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From the wonderfully whimsical world of sculpted animals to carefully carved geometric designs, topiary is a fascinating art form that utilizes meticulous landscape design to shape trees and shrubs into distinct shapes. Achieving the desired shape often takes months of training branches with wires and ongoing maintenance to keep everything trim and perfect. Check out the impressive results in these 11 fascinating topiary gardens around the world.
Marqueyssac (Dordogne, France)
Instead of the symmetrical shapes that you might expect to find in a topiary garden, the gardens of Marqueyssac feature more than 150,000 boxwoods trimmed into undulating curves and rolls, designed to imitate sheep grazing among the hills of the surrounding Dordogne countryside in southwest France. The garden began to take shape in 1861, when a man named Julian de Cerval inherited the property and spent 30 years on his passion project. After falling into neglect and then undergoing an extensive restoration, Marqueyssac reopened to the public in 1997. The 19th-century château and the surrounding gardens are now a National Historical Monument of France.
Levens Hall (Cumbria, England)
The world’s oldest topiary garden can be found in North West England, within the grounds of an Elizabethan mansion called Levens Hall. The property itself dates back even further to the 12th century, when the pele tower — a type of defensive structure common to the area — was built on the site. It wasn’t until the 1690s that M. Guillaume Beaumont, a former gardener to King James II and designer of several areas within Hampton Court, laid out the 10-acre garden. He designed the elaborate shapes so that anyone looking out from the house could enjoy them. Much of the original design has been maintained in the three centuries since. In May 2021, the inaugural World Topiary Day was held at Levens Hall to celebrate the art form.
Topiary Park (Columbus, Ohio)
Fans of French artist Georges Seurat will instantly recognize the central inspiration for this garden. His Pointillist masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte has been painstakingly recreated in plant form and is the highlight of this seven-acre park in downtown Columbus. The brainchild of Columbus sculptor James T. Mason, it is the world’s only topiary version of a painting. The work includes 54 people, eight boats, and several animals, all sculpted from yew plants. If you stand at just the right angle, the original painting comes to life before your eyes.
Ganna Walska Lotusland (Montecito, California)
Polish opera singer Ganna Walska dreamt up the 37-acre Lotusland, which is often ranked among the world’s best gardens for its varied selection of exotic plants. Walska bought the estate outside of Santa Barbara in 1941 and spent the rest of her life creating Lotusland. After her death, it opened to the public as a botanical garden in 1993. The property is sectioned into a number of themed gardens, including Japanese and Australian gardens as well as those devoted to aloes, cacti, and more. Taking center stage is a topiary garden, which features a working clock, measuring 25 feet in diameter, bordered by succulents and the zodiac signs. Around this are 26 figures — a gorilla, a peacock, a camel, and various other animals and chess pieces. Walska referred to them as her horticultural zoo.
Ladew Gardens (Monkton, Maryland)
Ever wondered what a topiary version of Winston Churchill’s hat and his famous victory sign would look like? Head to Maryland’s Ladew Gardens in northern Baltimore County to find out. In addition to the usual sculpted geometric shapes, Ladew also features unusual designs like the Churchill creation. Created by topiary enthusiast Harvey Ladew in the 1930s and opened to the public in 1971, the 22-acre gardens feature a butterfly on a flower, a heart and arrow, and seahorses, among other creations. Upon arrival, visitors are greeted by a life-size topiary hunt scene. Afterward, they can explore the themed garden rooms on a tour of the 18th-century manor house before indulging in afternoon tea.
Villandry (Loire, France)
Among the many estates in France’s Loire Valley, Château Villandry stands out for its magnificently manicured gardens. Villandry was one of the last castles to be built during the Renaissance and, unusually, was built not for royalty but for the Minister of Finance, Jean Le Breton. Carefully involved in every aspect of the architecture and construction, Le Breton was guided by one main principle: symmetry. Over time, the elegant gardens lost their character, but they were carefully restored in the early 20th century by medical researcher Joachim Carvallo, who purchased the estate. Once a year, the current gardening team hand-prunes 162 yews into cubes, topped with three crowns and a cone. The topiaries stand out among the elaborate hedgerow mazes and the more practical kitchen gardens.
Green Animals Topiary Garden (Portsmouth, Rhode Island)
At the whimsical end of the topiary spectrum, Rhode Island’s Green Animals Topiary Garden offers a charming array of animal figures. The oldest topiary garden in the United States, the estate was bought by industrialist Thomas Brayton in 1872. The estate’s superintendent, gardener Joseph Carreiro, and later his son-in-law, George Mendonca, were responsible for molding 80 boxwoods and yews into animals, birds, and other geometric shapes. Brayton’s daughter Alice later named the estate after their craftwork. After Alice died in 1972, she left the estate to the Newport County Preservation Society to allow the public to enjoy it. In addition to bears, giraffes, and elephants, visitors can view orchards, vegetable gardens, and the original Victorian house.
Drummond Gardens (Perthshire, Scotland)
For another formal Renaissance-style garden, look no further than central Scotland’s Drummond Castle. The castle was built in the 15th century, but new owners in the early 17th century carried out major renovations, both to the buildings and the surrounding gardens. These were further expanded in 1890 when the 1st Earl of Ancaster undertook restoration work. One of the earliest gardeners here was John Reid, author of the first Scottish book of gardening (published in 1683). The garden combines French and Italian influences, with terraces and fountains accompanying long avenues of pruned trees.
Atlanta Botanical Garden (Atlanta, Georgia)
The Atlanta Botanical Gardens cover more than 30 acres of orchids, roses, woodlands, edibles, perennials, and much more. There is one particular topiary, however, that makes it worthy of inclusion on this list. Originally created as part of the 2013-2014 “Imaginary Worlds” exhibition at the gardens, the Earth Goddess is now a permanent fixture. The 25 foot-tall goddess comprises more than 18,000 individual plants, and a team works daily to maintain the stunning piece. During the winter holiday season, she is adorned with thousands of twinkling lights to become the Ice Goddess.
Eyrignac Gardens (Périgord, France)
The gardens at Eyrignac are an open-air museum dedicated to the art of topiary, the heart of a 500-acre estate in southwest France that dates to the 17th century. Three hundred yews, boxwoods, and cypresses have been shaped into geometric shapes and swirls, and because the plants are evergreens, the gardens look radiant at any time of year. The designs of the plants partner well with the garden’s other key feature: water. With seven springs and a number of fountains and ornamental lakes, water and plant life combine to create a true work of natural art. The waters also allow for natural irrigation. In 2004, Eyrignac received the Jardins Remarquables (“Outstanding Gardens”) distinction from the French Ministry of Culture.
Tulcán Municipal Cemetery (Tulcán, Ecuador)
A municipal cemetery might be the last place you would expect to find an eye-catching topiary garden, but that is exactly what you will encounter in the Ecuadorian city of Tulcán, located near the Colombian border. Cemetery gardener Josè Maria Azael Franco spent 50 years trimming the rows of cypress trees into Incan symbols, angels, and animal shapes. When he passed away, his sons took over the upkeep of the 100 designs in the three-acre graveyard. Fittingly, Franco is buried beneath his life’s work.