Topiary, Knots and Parterres

Topiary, Knots and Parterres

The only book to cover the entire history of topiary, knots and parterres, from the Romans to Jacques Wirtz and Tom Stuart-Smith

Topiary, knots and parterres come in many guises, from the grand and imposing to the humble and folksy. In this book Caroline Foley − with the aid of diarists, writers, wits, designers, gardeners and garden owners − traces their story through the centuries and across the world.

Starting from the topiary of patrician Rome, she moves through the paradise gardens of Islam and the medieval hortus conclusus to the formal parterres of Renaissance Italy, the more elaborate broderies of the royal French gardens, the complicated conceits of the Tudors and the geometry of the Dutch school. She takes a wry look at the eighteenth century, when many fine formal gardens were scrapped in favour of the English landscape movement (which, in fact, was no less artificial). In the nineteenth century there was a revival of parterres filled with tender bedding plants.

Green architecture returned with the Arts and Crafts movement, and the twentieth century saw a joyful resurgence of the topiary peacock and other such conceits, the arrival of the Japanese minimalist school, the cult of the venerable sagging hedge, cloud pruning and the emergence of the cool crisp lines of modernism.  German perennial planting, juxtaposed with sharply cut linear hedges, has provided a clever solution to the modern requirements of high style, low maintenance and attention to the environment and to labour costs. Of late a new type of formality has emerged among designers and landscape architects, involving wild-looking prairie planting set off by large-scale sculptural topiary.

As Caroline Foley points out, ‘Serious or frivolous . . . topiary always has character and presence. While wonderfully impressive when it takes the form of an immaculate battlemented bastion, it has poetry and possibly even greater charm when it is overblown and blowsy with age. Either way, it will always be a win-win proposition.’

Caroline Foley is the author of twelve books, among them three bestsellers: Practical Allotment Gardening (New Holland, 2002), The Allotment Handbook  (New Holland, 2004), and Of Cabbages and Kings: The History of Allotments  (Frances Lincoln, 2014). She has been the editor of Topiarius, the pan-European journal of the European Boxwood and Topiary Society, for the past twelve years.

2018 - European Garden Book Award - Winner

“A wonderful resource and engaging work.”

Plant Talk, New York Botanical Garden

"Highly recommended for anyone interested in the fascinating history of topiary or gardening."

Library Journal

“Packed with historical detail and offers plenty of visual inspiration.”

World of Interiors Anne Swithinbank

"Beautifully written, lavishly - nay, opulently - illustrated, I'll be cross if this book doesn't win its author a prize or itself attract a distinctive award."


“A work of scholarship to be cherished”

The Irish Garden


Professional Gardener

"A refreshing look at the general history of gardens with special reference to topiary and formal parterres. Foley’s enjoyable style means that she gets her historic points over easily. A book to enjoy and learn from – and then to return to."

Historic Gardens Foundation Newsletter

"This carefully researched an entertaining book will be valuable not only to gardeners and those with an interest in garden development and history, it will also provide an excellent research book for students of horticulture and landscape. It is packed with information, diagrams and photographs and written in a lively style.

Reckless Gardener

"Demonstrates that this most ancient of traditions is alive and kicking, refreshed and reinterpreted by contemporary garden and landscape designers to look as relevant today as it was to the Romans. You will be reaching for those shears."

Sunday Times

"A magnificent hardback comprising authoritative text matched with excellent, well-researched illustrations."

The English Garden

"Topiary has a long history, exhaustively explored in this book...The illustrations are superb. Every page brings a new wonder."

House & Garden Anna Pavord
The Pimpernel Press Ltd
The Pimpernel Press Ltd
Product Format
270 x 210
Publication Date
Jun 8, 2017
Number of Pages