Topiary, the art of creating sculpture in clipped plants, originated with the Romans, who employed 'toparii' to clip their hedges. The fashion traveled throughout Europe in the Renaissance, using rosemary, lavender and hyssop as well as the more traditional evergreens of yew, holly, myrtle and box. Louis XIV's Versailles was a triumph of art over nature, and in the low countries cone and lollipop shapes formed, and soon hopped around the globe to populate the gardens of England and America.
However, as the fervor for 'natural' landscapes swept through Europe, eighteenth century nurserymen were left with serried ranks of overgrown topiary figures. Fashion mocked the few gardeners who continued to clip, and in 1890 William Robinson claimed that 'a man with shears in his hands is doing fool's work. But as 'ye old Englishe garden' found favor again, so the chess pieces, crowns and artful peacocks broke cover, often claiming an unbroken history of clipping by generations of gardeners. Even Gertrude Jekyll, that doyen of the flowery border, had her favorite topiary yew cat. Despite box disease and labor shortages, topiary has seen a revival in the twenty-first century, and amateurs in the art can purchase 'preformed' rabbits and deer to graze suburban lawns.
"This small booklet contains a wealth of information about a subject that has a long history and occasionally wide popularity. The first record of creating sculpture in clipped plants was at the beginning of the Christian era when a friend of Augustus Caesar introduced this novelty called topiary. The British author traces the story of these wondrous delights to some, but not all gardeners. This heavily illustrated treatise is remarkably filled with stories and fantastic displays that will intrigue every gardener. The author includes a directory of British public gardens that feature topiary sculptures." -Marilyn K Alaimo, Chicago Botanic Garden Journal of Current Books on Gardening and Botany (March 2010)