Best Topiary Shrubs – Choosing Shrub Topiary Varieties

Large Green Shrub Topiary Varieties
(Image credit: pxhidalgo)

Some gardeners are passionate about topiary, and it’s easy to understand why. Topiary combines nature’s creativity and our own into a healthy, living work of art. Whether you like the cubes and globes or the more complex topiary structures, it’s very tempting to give topiary a try.

If you are thinking about dipping your toes in the water, you’ll want to select topiary varieties that are easy to shape. Read on to learn about the best topiary shrubs. 

Shrubs for Topiaries

In theory, any bushes can be used as shrubs for topiaries since they can all be shaped to one degree or other. But given that the intention of topiary is to create a recognizable, three-dimensional form, you’ll want to pick topiary plants that have a dense branching pattern and small leaves. 

The best topiary shrubs will also grow fairly quickly. This is an advantage since any little mistakes you make will quickly disappear, giving you the opportunity to try the topiary again.

Three Classic Topiary Plants

Topiary has been around for a long time, and people have been shaping shrubs for hundreds of years. Over the years, a few types of shrubs have proved particularly successful for trimming and sheering into forms. These are the classic topiary varieties.

You can’t talk about topiary plants without talking about boxwood (Buxus spp.). Boxwood is ideal for shaping because of its small, glossy leaves and dense branching structure. Boxwood has no problem with sheering and can be used to create very intricate shapes in the garden. The only problem with boxwood worth mentioning is its susceptibility to box blight.

Other classic shrubs for topiaries are yew (Taxus baccata). These are tough landscape conifers that grow in shade as well as sun and works perfectly for large topiary. 

Our third choice for classic topiary plants: rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), an evergreen herb that is also a culinary favorite.

Other Shrubs for Topiaries

“Best topiary shrubs” may mean something different to different people. If you are looking for something out of the ordinary to use for topiary, there are wonderful other options. One is holly (Ilex spp.), with its multipointed, shiny leaves. Holly is a broadleaf evergreen and extremely hardy. 

Other shrubs you might try? The herb lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) makes a lovely, small topiary plant and has a pleasing fragrance. Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) comes in all sizes and bears dense, flat, scaly needles. Or for a fun option, try doing topiary with germander herbs (Teucrium fruticans). It’s an evergreen, a good topiary shrub and doubles as a top edging plant.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.