  A circular drive court was planted round about with ink berry.  Over the years, the ink berry died out in patches, and what survived grew leggy.  The landscape did have to its credit a number of large arborvitae which had been pruned into shapes, and several espaliers.

garden-and-landscape.jpgThe rest of the landscape was a random mix of hydrangeas that did not bloom much, and perennials which asked for full sun and perfect drainage. The vast majority of the plant material was not happy where it was planted.  Moist shade is not a spot that asks for or welcomes thyme. Thyme is very small leaved, and grows but a few inches tall.  Placing it in the landscape effectively is all about a good understanding of scale.  An old, limbed up, and half dead maple tree was not adding much to the landscape either.

garden-and-topiary.jpgBut what was obvious to me was that this client truly enjoyed his topiary plants above all.  I respect and enjoy landscapes in which the structured plants are contrasted with a looser garden.  In this landscape, the contrast did not seem to work.  I so rarely take the time to critique.  In general, I think the energy it takes to criticize would be better spent in an effort to suggest a solution, or a better way.  I was sure this landscape did not represent what my client loved about landscape-so I persisted. It did take me every bit of 18 months to convince him to redo the landscape.

placing-the-boxwood.jpgClients are ready for change when they are ready. This is not unusual.  All of us are ready when the moment comes when we are ready. My client made a decision.  We moved on that decision. It did take but a half day to rip out the ailing ink berry. Another half day for the pink hydrangeas and company.  The shape of these beds made it very difficult to plan a formal design with topiary boxwood. I had 18 months to work out the placement.  I was ready.

topiary-garden.jpgMy landscape design is predicated on an arrangement of shapes and only 2 plants.  Specimen size 3′ by 3′ Green Gem boxwood, 15″ tall Green Gem boxwood, and Little Lime hydrangeas.  My client also has a big interest in contemporary design and art.  The house is an interpretation of classic French design.  I was after a landscape design that had its roots in classical landscape design, with a nod to a modern aesthetic.  I was also interested in the landscape representing my client’s love of topiary.

boxwood-spheres.jpgA pattern of offset 3′ by 3′ Green Gem boxwood spheres was alternated with blocks of 4 squarely placed  15″ Green Gem boxwood is a pattern that is repeated in stripes perpendicular to the house.  The round shapes contrast with the geometric placement.  This view down the drive is strong.

boxwood-garden.jpgWe had drainage issues.  I will not bore you with the problems associated with the drop from the street to the driveway plane, and how we handled the water.  If you search the above picture, you can see the drain pipe to the left of the boxwood planted on the left side of the walk to the back yard.  Providing for proper drainage is essential.  Handling the drainage gracefully takes lots of planning and work.

topiary-garden.jpgThis landscape renovation honored first and foremost my client’s love of topiary evergreens.  Secondarily, the landscape renovation reflects his interest in contemporary design. I was so interested that all of the spaces be simple and integrated.  The driveway and drivecourt is a much larger space than the landscape spaces. A strong pattern would minimize the visual draw of the drive, and maximize the visual attention to the green spaces.  That said, any landscape needs to challenge and enchant.  At the end, I feel sure that the reconstruction of this landscape is particular to the taste of my client.

topiary-garden.jpgEvery client is different.  A good landscape designer needs to have the ability to absorb and then design for different. Any gardener who has a mind to design for themselves needs to first and foremost listen to their own voice, then acknowledge the demands of the space, and be bold about a plan.

topiary-garden.jpgThe renovation of this landscape went well.  The soil was surprisingly good and easy to work. We dug and planted for 6 straight days.

topiary-and-espalier.jpgFormal landscape designs have their proponents.  Vis a vis this project, I am one of them. I like formal landscapes, when they are appropriate to a site and a client.  I like other than formal landscapes, given a specific situation.  Redoing a landscape is a big fluid situation-any designer knows this.  If you are a gardener who designs for yourself, I could offer this advice.  Take the time to figure out what you want first and foremost from your landscape.  Next up, dream and scheme.  At the last, make a move.  As for this landscape-it is all about the beauty of the topiary plants.

topiary-garden.jpgMy client likes what we have done. I am pleased with the finish.


