Gardening Articles: Health :: Garden Travel

Where Green Animals Roam (page 2 of 2)

by Shila Patel


Do green bears really hug, or did we just imagine it?

Creating the topiaries
More than 21 animal topiaries grow in several adjacent garden areas. Many of the oldest and most famous, such as the giraffe, camel, and lion, are in a formal parterre edged in meticulously trimmed boxwood (Buxus sempervirens). They were shaped from California privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium), ideally suited for the purpose because it is fast-growing and malleable. These topiaries were started in a greenhouse in 1912 and later moved to their current locations.

In the 1940s, Mendonca added a boar, an ostrich, a reindeer, and other forms, also in California privet, to another area of the garden. The most popular topiary, however, is a teddy bear made of English yew (Taxus baccata) that Mendonca created in the 1970s. It sits at the end of the topiary garden.

To create his topiaries, Mendonca first selected appropriately shaped plants, then meticulously pruned and trained the branches. He worked from memory to make the enormous lifelike animal forms, shearing carefully to remain within the imaginary lines. Because many of his topiaries are several decades old, in the interest of conservation metal supports have been discreetly positioned inside the forms to provide stability in wind and snow.

Almost all of the animal topiaries are California privet, which forms a dense thicket of erect stems that naturally reach 10 to 15 feet high. It requires regular pruning and maintenance, so Crisse Genga and her team hand shear the animals weekly. Genga stresses that frequent hand trimming is essential for keeping the lines sharp. But the grounds keepers do use power shears to maintain some of the larger privet archways.

The slow-growing yews require pruning only two or three times a year. However, yew's dense, multibranched habit is more difficult to manipulate. To retain all of the topiaries' original shapes and to avoid bare, leafless patches, Genga also needs to anticipate new growth, then train it to replace older, woody growth.

For anyone with the patience to try a topiary garden, Genga advises starting with California privet or with yew, which is not as easy to train but remains evergreen year-round. She also recommends that home gardeners use a supporting frame and monofilament line to tie and train young plants. Recently, Genga found the time to make topiary birds for her own home. Her advice for the uninitiated: "Don't slack for a minute."

Green Animals, off Cory's Lane (State Route 114) in Portsmouth, is open May 1 to October 31, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; admission is $9. For more information, call (401) 847-1000, or visit www.NewportMansions.org.

Formerly managing editor at National Gardening, Shila Patel is currently the editor of the garden channel at marthastewart.com.

Photography by Charlie Nardozzi/National Gardening Association

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