As January 5 approaches, Downton Abbey fans on this side of the pond are eagerly awaiting a US broadcast of the British drama's fourth season. We're dusting off our tea sets and revisiting questions we were left with at last season's close. Of course, readers of this magazine may have additional questions: How high will the trellised roses have climbed? What flowers will fill the garden's herbaceous borders? Will we see any new topiary or espalier designs? The gardens are beautiful, and they are a enthralling backdrop to the drama & romance.
An overhead view of the floral clock. A brick walkway encircles the clock and continues to a restored marble fountain, where a low boxwood maze flanks the path. Photo credit: Bill Dewey
Telling time and taming wild animals takes on a whole new meaning in the whimsical Topiary Garden at Lotusland, located on a large estate in Santa Barbara, Calif.
The first topiary sculptures were trimmed in 1st century Roman villas. By the 16th century, topiary had become an emblem of European landscape design, and it was embraced by colonial American gardens of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of these Victorian-era menageries still grows today at an historic country estate in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. With its century-old living sculptures, Green Animals Garden is the oldest topiary in the United States.
A small agricultural town in Costa Rica's mountain highlands, Zacero is known for organic farming, fruit preserves, and, for the last 50 years, its topiary garden. Landscape designer Evangelisto Blanco clipped the first sculpture in 1964. Today, the gardener still maintains his cypress bush garden—a whimsical cast that includes a dinosaur, octopus, giant rabbit, airplane, dancing couple, and an oxcart (the national symbol of Costa Rica).
Photographs of La Louve, the private garden of Nicole de Vésian in Bonnieux, Provence, France. The property is currently for sale.
From the green obelisks of early Roman villas to the tidy privet mazes of medieval monasteries, topiary sculptures have evolved alongside the design of the garden. Fancifully anthropomorphic or practically geometric, there seem to be few limitations on what forms can be pruned by a topiary artist. And, it can be a way to design a landscape-specific garden—not with native plants, but with native animals.
It was a gift. Twenty-nine inches long, with a gaping mouth, red eyes, and a rough green skin wrapped over wire. At first I was thrilled, since I like garden décor: In my small plot on the banks of the Delaware River, I have tuteurs, a stone lion, various urns, and a small armillary—perfect roommates for a topiary alligator.
But this green creature was not friendly. I realized this at once, as I placed it on the dining room table. Its red eyes looked at me balefully, its jaws showing metal teeth. I quickly gave it a name, Ally, to domesticate it.
Part folk artist, though with a surrealistic bent, and part Edward Scissorhands, though without the angst, topiary creator extraordinaire Pearl Fryar is the humblest celebrity you'll ever meet, quietly plying his craft at his modest home in the unlikely location of Bishopville, South Carolina. The end result is anything but low-key. Fryar's sculpted trees populate a living wonderland that has been visited by everyone from renowned British garden expert Rosemary Verey to groups of local school children.