Topiary Or Not Topiary, That Is The Question…

Topiary spans many centuries – it is prevalent in Renaissance gardens as well as formal gardens belonging to the grandest of country estates. Yet it is just as at home in simple, contemporary, urban gardens. Some people see topiary as a twee addition to a garden, akin to the garden gnome when clipped into animal shapes while others see it as a classic which suits a multitude of garden designs. So what do you think? Should topiary be a staple of garden design or left in the garden centre with the meerkats and wishing wells? Here’s what we think of topiary with some do’s and don’ts…

Levens Hall Gardens

Levens Hall Gardens


Some of our favourite gardens rely on topiary to create their look. Drummond Castle Gardens near Crieff is a very formal garden with lots of symmetry and a heavy reliance on topiary. Levens Halls Gardens in the Lake District has the world’s largest topiary collection and is a sight to be seen. We are big fans as it, when used well, can add real drama, structure, height and texture to a garden.


…choose your topiary carefully. They can be quite expensive so pick a variety and style to suit your needs.

…think about how often you are happy to prune your topiary. A ligustrum will be cheaper but will need trimming a lot more often than taxus baccata.

…think about the space you have and what shape will work best – cloud topiary is beautiful but needs more space to be shown off. A cone or spiral will take up less space.

…use topiary to frame entrances and doorways. They will make a great statement.

…use it to make a statement in your borders. They can add the wow factor.

Formal topiary

Cypress adds height to a border

…invest in some topiary shears to keep your shrub looking its best.

…include topiary in your garden if you are looking for a contemporary look. Lines of box balls is an easy to create a modern look.


…be tempted to indulge in a topiary animal unless you are creating a children’s garden or you can do it en masse a la Lotusland

…neglect your topiary. It will need watered, fed and clipped to keep looking good.

…be tempted by the cheap, fake topiary balls sold in budget stores. They are cheap for a reason.

Topiary mini

Topiary mini in the Cotswolds

So, in our opinion, topiary is a great way to create a strong statement in a garden and add structure. They are particularly effective in contemporary gardens and also work well in containers. They are a definite must for us at Vialii. Though perhaps not trained into the shape of a mini!

Thanks for reading.

All at Vialii

Garden Visit: Leven’s Hall, Lake District

It’s been a busy old summer at Vialii Towers but we managed to sneak away for a couple of weeks holiday. We visited Northumberland in our first week and Lulu had a ball doing the Fairytale Treasure Trail at Alnwick Gardens. We headed west-ward for week two and finally made a long-awaited visit to Levens Hall Gardens in the Lake District. Read on to see what we thought…

The amazing topiary at Levens Hall Gardens

The amazing topiary at Levens Hall Gardens

As you enter the gardens you are treated to a pretty, open expanse of lawn and some wonderfully ornate pots. However, it’s not until you pass through the next gate that you are treated to the wonderful sights that Levens Hall is famous for – its topiary!

Topiary at Levens Hall

Looking for shapes hidden in the topiary was fun. We thought this one looked like a grumpy Buddha!

The topiary is in a league of its own and it certainly lives up to its claim as being the finest, oldest and most extensive topiary collection in the world. It is everywhere to be seen and it is immaculate. We loved that no-one has been tempted to create topiary animals or twee shapes. The gardens are a wonderfully eclectic mix of random shapes and sizes which complement each other really well. The “top hat” tree was one of our favourites! It also shows the wide array of plants which can be used in topiary from the commonly used yew and box to the less used holly.

Off exploring the impressive hedges at Levens Hall

Off exploring the impressive hedges at Levens Hall

From the topiary section we walked along (and inside!) the tallest and widest hedge we had ever seen. It was fabulous to be inside the hedge and appreciate its amazing structure.

From there we happened across the most beautiful herbaceous border which was a wonderful array of blues, purples and whites. Again, the garden was immaculate and lovingly tended by the gardening team.

Herbaceous border at Levens Hall

A fabulous herbaceous border. We’re not sure who liked it most, us or the bees and butterflies!

From there we discovered a wonderful array of features from orchards, rose and herb gardens, grow your own areas and water features.

Water features at Levens Hall

There were wonderful focal points at every turn

Tucked away down the bottom of the garden was a small play area and bug house. Our three year old daughter Lulu loved playing down here and hunting for bugs and it was a welcome addition to the garden. Levens Hall had also thoughtfully put together a wonderful children’s quiz where you have to hunt for the details in the garden. It kept us all amused for the whole day and is perfect for children of all ages.

Lulu loved hunting for bugs

Lulu loved hunting for bugs

Elsewhere, we can recommend the cakes in the cafe and the shop had some lovely gifts with thought being put into offering local and relevant gifts for visitors. We purchased some wonderful prints of the garden which will forever remind us of a wonderful day at Levens Hall. Make it a MUST SEE on your garden list. We’ll certainly be back.

