I hadn’t heard of Mike “Gibby-Siz” Gibson (short for scissor hands) until recently. But among those in the know, he’s been causing a sensation. Adept at clipping with both hands, the self-taught topiary artist not only boasts multiple awards but is also a regular on HGTV’s “Clipped.” And his playful, cutting-edge approach has made him one of the most sought-after topiary artists of the moment.
Not your garden-variety topiary, Gibson’s creations are creative and fun while exhibiting a high level of technical skill. Ranging from representational to purely abstract, they invite conversation. Gibson believes this same creative energy can contribute to man’s overall well-being. Or, as he likes to say,
“The more topiary in any given space, the more peaceful it becomes.”
Below, Gibson provides helpful tools and tricks of the trade to get you started on your own topiary garden.
So what is topiary? Simply put, it’s the art of sculpting and pruning trees and shrubs into shapes. Most any tree or shrub will suit, although typical subjects for topiary are evergreens as they remain a permanent feature throughout the seasons. Gibson believes topiary not only beautifies a property, but it also gives its creators a sense of confidence and freedom.
In fact, topiary is one of the best things you can do for the health of a plant. It lets in more air and sunlight, which encourages growth from the inside, making trees and shrubs more bushy and full. It’s a win-win situation.
“It’s almost as if they’re crying out ‘Cut me, please!’” says Gibson.
TOPIARY DESIGN BASICS
Before beginning a topiary project, Gibson always starts with a sketch. And his solid grasp of geometry is crucial to this endeavor. By understanding the different shapes and spirals (the latter of which appear in nature in all plants), he is able to visualize new shapes and angles which he then applies to his work. He says,
“See the shape and visualize it first before you start clipping. Be confident in your vision. Take your time and allow the design to develop. There’s no mistake in topiary. It will always grow back if you don’t like it.”
Gibson’s whimsical take on a high school logo
To assist in making shapes, Gibson will often use tomato or Velcro tape to bunch and tie different branches together. (See photo below). Or, he will use wire to bend branches into forms. You can do this by attaching a wire to a branch and then pulling it down to another to create shapes.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Gibson purchases his tools from the Japanese company Niwaki (Japanese for ‘highly sculpting trees”.). He sharpens them every day before beginning a project. Following are some of his favorites and how and when he uses them.
“Think of these like extra appendages,” Gibson says. He prefers Niwaki clippers. Easy-to-use with a single spring, they’re like mini samurai swords.
For tough, sticky stems and branches, Gibson switches to bypass pruners. His three favorites are Niwaki’s GR Pro Clippers, Tobisho Topiary Clippers and GR Pro Secateurs. To prevent muscle fatigue, he advises always cutting with the blade up.
For branches of 1” or more, he switches to Niwaki Loppers. Loppers allow better balance and more control when pruning larger trees and shrubs. To minimize movement, Gibson recommends holding onto the tool with a firm grip and using only one arm/hand to cut while using the other to stabilize.
Topiary Sheers/Hedge Trimmers
Finally, on really big plants Gibson employs topiary sheers. And for hedge trimming he uses electric ones with zero emissions.
FIVE TOPIARY FAVORITES
Ready to give topiary a try? Following are five of Gibson’s favorite plants to prune and why.
Emerald Green Arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis
Emerald Green Arborvitae features rich, green foliage and a narrow, pyramidal form that makes it a perfect candidate for topiary. It keeps its dark green color all year long and can tolerate both hot and cold temperatures.
Alberta Spruce, Picea glauca
Wonderfully dense and slow-growing, Alberta spruce is naturally pyramidal. As a specimen plant, it needs little pruning.
Golden Cypress, Chamacyparis pisifera
A very forgiving plant, golden cypress is perfect for beginners who want to try their hand at topiary. It responds well to frequent pruning by pushing flushes of golden new growth.
Golden Cypress serves as a great medium for carving family initials, names of schools and professions and other shapes as well as the traditional spiral.
Yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria
Gibson says you can sculpt Yaupon hollies like stone. Dense and compact, they’re also far less disease-prone than boxwood.
Yew is the most common topiary plant. It loves pruning and can be shaped into almost any shape imaginable. Naturally dense and compact, it allows the topiary artist more options.
For more information on Mike ‘Gibby-Siz’ Gibson, check out this great gallery of his work at Gibson Works.