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The History of Topiary

According to A.M. Clevely in his excellent book “Topiary: The Art of Clipping Trees and Ornamental Hedges” (Collins) published in 1988 “the definitive history of topiary has yet to be written.”
This is in book form let alone on the Internet but I’ll try to give you a quick run through here.


Levens Hall Topiary
Levens Hall, Cumbria

Seventeenth Century

Mazes and labyrinths were popular in Britain from after the Norman Conquest but it was in the Seventeenth Century that topiary became part of the formal landscape. As with all fashions, however, this was to be fairly short-lived as the mania for the Landscape style, made popular by such exponents as Lancelot “Capability” Brown meant that many formal topiary gardens were ripped up in the pursuit of open parkland. Fortunately it never entirely died and small cottage gardens continued the art as the British are especially noted for their eccentricities.
Another revival came in the 1830’s when such gardens as “Mon Plaisir” in the grounds of Elvaston Caste in Derbyshire were laid out as by now many people had begun to tire of landscape expanses. The Victorians developed topiary, as they did all other aspects of garden design and machinery and of course it continued to thrive in the Twentieth Century with the efforts of Major Lawrence Johnston at Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire, Vita Sackville West at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent and many others.


Today topiary is thriving, in some very small part due to the¬†“Topiary in the United Kingdom”¬†website,
…and long may it remain.

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