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What Exactly Is a Topiary—and Should You Get One?

Landscape designer and Clipped judge Fernando Wong explains

By Architectural Digest US | November 6, 2021 | Category

Instagram: @fernandowong_old
Instagram: @fernandowong_old

Landscape designer and Clipped judge Fernando Wong explains

As a child growing up in Panama, landscape designer Fernando Wong says he first discovered his artistic passion at age five, watching his mother draw sketches for him while they sat in church.

“I was restless, so she drew some stars and chickens for me,” recalls Wong, founder of Fernando Wong Outdoor Living Design, a renowned Miami-based firm he launched in 2005 with his partner Tim Johnson. “The chickens were the ones that captivated me—I’ve lived through my imagination ever since.”

A similar creative spirit pervades the six episodes of HGTV’s Clipped (now streaming on Discovery Plus), where seven competing topiary artists from across the country snip their way to crafting larger-than-life living sculptures, depicting enormous animals or a living room with functional “furniture” made entirely of plants. The goal is to get the show’s judges, Wong, Martha Stewart, and Chris Lambton, to award them the prize.

By definition, a topiary is any plant cut into a fantastic shape. And while the show demonstrates some of the most complicated topiaries imaginable, Wong explains that there are many types of plants that can be used for topiaries. “I think we used at least a half dozen different species while filming Clipped, but there are many more types of shrubs, bushes, and herbs that will work well,” he says. Included in this list: yew bushes, arborvitae, boxwood, dwarf Alberta spruce, rosemary, germander herbs, podocarpus, Japanese holly, lavender, privet, and cherry laurel.

Whichever of these species you choose to add to your garden, you might want to try your hand at conical or geometric shapes before attempting a shrub sofa or a grizzly bear made from a bush. Wong stresses that creating large-scale pieces like the ones in the show is extremely physically taxing. “They worked so hard,” he says of the contestants, who would begin by sketching their ideas on paper before executing them in 3D. “That was the ‘wow’ factor for me because each artist had to understand thickness, scale, and proportion. That was amazing,” Wong says.

For an easier way to bring topiary into your life, Wong suggests purchasing a small, already-shaped one and displaying it indoors. “I believe a topiary really enhances your interior space,” he says. “It’s joyful to see a traditional topiary figure in the window or as a centerpiece on your dining room table.” (Wong’s favorite place to shop for plants is at Atlock Farm in New Jersey, which happens to be owned by one of Stewart’s friends.)

If you really want to try shaping a topiary yourself, consider an indoor bonsai tree. “You can manipulate the plant and use wire to push branches in the direction it doesn’t necessarily grow naturally,” he says. “Like humans, the bonsai adapts. It wants to survive.”

Lastly, though a topiary is one way to add wow factor to your garden, Wong has other tips and tricks up his sleeve. Below, he shares three ideas for getting started.

Instagram: @fernandowong_old

Fernando Wong’s gardening tips

1. Focus on key elements: “When designing a garden of any size, be sure to focus on every element,” he says. “This includes the reflection on the pool, how the clouds move, or the canopy and silhouette of a tree.”

2. Start small: “If you’re still perfecting your green thumb, look for indoor plants that need very little water,” he says. “As long as you have a curious mind you can become a plant person. I’ve found that people who love plants are generous. They’re forthcoming and open, which is a good reason to get started with a houseplant or two!”

3. Work with what you have: “If you’re starting a garden from scratch, use what you have on hand,” he says. “For example, perhaps there’s a tree or vine in your backyard. Try to work with what you have and layer that vine over a post, for example, and find things that will complement existing elements. This will form the basis of a very beautiful outdoor space.”

Original article appeared on Architectural Digest | Author Lambeth Hochwald