Justine Rushing Newman
Photos by Rachel
Today, we’re talking topiaries! I’d like to describe how we make your
experience even more enjoyable at the Memphis Zoo through the wild world of
plants! We will also give you
instructions on how to do the same at home!
Sedums in moss
As you enter the plaza of the Memphis
Zoo, you will see a line of animals decorated in English Ivy (Hedera helix) ready to greet you with
open leaves from behind the columns of the West Building on your right and the
Elephant Trunk gift shop on your left
Be sure not to miss the menagerie that includes a swan, elephant, deer,
and giraffe. Our topiaries are not
English Ivy alone-beneath the elegant syncretism of animal and plant you’ll
find attractive additions in their pots including selections like Secretia (Tradescantia pallida), Firecracker plant (Russelia
equisetiformis), Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides), and Lantana (Lantana Camara).
Leonard the Lion
English Ivy isn’t the only way to make
a topiary! At the Memphis Zoo, we are
using all sorts of succulents! These
types of plants are all the rage now, having found their way from the dessert
to beautiful wedding bouquets and aesthetic arrangements sold at your local
garden store. We’ve picked up on the
trend and as you walk towards the cathouse café, you will find Leonard the
Lion, Layla the rabbit, Melvin the giraffe, and Pokey the horse in front of
Stingray Bay covered in succulents and sedums!
Our horticultural palette is wide but includes: Stonecrop (Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'), Panda plant (Kalanchoe
tomentosa), Bean plant (Sedum rubrotinctum), Campfire plant
(Crassula capitella), and Mother Millions (Bryophyllum delagoense). We
also can’t forget our succulent sensations at the front of the lodge at Teton
Trek. They are quite beautiful in their
cone shape. Here's how you can do it:
- Find a frame: cone shaped, circular,
whimsical, or animal. Do one search on
the internet and you will find a plethora of topiary frames for sale.
- Purchase sphagnum moss: We use product from Mosser Lee at the Zoo but
you can find it in smaller amounts at Lowe’s.
Make sure it’s not peat moss but sphagnum moss.
- Soak your moss in water.
- Wring out your moss so it’s not dripping
but still damp and stuff your topiary until it’s completely full and somewhat
overflowing with moss.
- Take fishing line and wrap it around and
around and around the frame to keep the moss contained within the frame. Your project should now look more like the
topiary frame shape. This can also be a
good time to lightly water your topiary with liquid fertilizer as the moss
provides a great home for the plants to root in but no nutrients.
- Poke holes in the moss to make room for
- Take your sedums, succulents, ivy, or
other plants and plug them into the holes (check out the bottom of the University
of Illinois’ extension website on topiaries for a list of other plants that do
Get creative and choose plants that imitate the feature you’re going
for: we use Firecracker plant for Pokey’s tail at the Zoo!
- You may need to secure your plants with
floral pins. Some people even use craft
glue on the underside of the bottom leaves to keep their plants in place.
- Place your project in a sunny location
and watch it grow!
Melvin the Giraffe
To maintain your project, keep it watered
but not drenched. The plants will root
inside, but because of the lack of nutrients (mentioned earlier) supplemental
ones are needed, so it’s a good idea to feed your topiary with a liquid
fertilizer every now and then! Be sure
to bring your plants in during the winter, like we do at the Zoo. We take our animals to the greenhouse and
work on them there. I hope you enjoyed
this entry on topiaries and I hope you will make your own and come visit ours
at the Memphis Zoo!