We've been offering an on-going demonstration of herb topiaries at Thyme & Seasons for the past week, so we thought we'd post some guidelines and invite you to grow along.
You've heard of topiaries, I'm sure, but herb topiaries? Yes, by all means! Some herbs are ideal subjects for the special kind of ornamental pruning and training that is called "topiary." Rosemary, lavender, santolina, and bay are good plants to start with. They have woody stems (the most important requirement) and can be pruned into decorative shapes. What’s more, you can pop all those little sprigs you've trimmed into the soup pot or the potpourri bowl--or dry them as a gift for friends. Rosemary is easy to obtain and fun to work with. Let's start there, and you can go on to other kinds of plants.
A Rosemary Topiary
The simplest topiary is a single-stem “round-head standard,” which you can train in a single or a double pom-pom. To get started, collect a potted rosemary plant (an upright cultivar 12-18" tall, with good growth), an appropriate container with a drainage hole in the bottom, a bamboo or wooden stake, clippers, and raffia. Push the stake into the pot beside the main stem, then remove all the stems but that one and tie the stem to the stake. If the stem is crooked, gently straighten it as much as possible, tying it at several points to the stake, with raffia.
Then decide where you want to develop the ball, and strip the leaves below that point, being careful not to damage the stem. Prune the plant to approximate the shape you want, cutting just past the growth nodes to encourage bushiness. As new growth appears on the stem, pinch it off; retie the stem as necessary to ensure straight growth. As new growth shoots out from the nodes in the ball, keep shaping it. If you want to create a double-ball standard, train the central stem to grow straight up, shaping the higher ball some six inches above the lower. If you like, add moss or rocks to cover the soil surface.
Care for your plant as you would for any potted rosemary, being careful not to overwater if you bring it in for the winter.
Want to read more? Go over to No Thyme for a good article on crafting a rosemary topiary. Perfect Entertaining suggests a topiary-like arrangement of yarrow and bee balm (but other straight-stemed herbs could be used). You can see some adventurous herb topiaries in animal shapes in this article from the Honolulu Star-Beacon--but chile pepper topiary? I'll have to see it to believe it. Martha (yes, that Martha) poses with a rosemary topiary here, with some good suggestions for soil mix and watering. If you'd like to shape your rosemary into a Christmas tree, this Better Homes and Gardens page will give you some ideas.
Herbal topiaries make great gifts. And for some extra fun, give a suitable young rosemary plant, an appropriate container and soil mix, raffia, topiary instructions, and a small pair of sturdy scissors. A special gift for a special friend. (And you might include an offer to babysit with it while she's on vacation.)
We have fun with herbs at Thyme & Seasons. Hope you do too!