Whimsical Art in Landscape

Series PARmary-hughT VI
by Mary and Hugh Williamson, whose Bluffton, SC  landscape is punctuated by topiary examples


To many this topic calls to mind small, charming indoor potted plants, shaped into graduated balls of foliage on a stem.  But there are many more majestic applications of the art form that is “topiary”.   They can be incredibly stunning focal points of your garden.  Topiaries, like fountains, can be stately and they might be whimsical, depending on your venue and your audience.  They can be massive or minute, geometric or animal-form.  They can truly be “Art in the Landscape”.

The History of the Art Form  
The practice of “topiary” is the training, coaxing and pruning of small-leaf plants into shapes.  It is traceable to origins in ancient Greece, where formal buildings were accentuated and complemented with elegant shaped plantings.  Like so many arts, the concept was
absconded by Rome, where a wealthy, learned patrician introduced the art form to Caesar Augustus.  The result was a “fad” which saw much iteration in hedges and animal likenesses throughout the Empire.  The practice declined right along with that Empire, but it was revived centuries later by monks who were focused on herb cultivation.

As the Renaissance emerged, a rediscovery of “Things Classical” occurred, including the implementation of topiary arts.  This practice was embraced by many cultures, including the Moorish and Europeans, particularly the French.  The English made it “their own” with knot gardens, and the art continued in the New World;  locations such as Williamsburg, VA.  Global exploration and the identification of new appropriate plant varieties expanded opportunities.  The trend continues to this day, with important plantings in Villa d’Este in Italy, and The Biltmore Gardens in North Carolina as well as the commercial applications that delight youngsters at Disney World, in Orlando, Florida.  Maybe you can delight the youngsters in your life!


Topiary cats and dogs amuse guests at a park.

How Are They Created?
There are genius artisans, such as Pearl Fryar of Bishopville, SC, who create magical forms with only a smile and a chain saw!  Pearl appears from time to time as keynote speaker for charity events with that chain saw, demonstrating his craft in formal attire!

“Since the early 1980s, Pearl Fryar has created fantastic topiary at his garden in Bishopville, South Carolina. Living sculptures, Pearl’s topiary are astounding feats of artistry and horticulture. Many of the plants in Pearl’s garden were rescued from the compost pile at local nurseries. With Pearl’s patience and skilled hands, these “throw aways” have thrived and have been transformed into wonderful abstract shapes. Pearl Fryar and his garden are now internationally recognized and have been the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles, television shows, and even a documentary, A Man Named Pearl. Today, the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden draws visitors from around the globe.”

As an alternative, there are pre-formed wire skeletons (tuteur) which offer the “topiarist” the challenge of wrapping sprouts planted in a medium (such as moss) within the tuteur, around the wire.  The shapes are varied.  Maybe a unicorn?  A giraffe?   Or how about the Loch Ness Monster?   They are fun, whimsical, and charming on a major scale.  Small-scale versions can also work well on a balcony or patio.  Your first topiary was likely a Chia Pet or maybe a bonsai!  It’s the same concept, but with such grand opportunities!

Whimsical Art in Landscape