The art of topiary

Topiary hedge cutting in action with garden scissors
ARTICLE Anya Kussler 

Topiaries are plants that are pruned or shaped into decorative shapes to adorn your outdoor living environment. These can range from simple, geometric shapes such as the common stemmed ball, natural-looking cone and conical pyramid, to complex and imaginative forms like animal shapes or striking spirals. Being man-made shapes, they form a unique contrast against a natural environment, thereby making a wonderfully bold statement in a garden large or small. Topiaries also add interest and fun to courtyards and other exterior spaces.

Which plants should I choose for my topiary? 

Topiaries can be created out of a plant, or after training a plant over a frame. The best plants to choose for standalone topiaries are slow-growing evergreens with bendy branches and small, dense leaves that recover quickly after clipping, and will fill up any ‘bald’ spots fast. A sturdy stem is also of the essences, especially when incorporating stemmed balls or spiral forms into your garden scape.

Garden design with green buxus and yews

Boxwood is the most common topiary plant in New Zealand, especially smaller varieties like Morris Dwarf that retain their shape even without trimming. Hollies, with their boxwood-like leaves, can be clipped the same way as boxwood, especially Japanese holly.

Native plants that also make stunning topiaries include totara, as well as varieties with fine, delicate foliage, such as corokia, hebe, olearia, pittosporum and kowhai. 

If you fancy larger-leafed foliage, such as laurel, these are better suited to larger spaces. They too, can be easily pruned into geometrical shapes, provided you cut individual branches using secateurs rather than hedge shears to prevent a messy, ‘half-eaten by a cookie monster’ effect.

Hedges and groupings

All the above-mentioned shrubs are also great to use for hedges and groupings, but some lend themselves better to formal hedges or geometrical shapes, like pyramids, cylinders or cones. Taller shrubs with dense leaves and a needle structure are best for taller creations –think the common yew and Anglo-Japanese yew (which is naturally a tad cylindrical) or easy-to-shape hollies.
Arborvitae is another great choice for taller formations; it’s particularly well suited when shaping statuesque forms like obelisks or cones with the tops cut off. Both arborvitae and also Alberta spruce are popular plants to shape into spirals.

Ornamental Park Garden with spiral tree at the background


The sky is the limit when creating topiaries with vines as you can literally create any shape you wish, from a simple ball to an intricate design over wire and mesh. Ivies are great for this purpose, preferably non-invasive varieties such as the Gold Child climbing or creeping ivy, with its grey-green yellow-fringed leaves. 

Edible plants

Topiaries made from edible plants, such as herbs and fruit, are environmentally friendly, look the part and smell good too. 

Small-scale herb topiaries make a stylish addition to any vege patch. Hardy herbs with small, tight-knit foliage are optimal, especially lavender, rosemary and thyme with their pretty little flowers and uplifting fragrance. All three of these herbs can be shaped into both simple circular or pyramid shapes, or more intricate free-flow forms. 

Small-growing citrus plants like limes, lemons and mandarins, as well as olives and feijoas, also make great topiaries and can easily be trimmed into stemmed balls. Not to mention dwarf apples, peaches and apricots – these all naturally grow into a round-headed shape, which means there’s no need to trim them and makes them super low-maintenance.

Make sure you read through these FAQs for gardens and planting.  


Get in touch with Zones to discuss your landscaping project

If you would like to discuss options and ideas for your outdoor landscaping project, please use the enquiry form on this page to provide us with your contact details. We will get in touch with you at a time that suits you to discuss your landscaping design and build. If you would like to provide us with more information about your project, we have a more comprehensive enquiry form on our "Get in touch" page too.

*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

Read Next

All Zones Landscaping franchises are independently owned and operated.

Landscaping Enquiry

We're ready to help you with your landscaping project.

If your enquiry is not related to renovating your home, you may wish to use one of our other enquiry forms to ensure your message reaches the right team:

Please Wait ...


Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Are you ready to discuss your ideas?

Please fill out your details in the online form provided and we’ll get back to you within 48 hours to arrange a free, no obligation consultation.

Get in touch