The Accidental Gardener: The Golden Age of Topiary
Dear Garden Devotees,
As a self-proclaimed, certifiable, historical garden connoisseur, I was fascinated to learn what actually led to the decline of the Roman Empire (which is something that’s been keeping me up at night). It appears that it was the fault of the topiary, brought about by ancient gardeners who sallied forth with shears and scissors in search of the closest yew.
Topiary is the pruning and training of live plants into shapes. It comes from the Latin term “topiarius” which translates into “pertaining to ornamental gardening.”
The Romans, who were fine architects and builders, transferred their architectural skills into the garden by means of the topiary, only with more fantastical implementation. It was a Roman by the name of Cnaeus Matius who introduced Julius Caesar to his fanciful courtyard pruning habits, thereby becoming a court favorite among the sovereigns. Matius set to work, propagating his favorite method of gardening on a galactic scale. Politics being what they were, it wasn’t long before Rome, Mistress of the World, was awash in meticulously clipped hedges, animal-shaped shrubs, spiral trees, tonsil evergreens, geometrical forms, obelisks, and serpentine columns. (The maintenance alone would lead to anyone’s demise.) And while it took 500 years, all this manic clipping and one-upmanship among the Caesars undoubtedly led to the Fall of the Roman Empire.
Pictured: topiaries at Compton Wynyates, a country estate in Warwickshire, England. The Compton family has been the resident of record since the year 1204.