Edward Scissorhands has nothing on the volunteer gardeners at Columbus, Ohio’s Topiary Garden. They have lovingly recreated Seurat’s famous painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grand Jatte” using – what else? – shrubbery. What started as a lark in 1992 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovering America has now turned in to one of Columbus’ hidden gem attractions. “It’s a landscape of a painting of a landscape!” boasts a brochure that greets visitors to the park’s Visitor Center.
The seven-acre arena located inside Old Deaf School Park offers visiting patrons a whopping 220+ trees, but its claim to fame is the well-known painting now brought to leafy life. All the figurines are comprised of several different varieties of Taxus, commonly known as yews. “This is the only topiary garden in the world based on a real painting,” said the park’s stalwart tour docent Jeri Hendricks. The painting it’s patterned after is considered a benchmark in Western art history – a painting that found a whole new pop culture audience when it took center stage in the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. (Yes, we’re talking about the scene where Cameron stares endlessly at Seurat’s colorful dot matrix.)
The first thing park-goers will likely notice about the topiary is the enormity of the project. The exhibit is done in an exaggerated perspective – giving it ample depth. The next is the attention to detail throughout the project – all painstakingly maintained by the park’s bevy of volunteers. The exhibit features a 3-D display of 54 people, eight boats, three dogs, a monkey and a cat. “If they had a pear tree – there would probably be a partridge in it,” said local Columbus businessman Jay Stanforth who was visiting the park that afternoon.
The park’s glorious display almost didn’t happen. “The piece of land went through a lot of changes and transitions,” said Carlene Palmquist, the coordinator at the Visitor Center. “At different points, it was going to be a parking lot or a grocery store or a retirement home.” Starting in 1988, it took nearly four years to change the park from a near desolate wasteland of rubble and debris to its currently glory. “It was a lost park … an empty space back in the ‘80s,” said Hendricks. The park’s display was officially unveiled as part of an international garden exhibition.
Now thousands of visitors enjoy the all the grounds have to offer each year and the centerpiece that pays homage to the French post impressionist painter. “Look around – this exhibit is the perfect combination of creativity and technical know-how,” said Stanforth. Bronze frames create the structures, set in eighteen inches of concrete. Visitors are often in awe of the enormity of the recreation. “Some of these figures have got to be at least 10 feet tall – if not more,” noticed Stanforth.
Feel free to enjoy the grounds year round – but peak season for viewing is in mid-June after the figurines are trimmed and tied after their spring growth spurt. Of course, volunteers will keep up the topiary’s appearances throughout the summer – as well as the lush flower gardens and 35 different varietals of trees. So the next time you’re in Columbus, pencil in some time to enjoy this one-of-a-kind outdoor exhibit. “The thing that’s important to know is that this park has always been a park,” mentioned Palmquist. “It really breathes when it’s doing something it’s supposed to do.”
For more information on Columbus’ Topiary Garden – visit www.TopiaryPark.org. The park is open from dawn until dusk daily. Even better? Admission is free.
Address: 480 E Town St, Columbus, OH 43215