by Art Chantry:
it’s time to talk about topiary. i grew up HATING topiary. it was stupid and silly and vaguley seemed like vegetable cruelty. i always associated it with the epitome of snobbish wasteful extravagance – “if you got it – flaunt it!” only people with enormous amounts of money to flush away had topiary, right? then stephen king’s “the shining” came along and made it SCARY (not the movie – which changed the topiary into a HEDGEmaze. read the book – much scarier.)
at one point in my life, i owned a house that the original owners had been into having an ‘english tea gardern’ in their back yard. that meant enormous numbers of carefully shaped balls and pyramids and cubes and circular hedges surrounding birdbaths, etc. we even had a couple of ice cream cones! i was forced to continue to trim the damn things like that because if i stopped for even a couple of weeks, the trees (they started with cedar and douglas fir trees) would immediately want to send up spikes and try to grow into it’s natural shape. then they look like hell – like some thing crawling out of an h. p. lovecraft story. i felt like i was torturing those plants all the time. i finally started cutting them out (killing them) just to get some free weekends.
however, now that i’m all ‘grown up’, i see this stuff differently. now, i LIKE topiary. i have no real rational explanation as to why. i think it’s marvelous. especially when it’s good clever topiary. there was a guy in my old neighborhood who trimmed his laurel (a dreadful bush) into giant spherical ‘happy faces’. you can’t help but like stuff like that. then another guy started to carve his laurel hedge into a medieval fortress barricade complete with those notches and turrets. it looked really cool.
this is my current favorite topiary in tacoma. it’s on 56th street just off pacific avenue. some enterprising homeowners made this otherwise icky dirty laurel hedge into a magical DRAGON! (we nicknamed him, “Queztalcoatl”). they even went so far as to make some ‘picket fence teeth’ and placed them into the mouth. THAT ought ot keep the salesmen away, eh?
so, what kind of artistic creative crazy people do this sort of thing? well, this last week, i had the misfortune to have to hang around a children’s hospital for many many days. outside of this hospital were all sorts of crazy topiary (hospitals have lotsa money, so they spend it on things like topiary. our suffering pays for it.) there were scads of teddy bears and bunnies and butterflies and shooting stars and kittens and crap like that. everywhere you looked, you saw more and more. i counted over a dozen and i didn’t see them all.
i got lost (hospitals always have the worst signage systems imaginable. lotsa money for topiary, but no money to pay anybody to figure out how to direct you around the maze of hallways.) so, i asked a guy working in the yard for directions. it turned out he was trimming the topiary! so, what kind of creative craftsman does topiary? well, this guy was around 17 years old (worked for a company that specialized in trimming topiary. probably minimum wage). the poor guy couldn’t even complete a coherent sentence. i had to ask him three times before i could get a response. the kid had zits on his forehead and was basically dumb as a stump. i watched him work for a while and he had no idea what he was doing – he was just fucking around pulling a paycheck. he was busy carving toes into the ‘foot’ of a butterfly. go figger.
he finally responded to my question about directions with a long blank vapid stare. he finally said, “umm, my mom used to work here. let me think…. oh yeah! it’s over there somewhere” (the cafeteria). then he went back to carving those toes on that butterfly thing. i watched him work some more and then wandered off in the direction he indicated.
suddenly he came running after me and stopped me again. “hey, get the cheeseburger. it’s microwaved, but you can put all the stuff on it you want.” he was a hell of a nice guy. he just had ZERO social skills.
so, that’s who makestopiary? ok. mystery solved. not quite what i expected…. but it somehow seems correct.