For centuries gardeners have been clipping and shaping shrubs as a way of defining areas of their property. And not only for aesthetic reasons. After all, a beautiful wall of greenery is less expensive to construct than a wall of brick or stone. Leaving aside fussy topiaries of cute animals, the geometric forms that shearing can produce—rectangular walls, boxy columns, pointed cones—turn shrubs into green architecture, enabling them to create boundaries, establish sight lines, direct traffic, and highlight focal points in the landscape.
The garden shown here sits behind a historic English-style Arts and Crafts home in Pasadena, California, its formal structure designed to complement the strong lines of the house. Though the garden is impressive, don't be intimidated. There are lessons you can learn from its use of formal hedging and clipped shrubs to apply to virtually any yard or garden, large or small.