My first visit to a topiary garden was this past weekend in Columbus. Before we arrived I had anticipated shrubs shaped into unicorns and teddy bears with hopes that Edward Scissorhands would be the groundskeeper. This wasn’t the case. If anything the only thing that reminded me of Tim Burton was how creepy the place felt. In many photographic depictions the practice of pruning plants into shapes seems whimsical and cute. In the case of the Columbus Topiary Park, many of the plants are shaped into people, so from the distance it reminded me of a funeral. The weather didn’t help its case; it was dreary which highlighted the melancholy.
We walked around the shapes trying to understand why they chose to make so many of them people. The park seemed to be in a minor state of disarray, a few of the shrubs had died back which left training bars exposed. We finally made it to the other side of topiary land, where we discovered the sign telling that this garden is a re-creation of George Seurat’s painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grand Jatte. Once we knew that, the topiaries didn’t look as scary, and the art piece as a whole came together.
The Columbus Topiary Park began in 1987 when James and Elaine Mason, a city Parks and Recreation art teacher and his wife, had the idea to re-create a painting out of plants. They imagined a place where visitors could walk around and feel as though they were a part of art at two different degrees, the painting, and the art of the garden itself. It did feel like that. Part of the reason we had such a strange feeling towards the park in the beginning was because we were in the middle of something that felt like we were missing the big picture. From where the park is supposed to be viewed it is lovely, and fits amongst its background perfectly.
By the time we made it to the Chadwick Arboretum at Ohio State University, the clouds had broken, and it was a beautiful day. Upon entering the Lane Avenue Garden we were greeted by many different witch hazels, most in bloom. I was thrilled that I had previously learned about them and knew exactly what I was looking at, with the help from a few labels. The eastern United States native, Hamamelis vernalis was in full bloom with flowers a subtle orange color. H. virginiana, another native, bared fruit and remnants of flowers that had bloomed the previous fall. There were also many Hamamelis x intermedia varieties, hybrids of H. japonica and H. mollis, which were striking and showcased many different colors. I was happy to see both of these native species for the first time, although my fellow garden visitors were more impressed with the hybrids.
Whenever I visit a garden with other people, I tend to rush past parts, because I spend time photographing the plants and then need to catch back up with the group. There were areas I didn’t investigate, although I was impressed with all the arboretum had to offer visitors in March. The witch hazels dappled the garden along with some snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) giving the garden some late winter color. The only other bloomers were a small patch of hellebore (Helleborus sp.), a pretty decent show on the third day of March.
I’m sure the Arboretum is at its peak in the late spring and summer, they have a large collection of hostas, as well as many rhododendrons, and other blooming trees. I’m afraid we didn’t make it past the Lane Avenue Garden, and I would be interested to see what the other parts of the Arboretum have to offer. The website for the Chadwick Arboretum is extremely informative, and should be used as a tool before planning your trip, something I waited to do until afterwards.