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Living in Charleston, you can find the prettiest inspiration for your spring planters, gardens, and window boxes. It’s that time of year where everything is starting to bloom and this city really shines. I love taking walks through downtown to get inspired for my own outdoor spaces. The last few years, I’ve really grown to love incorporating Eugenia and Wax Leaf Privet topiaries into my outdoor designs.
Topiaries are shrubs or trees that have been clipped into ornamental and decorative shapes. They don’t grow like this naturally, but rather have to be trimmed regularly to keep up their appearance. I love this style because it reminds me of a gorgeous European countryside or classic Southern home (perfect for Charleston!).
Keep reading to learn all about how to pick out the perfect plants for your own topiaries, what to pair them with, and where to use them, as well as some amazing faux topiaries if your green thumb is just a bit lacking!
Popular Topiary Plants
Although you can use several types of plants to create your own unique topiary, the most commonly used options are holly, laurel, boxwood, and privet. These varieties all have small leaves and dense foliage, making them perfect for shaping into more intricate designs. I used both Wax Leaf Privet and Eugenia for my own topiaries.
Wax Leaf Privet and Eugenia Comparison
I have Wax Leaf Privet on my front porch and while I love it, it is a bit of a splurge. I purchased it at a local garden center called Abide-A-While, so check your local nurseries. I wanted something a big more cost-effective for our topiaries flanking the garage doors, so I went with Eugenia instead of Wax Leaf Privet. Another selling point of Eugenia, besides its price, is it can typically be purchased at Lowe’s or Home Depot (if you’re in the right USDA plant hardiness zone).
Wax leaf Privet Plant
Ligustrum japinoicum is part of the Ligustrum family and usually referred to as Wax Leaf Privet. It is a common plant grown in the south. You’ll see it used as a privacy hedge, in landscaping, and now it’s popular grown in tree forms and topiaries. Wax Leaf Privet has beautiful fragrant white flowers in late spring and early summer. These are fast growing bushes, which can be a challenge as a topiary because they need constant pruning.
Wax Leaf Privet are fairly easy plants that are low maintenance aside from pruning for shape. These love zones 8-10, well drained soil, and do well in part-shade and full sun. They are drought tolerant and really just a dreamy plant to have! The only downside, they are more expensive when buying in tree or topiary form. They also have larger leaves and more of a “bushy” appearance.
Foliage on Ligustrum vs. Eugenia
You’ll notice the main difference for the leaves on Wax Leaf Privet and Eugenia topiaries are the shapes and colors of the leaves. Wax Leaf Privet has more of a pointy, waxy leaf with a glassier and darker appearance. Eugenia have smaller and more narrow leaves with hints of red.
For budget-friendly topiaries, I love Eugenia, which is a genus of the myrtle species. It can also be found under the name ‘brush cherry.’ They’re considered a tropical shrub and are great for our coastal climate. Eugenia are mostly evergreen with aromatic, glossy leaves that produce small, creamy white flowers in the spring and red berries in the fall (birds love these!).
They’re very low maintenance and have super dense foliage that is quick growing – perfect for topiaries! They do best in full sun to part shade and thrive from Zone 9B southward. It’s best to place the plant indoors or in a greenhouse during the winter months, as they don’t like a big change in temperature.
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Eugenia isn’t particular when it comes to soil type, but shouldn’t be left in standing water, so make sure you have good drainage wherever you plant them. They can be fertilized in spring, summer, and fall with and it’s best to cover the bases in mulch to conserve water and protect the roots. If you plan to use them as topiaries, you can trim them up to six times a year to maintain a manicured appearance. If left alone, these plants can grow 12 to 20 feet tall, so they make for an excellent privacy hedge as well.
What to Plant with Topiaries
Looking for companion plants with topiaries? A lot depends on the location of your planters, like if they’re on a sunny or shady porch. Or if they’re next to garage doors with afternoon shade like our Eugenia topiaries. Here is a list of the plants I currently have in both the Wax Leaf Privet and Eugenia topiary planters. Love plants? Read more about my favorite plants for your Southern landscaping and window boxes.
- Diamond Frost
- Variegated Caladium
- Wire Vine
- English Ivy
- Asparagus Fern
- White Vinca
Where to Use Topiaries
Topiaries are so versatile and can be used almost anywhere in your home – no, seriously! Whether you prefer real or fake, you can incorporate this classic design into so many spaces effortlessly. At our house, we have ligustrum topiaries flanking the front door on our porch and Eugenia topiaries on either side of our garage. I love the clean, classic look that these give the exterior of our home, plus it adds a touch of timeless Southern elegance that I always strive for. I also love pairing my topiaries with other complementary plants to add some interest to my pots.
While I love keeping my topiaries in pots so that they can easily be moved around, they can also be used in landscape design. In downtown Charleston, I frequently see boxwood used for hedge gardens mixed with other flowering plants since they’re so low maintenance and easy to shape. It creates a beautiful landscape that reminds me of a formal, European-style garden. There are so many options when it comes to topiaries in landscape design, but cube, sphere, cone, and spiral shapes are most common for larger outdoor topiaries and can add some structure and focus to a more organic and free-flowing garden design.
If you prefer to stick to house plants, it’s easy to incorporate topiaries into your interior design. The pop of green really livens up any room and can immediately freshen up a space. I personally love using mini topiaries (real or faux) indoors on bookshelves, console tables, dressers, or sideboards.
As topiaries have become more popular in recent years with the return of more traditional design, it’s been easier to find great faux options for those of you that prefer to keep your gardening to a minimum or prefer a lower maintenance option. I’ve done my fair share of research and have rounded up my favorite faux topiaries below. Take a look and let me know which one is your favorite!
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Are you team topiary or no? I absolutely love mine and hope to add some more to our backyard space this year. They bring an elegant and timeless design and I love their clean lines and European flair. Let me know your thoughts below and stay tuned for more gardening and landscaping ideas this spring!