One of the most striking images to emerge from the recent round of couture shows in Paris, was the striking topiary catwalk created by Martin Wirtz, son of the distinguished Belgian landscape architect Jacques Wirtz for Raf Simons's Dior show. Simons was inspired by passages in Christian Dior's biography which describe the summer break he spent in Puglia, in particular his love of the countryside.
The practice of training live perennial plants by clipping the foliage and twigs of trees, shrubs and subshrubs to develop and maintain clearly defined shapes can be traced back to Roman times. The word topiary derives from the Latin word for an ornamental landscape gardener, topiarius, a creator of topia or "places", a Greek word that Romans also applied to fictive indoor landscapes executed in fresco.
"The most beautiful topiary accentuates the tree's natural form rather than distorting it"
Since its European revival in the 16th century, topiary has been seen on the parterres and terraces of gardens of the European elite, as well as in simple cottage gardens. Traditional topiary forms use foliage pruned and trained into geometric shapes such as balls or cubes, obelisks, pyramids, cones, or tapering spirals. Representational forms depicting people, animals, the YSL logo and man-made objects have also been popular.
Some of the most notable examples can be found in France. Versailles boasts glorious gardens, and interestingly, featured as the backdrop of Inez & Vinoodh's S/S13 Secret Garden film for Dior, filmed just before Raf Simons arrived at the house. There is also the wonderful Gardens of Marqueyssac, profiled in our recent favourite parks feature. Elsewhere, the topiary in Maryland's Ladew Topiary Gardens are featured in 15 different "garden rooms" created by self-taught gardener Harvey S. Ladew.
To celebrate the horticultural moment, we showcase a topiary photographic series by British photographer Nicholas Seaton taken at Levens Hall, a garden with a long tradition of topiary, in the Lake District. "I had been taking polaroids of dead and dying flowers, their final colours and forms. I wanted to approach the topiary in the same way, emphasising their silhouette and colour", explains Seaton. "The most beautiful topiary accentuates the tree's natural form rather than distorting it. But maybe that's more opinion than fact."
Text by Laura Bradley