How To Make Cube Topiary

Cubed Hedges at Warwickshire Event Centre

I remember when I decided to make a cube topiary; it seemed quite daunting despite its seemingly simplicity. Now that it’s done, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned with you, so you can be a square in all the right ways.

Shape a topiary cube by trimming the top of the plant with shears to get big clean cuts. If you are trimming several plants at once, use string tied to canes at a measured height to get a level. Take your time and step back frequently to check the overall effect. Then move to the sides, using the same technique to get the edges in line.

That’s the technique in a nutshell, but there’s much that I want to share about the topic, so let’s carry on for a bit.

What Tools Do I Need For Topiary?

Cube topiary is enjoyable straight-forward, you don’t need a lot of tools which is another reason why it’s an ideal project for the beginner topiary artist. 

Basic topiary tools will do the job; just ensure that you have a pair of long or medium shears available and a pair of secateurs. Always wear safety goggles and invest in good quality gardening gloves.

You may want to invest in a frame to make it easier, but as this is a simple shape to create, it is somewhat of an unnecessary expense. If you begin moving into more complex shapes like arches and pyramids, you may want to make templates from card, but at this stage a few canes and a reel of garden twine will be sufficient to plan your perspectives.

What Plant Is Best For Topiary? 

The best hedging plant for any topiary is the humble boxwood. It is hardy and if you make a mistake, it will grow back quickly.  Its low cost and relatively compact size makes it a popular choice for creating cube, ball or other shaped topiary.

I’ve got a guide to good hedge plants, but when you’re tending towards topiary, dense foliage and hardiness are two key factors to look out for – box is a natural choice in these areas.

Topiary made made from cube topiary
This maze is formed of rows of plants trimmed into cubes

The Method

Curiously it’s arguably harder to cut a cube topiary than it is with more unusual shapes as the need for neatness and straight sides is paramount. As daft as it sounds, using a ruler really is the easiest way to get a sense of direction. Depending on how well established your hedge is, you can choose the dimensions of your cube. If you’re unclear on when to trim your hedges, I’ve got that covered but if the hedge is less than two years old, you are advised to give the plant time to establish a healthy root system before you start coercing its contours.

It’s always best to start by trimming the top of the topiary, as that will be the most impactful edge. You will be able to do a lot of the big trims using your eyes and hands as guides; just take your time and if needs be, lay a piece of paper on the surface to see the gradients you’re making. If you are intent on true flatness, you can use a spirit level to truly understand the balance of your bushes.

However as a starting point, if you want to ensure a consistent level across several plants or a large surface area, using a couple of canes with a taut piece of string will give you the guide line you need to stick with straightness. Careful measuring of your string heights on your canes will save you a lot of correction once you get going, so take the time at the start to save it later on.

Once you’re satisfied with the top you can move on to the sides. You can use the same principles to get the shape you want, and if you are working over long distances, the strings will come in useful here as well.

If you are determined to have a square cube throughout the season, then cut straight and true and use your strings and spirit levels to make sure your sides are where they need to be. You will inevitably need to trim the plants a couple of times over the summer, depending on your intention, however it’s important to treat your topiary with tenderness so don’t get too caught up in the close cutting.

If your philosophy is a bit more relaxed, it’s worth noting that the top half of your plant will grow faster than the bottom – it’s closer to the sun and will grow to make the most of it. Therefore a slight tapering of your cubes, with a thicker bottom than top, will lead to a better square shape over the course of the summer.

Read our guide for more tips on how to trim your hedges.

Ball and Cube Topiary in combination at Canons Ashby, National Trust.
Cube and Ball Topiary in combination at Canons Ashby, National Trust

Being Creative

This is where the fun begins! Mastering the basic cube format and being comfortable with your ability to square up your shrubs is the first part of the path to privet perfection.

Most topiary formats can be produced by combining ball and cube topiary forms in various combinations. If you study other examples you will begin to break those more complex constructions down into their component shapes, and from there you can begin to apply your understanding and recreate them in your garden.

Don’t forget to check out my guide to ball topiary here!

Don’t be afraid to try working new arrangements of these shapes to see what happens. If you lose control, or the end result isn’t what you expected, you can leave the plant to grow out for a year and begin again. As long as you are mindful not to disrupt the internal skeleton of the plant, it will recover from your efforts in good time and may even grow back thicker than before.

The best designs are often the simplest and you can achieve a lot by repeating simple shapes in sequences. You needn’t over complicate your borders; any tidy topiary will add a respectful presence to your property and be pleasant to passers-by.

Domestic Topiary in Ashorne, Warwickshire
Domestic Topiary in Ashorne, Warwickshire

So there you have it! My simple guide to cube topiary!

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Mr X

I'm Jamie and I started TrimHedge to learn about hedge trimming and topiary and share my findings with you. I enjoy the sight of well formed foliage and enjoy helping you keep your hedges in good shape and your borders in order. To find out more about me, visit my About Page.

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