Topiary in all its forms is a fantastic way to introduce form and structure in the garden. Topiary suits all gardens whether small or large, modern or traditional and for the most wonderful inspiration Levens Hall in Kendal, Cumbria is the place to visit. The topiary on display here was planted and trained in 1690 and luckily survived the fashion for creating garden landscapes. Levens has the oldest and largest topiary garden in the world and the quality of the plants is outstanding. It is like a fantasy landscape, very Alice in Wonderland, and fills you with childlike glee as you wander in, around and through the majestic shapes. The size and age of some of the yew and beech is mind boggling and the level of maintenance is superb; there is a lot of serious, hard work to produce such a stunning garden, however the humour and joy in the garden makes it an extremely fun place to visit.

The garden demonstrates the use of vistas and focal points with numerous avenues flanked by high hedges, or topiary shapes leading to benches, urns or statues. The topiary is used to frame views in the garden and the strong shapes created by the tightly clipped forms draw you around the space.

The design ideas are on a grand scale but these ideas still work in smaller spaces. Simple clipped hedges can create garden rooms with openings through to reveal beautiful and contrasting areas. The simple use of a pair of clipped box balls at the start of a pathway, immediately makes the way through much more enticing. Clipped topiary positioned by a doorway frames the entrance and a neatly trimmed standard tree is a simple way to include a focal point at the end of a path.

Evergreen topiary forms provide colour and structure through the winter when everything else is looking somewhat unkempt and are just as lovely when dusted with snow. Box and yew are the traditional topiary favourites and give a neat and elegant finish. Beech and hornbeam, although deciduous, retain their rust coloured dead foliage through the winter which is a burst of colour in an otherwise drab landscape. Ideal as hedges, these can also be clipped in to a myriad of shapes which add colour and texture amongst the evergreen topiary.

Topiary is a tried and tested garden design element which can be as serious or humorous as the garden maker prefers, but it is an element that is most definitely worth including.