Topiary for beginners

Patience is a virtue. Sadly I am a bit lacking in that department and that’s the reason I’ve always left topiary to the more blessed among us. But you really don’t have to wait that long for results if you choose the right plant.

Lonicera nitida Baggesens Gold is a fast growing shrub with small tightly packed box like leaves, easy to take cuttings from, and, it’s tough! It’s the ideal experimental plant for budding topiary beginners.

So what shape to start sculpting? Personally I love the tropical look and I am redesigning my garden as a ‘tropical paradise’ (well that’s how I sold it to the wife), so topiary peacocks and precise geometric shapes are not really in keeping with the theme. I eventually decided to go for a monolithic design. A miniature stonehenge in flora is a bit beyond me, so I settled, finally, on some living easter island heads. I already had some ‘balled up’ loniceras in the garden so my first step was to let them grow out a bit to try to make them in to a box as a starting shape.

Next to get that heavy brow. Remember, the thing is with sculpting is that you can’t add it on, you can only take it away, so the brow is created by cutting the cheeks at an angle being careful to leave the middle bit for a nose.

Now trim off the bottom of the nose to leave an area for the mouth. Then just cut a hole for the mouth.

Just keep trimming the shrubs every couple of weeks in the growing season. The topiary in the picture is on it’s second year and should become more defined over time


  1. I am writing re the topiary for beginners. Both my gardens were destroyed after we had a house fire. I am not green fingered but am putting in a good effort to change that! I was encouraged by the Topiary for beginners Easter Island. So, for a Novice like myself, how many shrubs would you need to plant to be able to do this project and if you cant get Lonicera, what alternatives would you advise and what size are your Easter Island heads?

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind Regards

  2. Hi Jacki,
    sorry to hear about your house fire. In all honesty I cannot remember how many plants I originally had for the easter island heads as I had them in the garden as just ball shaped shrubs for years before I decided to have a go at shaping them. You could easily just use one decent sized plant per head as they grow pretty quickly and I’m guessing that’s what I had to start with as most of my garden has been grown from very small plants donated from other gardens. You could use box as an alternative but they are dreadfully slow and susceptible to box blight. Lonicera nitida baggessons gold is quite widely available and is quick and easy to grow. Also easy to grow from cuttings. The only disadvantage is being a lonicera, the stem is not that strong. In fact my heads have started to develop a bit of a lean to one side. I’m debating staking them discreetly at the back of the plant but I kinda like the look as they now appear quizzical! In terms of height, they are about a meter tall. Any bigger than that and they can’t support themselves. Anyway, I’m glad the article inspired you and keep us informed of your topiary progress!

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