The Art of Pruning: Topiary, Garden Bonsais and ‘niwaki’

Gardens with a distinct character – the power of pruning: artful forms, outdoor bonsais and Japanese Cloud-Pruning.

SSome gardens derive their charms from colourful plantings or from a large variety of foliage styles, others from the abundance of exotic looking species. And then there are formal gardens, where the craft of topiary displays a very effective structure of literally – living – garden art. ‘Garden bonsais’ serve as a more informal equivalent to topiary, in Asian and contemporary style gardens and are works of art of their own kind.

Green Parrot Gardens | Topiary, Cloud Pruning and Garden Bonsais

Gardens whose theme is topiary can be everything, from very playful and funny over ‘low-key formal’ to very stately and almost reserved. For centuries topiary has been an important feature of royal palaces, private residences and sophisticated gardens. And until today a ‘jardin à la francaise’ mostly involves topiary. This connection is so deep and traditional that garden design in France is often associated with a ‘jardin à la francaise’.

Green Parrot Gardens | Topiary, Cloud Pruning and Garden Bonsais

Topiary is a wonderful way to shape many kinds of formal gardens, but it is never informal nor is it really low-maintenance. When we design gardens which involve topiary we would therefore certainly hesitate to combine the art of formally cutting shrubs with informal planting schemes, as it frequently can be seen.

Topiary often renders a bold and dominant impression in a garden and there are plenty traditional, simple and basic forms into which shrubs can be trained. Trees can be trained into tree gates and tress walls and even a good old hedge can receive a completely new form by applying more inventiveness to its shapes.

Green Parrot Gardens | Topiary, Cloud Pruning and Garden Bonsais

If you like the art of topiary we will be delighted to source already grown topiary shrubs for you, or custom design metal and wood topiary frames for you and plant them with suitable shrub species (see below).

When practically gardening, we always train and maintain topiary the RHS-way, by hand with manual tools – and very rarely with machines. Not only is cutting topiary by hand as quick as some do it with machines. It is also healthier for the plant – and frankly topiary shrubs just aren’t hedges. And: we simply like it when there’s as little noise in a garden as possible.

Green Parrot Gardens | Topiary, Cloud Pruning and Garden Bonsais

Not every plant which is useful as a hedge also is suitable as a topiary plant and vice versa.  Woody plants which are good for making topiary include:

 Buxus sempervirens (Boxwood)Laurus nobilis (Bay)
 Buxus microphylla var. japonicaLigustrum ionandrum
 CamelliaLigustrum vulgare (Privet)
 Carpinus (Hornbeam)Michelia figo (Port wine magnolia)
 Crataegus (Hawthorn)Prunus lusitanica (Portuguese Laurel)
 Fagus (Beech)Syzygium autrale
 Ilex crenataTaxus (Yew, partly)
 Juniperus viginianaViburnum tinus

Cloud pruning and garden ‘bonsais’

Specially pruned trees and shrubs can become downright “exterior design pieces”, as cloud pruned bushes and trees or ‘garden bonsais’. These pruning techniques go well with rather informal garden styles and are perfect for all types of modern garden designs.

Green Parrot Gardens | Topiary, Cloud Pruning and Garden Bonsais

Garden bonsais become highly valuable specimens in your garden over time and literally add financial value to your garden. They can be transplanted much easier than ‘normal’ trees, due to the necessary root pruning technique they undergo in intervals.

Through garden bonsais, Green Parrot Gardens develops high-value “green garden features”, which will become defining designs of your very unique garden.

When using garden bonsais in garden designs we don’t speak of miniature trees, which are usually kept in pots. We rather speak of grown trees in your garden which are trained over time to take on the look of a bonsai or which become bonsais by initial training after planting.

Green Parrot Gardens | Topiary, Cloud Pruning and Garden Bonsais

Garden bonsais are not meant to be dotted around everywhere in a garden, but rather they should be placed or developed in certain places where they create special interest within a well balanced garden design.

They do look perfect when associated with a Japanese, or Asian style gardens in general, but pruned the right way they go very well with Mediterranean gravel gardens, contemporary styles or rock gardens as well.

Green Parrot Gardens | Topiary, Cloud Pruning and Garden Bonsais

A garden bonsai does not need to be pruned constantly, like a potted bonsai, but rather two to maximum four times per year, depending on the species and the type of pruning technique. To limit vertical growth though, root pruning is usually recommended.

Many trees and shrubs can be trained as bonsais, but some species have become traditional for the art of raising bonsais:

Acer buergerianumOlea europaea
Acer palmatum (Japanese maple)Pinus parviflora (Japanese white pine)
 All juniperus Pinus ponderosa (Western yellow pine)
Carpinus betulusPrunus mume (Japanese apricot)
Juniperus californicaRhododendreae (Azaleas)
Malus domesticaSerissa japonica
Malus toringoUlmus parvifolia (Chinese elm)