The medium-sized, leathery, lush green leaves of this plant create the perfect head of foliage atop a strong, sturdy stem of pale grey bark. Regular clipping enables one to maintain its symmetry and proportion for an extended period, making this one of the most popular ‘lollipops’ of them all. The variations in leaf colour of the different varieties add further options to this range of standards: Ficus m. ‘Hawaii’ has cream and grey-green variegated foliage, ‘Golden King’ has green and gold leaves while ‘Millennium’ has slightly larger green leaves with a conspicuous sheen. Like all Ficus (Fig family) they all have extremely vigorous root systems and therefore are best planted in pots and containers, especially in confined areas. They grow in sun or shade, although sun maintains a dense and compact growth habit while shade-grown plants are generally more leggy and stretched, creating an open or floppy crown. The suggested stem height for standards is 75 cm to 250 cm. They are only tolerant of very light frost so do best in warm, sub-tropical gardens.
Formal, clipped standards – often referred to as ‘lollipops’ – have made a dramatic impact on the local garden scene during the last couple of decades and there are clear indications that the trend has not yet reached its peak in terms of garden fashions. Their neat, clean-cut and distinctive shape and form, along with their varying heights, ensure that they have a unique and important function in the modern landscape. Standards are used for framing, accentuating, highlighting, defining and creating impact in both formal and informal garden designs. One of the major benefits of using standards is that they lend height to the garden without the bulk of an ordinary tree or shrub. This allows views and vistas to be maintained while adding the extra dimension of vertical height to the garden. The key success factor is to maintain the plants on an on going basis in order to retain the desirable balance and proportion of the overall design.
Here are a few practical hints and tips to help you achieve this:
* Select the correct plant for the position at the outset, taking into consideration the sun or shade factor, whether the plant is going into a pot or directly into the ground, climatic conditions, soil types and long-term availability of water.
* Ensure that the balance and proportion is correct in terms of size and height of the plant relative to the scale of the garden and the background. Remember that the length of the stem of any standard cannot be changed or altered; only the outer growth tips are clipped to maintain the shape. Standards in pots will always appear to be taller than the same plant in the ground.
* Evergreen plants with tiny to small leaves make the neatest clipped standards by virtue of the minimal visible damage caused to the foliage during the clipping procedure. Sharp, well-maintained clipping tools are essential.
* Plant standards at the correct depth into well prepared planting holes or containers. A sturdy stake that supports the stem, keeping it straight and upright, and which protrudes beyond the stem into the head of the standard, is vital. Keep the stake securely fastened in place all the time without damaging the bark of the stem.
* Regular pruning and clipping is perhaps the most important part of the on going maintenance programme. The shorter the length of growth that is removed with each successive clipping, the better.
* Regular, on going fertilising and watering goes without saying. The mark of a good ‘lollipop’ specimen is one that is densely clothed with lush, healthy foliage all the time and yet maintains a neat, tidy shape with clearly defined outlines.
(Indian laurel or Curtain fig)
These are the most popular of all the topiary standards or ‘lollipops’ used in local, frost-free gardens. They form strong, stout, clean stems with a lush head of foliage that can be clipped continuously to form a perfect sphere. Available in green (F. microcarpa), cream variegated (F.m. ‘Hawaii’), and golden variegated (F. ‘Golden King’) foliage forms. Ideally they should be grown in deep pots or containers to afford the vigorous root system space to grow and develop. This is the perfect plant for creating ‘matching pairs’ on either side of doorways, footpaths and staircases.