  1. cynthia woodyard says

    Hi Deborah, For some reason my computer quit getting several blog I like seeing, one being yours, and then I found you again! I love this garden change, getting rid of all the tussy-mussy and bringing in brilliant boxwoods and a few other great plants! It works of wonderfully with the architecture!

  2. The composition is epic! I Truly have no words. Just stunning!



    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Andie, the best part about a landscape design is that it can be implemented on a small, medium, or large scale. This clearly was a large scale planting. But the same effect can be grown on, with small plants. I visited a garden today that had 70 or better 8″ tall boxwood planted in a sweeping curve. In five years, there will be something there to talk about. I like this-that great landscape design is available and possible to anyone. Thanks, Deborah

  3. I love that your client has such a creative, romantic soul.
    At least that’s what I associate topiary landscapes with.
    There is a wonderful documentary, “A Man Named Pearl,” about a South Carolinian man who transformed his 3 acres into a topiary dreamscape. Well worth watching (available on youtube).
    It strikes me that people who dream of topiary gardens must have fanciful, mathematical imaginations.
    I think you’ve helped this client realize a really magical and fun environment!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Terry, my client is slow to act, until he has a strong sense of a magical outcome. I share this with him. I am happy about how this project worked out. Thanks, Deborah

  4. Elvera Howard says

    Dream and scheme, now that is a motto I would like to adopt. What a fabulous transformation! Dream of Green is more like it. I love the English influenced boxwood…outstanding, elegant and oh so lush.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Elvera, it is quite a transformation. It is distinctly suited to this house, and this client. There is an English influence, yes. How beautiful are those giant boxwoods! Good growers play such a major role in landscape design. Thanks, Deborah

  5. As well you and he should be. Stunning now…can’t wait to see follow up pictures next year.

    Mass plantings of boxwood…steals my heart.

  6. Pat Torney says

    Just beautiful!!

  7. Beautiful! Congratulations on a job well done!

  8. Antoine Artois says

    This is very well done, but then I am a big fan of evergreen shrubs and topiaries myself. This garden will look great during the winter, which is the true test for any garden. I think that the placement of the very large cylindrical topiaries could have been better – they look great but placement seems a bit random. Maybe they were too mature to move? And we please get rid of the flower boxes in the windows? At least the flowers in them are white, as opposed to some horrendous Gertrude Jekyll-inspired mess. But still, these window boxes look to ‘frilly’ to me, in the context of your beautiful, stark design. I very much enjoyed reading your post, thank you.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Antoine, the large topiaries could not be moved. They were too large, and had been in place since 2002. My client likes those window boxes. It is, after all, his landscape. There is no right or wrong-just what one person would do, given an opportunity to express themselves. This landscape truly represents his point of view-and that makes me feel successful as a designer. I am always happy to hear from you. Thanks, Deborah

  9. Deborah, whether this landscape is an example of ‘less is more’ or ‘more is more’, the result is perfection. Your ability to create a beautiful solution never ceases to amaze me!

  10. A fantastic understanding of that space! And, WOW, 3 ft. Green Gem (my own favorite boxwoods) would seem rare because they grow so slowly compared to the other varieties. Nice.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Rob, 3′ by 3′ Green Gem boxwood spheres – rare indeed. Lots of work went on behind the scenes of this project. Thanks for your letter, Deborah

  11. just brilliant!

    i love topiaries and structure paired with looser, more undiciplined plantings. each accents the best attributes of the other, as well as muting the downsides.

    it’s like being the parent of a bright, willful, artistic child. nuture the child, give the child the right conditions, space to grow and explore, but with boundaries and structure that work for the child. with patience and hard work he/she will bloom and beautiful things will happen.

  12. Deborah,
    Late in coming to this post, I am quite interested in the cylindrical topiaries. Reading indicates arborvitae. Can you tell me, are they Green Giants? Love this!

    Thank you,

Leave a Comment