All at Vialii

Provost’s Park Blossoms

For almost four years, we at Vialii Garden Design have been working closely with Bridge of Allan Community Council to transform Provost’s Park in the heart of Bridge of Allan. The build of the new garden is now complete with the official opening on Sunday 28th September 2014…
Provost's Park, Bridge of Allan

The completed park

Being based in the village, we have been delighted to have been involved in the project from its initial concept right through the funding process and throughout the build and are thrilled to be able to give something back to the community for residents and visitors to enjoy.

Since the controversial new toilet block was finally completed in Bridge of Allan, the space around it, known as Provost’s Park, had largely been left untouched and was a sad space in an otherwise beautiful and prosperous village. The Provost’s Lamp had been renovated and given a new life but its surroundings had yet to be brought up to the same standard.

Before: the park was not befitting of beautiful Bridge of Allan

Before: the park was not befitting of beautiful Bridge of Allan

We were approached in late 2010 to discuss the possibility of being involved in the renovation of Provost Park. As a local company based in Bridge of Allan, we were delighted to be able to provide advice and designs for the benefit of the community.

Initially, Michael and Jill Burt met with some of the Community Council to discuss the project. Jill recalls:

“It was in the middle of a cold snap in the winter of 2010 when we first met up Gavin Drummond and Liz Rankin from the Community Council. They were putting up the village Christmas tree in the park to try and add some sparkle to what was otherwise an uninspiring space. At least the thick covering of snow hid the lack of interest underneath! At the meeting Liz and Gavin discussed some of the ideas that had been considered for the space and asked if we were able to pull together some thoughts.”

The design for the new Provost's Park

The design for the new Provost’s Park

Jill explains the inspiration for the design:

“There were three main requirements which jumped out at us from the outset. Firstly, the community required a practical area where they can relax and enjoy the world going by. The space needed to be usable by everyone in the community whether that’s families, couples or elderly so path widths and surfaces were important. Plentiful seating was clearly important too. Secondly, the area had to look good. The Friends of Bridge of Allan, who look after many of Bridge of Allan’s public gardens, carry out fantastic work in the community and Provost’s Park has been a contentious issue for some time. We were keen to design a space that the community could all be proud of and be happy to use. It’s a great space, right in the middle of the village so it needed to have the “wow factor” and be fitting of its focal point in such an attractive village. Lastly, we were keen to reflect the Victorian inspiration which surrounds the park and the spa village and design a garden which would be appropriate for the space.

Gazebo in Provost's Park, Bridge of Allan

The gazebo makes a wonderful focal point

“The main focal point for the design is a stunning, cast iron gazebo, situated in the centre of the formal gardens. Victorians loved symmetry and topiary so we made sure these were key features of the space. Vintage style bricks edge wide pathways suitable for all members of the community. Decorative metal screens surround the toilet block providing a nicer backdrop to the gardens and include details inspired by the village itself. In the corner closest to the toilets, an ecclesiastical garden has been created, reflecting the park once being the site of a church. Liz managed to obtain beautiful pew benches from one of the village churches which sit in this area looking onto a centre bed of perfumed plants. The central focal point of this area is the existing stone fountain.

The wall which runs the length of Provost Park will boast new interpretation boards highlighting some of the key features and historical information about Bridge of Allan. To the front of the park, a grassy area has been included, allowing space to sit out and relax and watch the world passing by.

Provost's Park, Bridge of Allan

The ecclesiastical garden and the new screens

The planting is a mixture of formal topiary as well as smaller shrubs, bedding plants and bulbs. The gardens have been kept fairly low maintenance to reduce pressure on the Friends of Bridge of Allan, who have taken over responsibility for the upkeep of the garden.It’s been a delight to work with Gavin, Liz and the team and we are honoured to have been asked to be involved in such an important project and to be able to give something back to the community. We have already, like other local residents and visitors been using and enjoying the space and it’s lovely to have this area in the heart of the village.”

View down onto the new Provost's Park, Bridge of Allan

View down onto the new Provost’s Park

The official opening will take place on Sunday 28th September 2014 from 3pm. The official opening will be undertaken by Gavin Drummond and our very own Lulu Burt. There will be music from Beaconhurst School and dancers from Dance Connections. Malcolm Allan will be giving a short talk on the Park and there will be refreshments, a slideshow and a performance by Dance Connections in the Parish Church afterwards. All are very welcome and we hope you can join us to celebrate this wonderful project.

Lulu preparing to open the new Provost's Park, Bridge of Allan

Lulu preparing to open the new Provost’s Park

You can read more about Provost’s Park and our other garden transformations on our website.

Best wishes,

All at Vialii