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.


Selection Of Topiary Videos To Help You Clip

Over the last two years I have been involved with a couple of projects that have ended up being recorded, then placed on Youtube or Instagram. I’m hoping they will be useful to you, so I have decided this morning to pop them together in one handy blog post so that you can bookmark the page and revisit when you need some inspiration for your topiary. See below then, a few videos about topiary I have recently been involved with… Garden Masterclass – Provocations of a Modern Topiarist Transforming Topiary Topiary Teacher Put On The Spot In the above …



Mark Zlotsky – Topiary Tango In New York

Mark Zlotsky is an artist based in New York, and today I just wanted to share his project ‘Topiary Tango’. In his introduction to the project he talks of topiary being a forgiving art, which I love and is soooooo true…..! For proof, just take a look at some projects I have made with a sharp pair of shears, a hedgetrimmer and a pruning saw. Do check out Mark Zlotsky’s project, because although his interest began by looking at topiary through the prism of architecture and the relationship of one building to another, he touches directly onto a way of …



Gardenista Interview – I Talk About Modern Topiary

Gardenista, the online magazine about gardens and design, have interviewed me about topiary. The article is called ‘Rethinking Topiary: A Garden Tradition Loosened Up’ and was published this morning. Written by the excellent garden writer Clare Coulson, I share some thoughts on using deciduous plants, how to clip (name-dropping Anne Lamott and her book on writing at one stage… oh, how I wander off subject sometimes!) and how to improve topiary by what you plant around it. Do take a look at the article in Gardenista. Or for more about my topiary work, check out the topiary page.