Topiary is a form of art that comprises of clipping of leaves, branches and even pruning the roots of a tree or shrubs. Some virtuosos of topiary have managed to perfect this art of clipping and pruning by dwarfing the plant.
When asked about the origin and roots of topiary, most of them stay mum. We started to ponder our minds with the curious question; how and where exactly did topiary come from. We searched the hell and back, tuned every stone that we could, and for our curious readers, we have a memoir of the 'topiary', as would have been narrated by one itself if it spoke.
And then there was topiary...
There has been no concrete proof or anyone alive to confirm the fact, but topiary is alleged to date all the way back to the first century C.E. The rumor-mill has it, that topiary was first developed by a friend of Caesar Augustus (an ancient emperor of Rome) called Cneus Matius. Ironically, the term topiary comes from a Latin word topiaries, that means 'a gardener who is an ornamental landscaper'.
However, some historians are biased that it was the Jewish, Syrian Greek and Egyptians who introduced this form of art to the Romans. Hence, the tug of war has continued since centuries, with it ending in a stalemate every time. We can assure you that the Romans were involved in making the art of topiary known globally.
Another set of ardent devotees believe that the Chinese adopted this art form, as is seen in many ancient paintings. This was later borrowed by the Japanese, who took the art form a notch higher. They even came up with their own version of topiary, called Bonsai.
Oh God! You just cannot beat the Asians, can you!
One fact that we do know, is that the Romans had slaves to work for them. These slaves were mostly from Egypt and parts of Syrian Greece. We can give them credit for due diligence and labor to the Egyptian and Greek slaves, but let's not forget that topiary could well be the brain-child of the Romans.
Topiary finds it's way into different regions
Topiary was unknown to the rest of the world for many centuries. It was an art that was limited to the Romans and the Greeks (We know how they got it!). They included topiary in their buildings, castles and even in small open spaces, or gardens. Back in those days, everyone seemed to be smitten by this art. Oh Boy! And they sure did know how to make a topiary come to life. Instead of simple shapes, they started developing complicated topiary shapes like an elephant. (Complicated because all they had were shear boxes and knives.)
For about 500 years, the rich Greek and Romans improved this Greek-o-Roman style and enjoyed the luxury alone. But as the art of topiary became more wide-spread, people eventually got bored with it, and that was the ephemeral end of topiary. Or was it?!
In the 9th century, the French got hold of the techniques and skills, which is due to the close proximity to the Roman Empire. Eventually, a mad Frenchman (That's how he got bullied) Charlemagne, introduced topiary in France.
Inspired by the Italian gardens with flawless arrangements of topiaries, gardens started emerging in mainland Europe. The French made beautiful gardens using topiaries in monasteries. The Spanish took a step further when they made gigantic mazes in their Islamic-Moorish gardens.
By 1600s there was a tremendous shift in trends. Topiary gardens started becoming the key attractions in Europe, with artificial waterfalls, low beds of evergreen shrubs and drinking fountains. Netherland was the first country to include more elaborate water features and lollipop-shaped shrubs in their gardens.
Inspired by Holland and France, the English came up with a style of the topiary garden of their own. They borrowed the perfect geometrical design from the Dutch and a lot more from the French. In the 17th century, to impress King Louis XIV they replaced the low beds of hedges with 1.9 million potted-flowering plants overnight. (So, very English of them, good sire!)
The 18th-century Victorian era saw the boost of these gardens in England. In fact, they even appointed the 'tree-barbers', especially for topiaries. It was in the same century that the gardens became obsolete. Well, topiary still had a long way to go, it's got 9 lives like a cat, it seems. With the Italian Renaissance, topiary found it's way up again. (It's alive! It's alive! *Imitates Victor Frankenstein*)
Commonwealth nations saw an introduction of topiary in their mainland as well, with the English carrying a little of 'their' art wherever they went in the 18th and 19th century. This was soon spread to Japan and China like a wild-fire. Where the Japanese came up with traditional Bonsai.
In the early 19th century, the United States of America had huge plantations and hectares of open spaces. They planted large estate gardens and guess what they included?! Yes, topiary. (You're a good reader!). One stellar example of topiary in America can be seen in Disney World, in Orlando.
The earlier 20th century saw the rising demand for domestic topiary met. The markets in Fulham and Chelsea in London were flourishing with 'ready-made' topiary pieces that were sold in a flash.
BONUS: Topiary -Then and today.
In the initial centuries of its incarnation, topiary was a form of luxury and only the rich and the prosperous could afford it, as you'd see in some old pictures of ancient castles. The first known forms were simple, like a sphere, cone, dwarf-box edges or a column. But considering their mammoth size and the hard days' work that were put into shaping, trimming and pruning it, is simply commendable.
With the recent advancements in technology, topiary is available in the market in every size possible. All you have to do is pick a shape, that's it! You can get your hands on artificial topiaries online. These artificial topiaries are quite a trend these days, being fire & UV retardant, safe for indoor & outdoor use and as real as natural perennial trees. Of course, without the shedding of leaves and with an easy maintenance regime.