Robinia – Pruning A Beautiful Tree For Small Gardens

Robinia is often forgotten – by me, actually! – when thinking of plants for topiary.

But when I work on it I do love it, brittle and soft as the wood is if you climb into it. But that danger of snapping a branch with a heavy step and falling out of the tree aside, I love it for the dappled light it allows into the garden space.

Robinia Near The Sea

Below is a Robinia I have gently clipped over the last few years, down near Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. The tree was large when I arrived, although it is in scale with the garden, but the client needed it thinned, the branches edited down, to keep the garden private from the neighbours yet allow the warmth of the sunshine to hit the patio.

My favourite kind of job, where you can prune a plant but make it look barely pruned, natural.. and this is where Robinia is such a strong choice, because it has a natural character of openness, of branching wide and layering stem upon stem.

topiary Robinia

The best time to clip them is in April, after they have finished flowering. As you can see, this photo was taken by the client in February of this year, as the snow and ice had settled on the street.

Although the flower is a harsh yellow, almost like the ever-popular (why?) Forsythia, it has a much softer leaf than that shrub, so I prefer Robinia as a specimen in the garden.

I’m not sure it works in a country garden (why not prove me wrong and give it a go?) but in a modern landscape, or city context, or here by the sea, I think it looks a burst of joy for early in the year.

Robinia As Topiary

Often I see Robinia used as a standard ‘lollipop’ topiary, a bare, straight stem with a blob at the top about 6 or 8 feet high. This looks fine (and is of course useful for screening above a fence) but in my head I see Robinia the way I look at an Acer…. as a small tree or large shrub that needs to slowly grow up… and out… and fall back down.

As if giving a gentle shrug to the horizon.

So when deciding on a topiary, look at the inherent nature of the plant and use its strength. Drawing out what it does best is a simple recipe for success.

There are more photos of some topiary I clipped recently that ended up under snow and ice here.

Or if you need help with your topiary (Robinia or otherwise) check what else I do on the topiary page.


Phillyrea From 1682

Worlidge Phillyrea

Phillyrea is one of my favourite plants for topiary. I have been using it for quite a few years as a specimen shrub, mostly due to the fact it clips well and has a tough habit – all good characteristics for a topiary plant. It also has a  reputation for being an excellent nectar source for bees… Read more about Phillyrea here. Mentioning this to Malcolm Thicke, a market garden historian and writer, he sent me a some photos of topiary and phillyrea mentioned by John Worlidge in Systema Horticulturae from 1682…. incredible! He also mentioned to me that in …



Kites And Strings Podcast – Topiary In The Garden

kites and strings podcast

Kites and Strings is a podcast about creativity, hosted by US-based Stephen Ploum and Catherine Chinnock. Back in March they asked me to come onto their podcast and talk about topiary, my past writing plays, the stand-up I did and how creativity can fit into your life. The Kites and Strings podcast was great fun and Stephen and Catherine are fantastic hosts. Listening back today I am surprised by some of the ideas I talked about (somehow I even started to describe a future where I run a ‘School of Creativity’ by the sea…. where did that come from?!) but it …



Topiary Provocation Spring 2021

organic topiary snow

Topiary Provocation? What is this about? Topiary Provocation, Darren Lerigo, Spring 2021 This spring of 2021 I invited a number of garden designers to a series of meetings via Zoom, to discuss how topiary can be used effectively in modern gardens. I wanted to discover how both clients and designers felt about topiary, whether it was a part of the garden that got as much thought as, say, the choice of stone for a patio…. and if certain plants and shapes tended to trend in designs or if it truly was a mish-mash of different topiary styles. The provocation and talks …