Located on the edge of Narragansett Bay ten miles north of Newport, Rhode Island, Green Animals Topiary Garden is credited with being the oldest topiary garden in the United States.
A whimsical blend of formal and informal spaces, Green Animals is the creation of Joseph Carreiro and his son-in-law George Mendonca, who for a combined eighty years (from 1905-1985) worked as garden superintendents responsible for both design and maintenance.
Topiary is an ancient art dating back to classical antiquity. For Carreiro, an Azorean immigrant descended from a family of estate gardeners, it was a familiar element of the gardens he experienced in his youth. These included, according to Holly Collins, a research fellow for The Preservation Society of Newport County, Pico do Salomão an Azorean garden with box-tree and geometric topiary shapes, design elements commonly found in formal Portuguese gardens.
Green Animals Topiary Garden is part of a country estate purchased in 1877 by Thomas E. Brayton (1844-1939), a treasurer of the Union Cotton Manufacturing Company in Fall River, Massachusetts. It is he who engaged Joseph Carreiro to develop a vegetable garden on the property while providing him the latitude to design other gardens as he saw fit.
Brayton’s daughter Alice inherited the estate in 1940 and worked closely with both Carreiro and his son-in-law to expand the topiary collection and gardens. A writer, scholar, and horticulturist, Alice was an active member of the Newport Historical Society, a founding member of the Newport Garden Club and a contributing author to “Gardens of America.” She named the estate Green Animals.
The history of remarkable gardens is filled with creative collaborations that are fueled by individual passions. I like to imagine Alice, described as a “bit of a raconteur with a quick wit,” in the garden with Joseph and George luxuriating in its beauty.
Intimate in scale, the garden is delightful with more than 80 pieces of topiary sited within a series of garden rooms.
Imaginary figures coexist with traditional likenesses that include a giraffe (the oldest topiary dating from 1910), a horse and rider (a traditional New England society pair also found at the entrance to Ladew Topiary gardens outside of Baltimore), a Rhode Island rooster and an assortment of bears, dogs and birds.
Each topiary, sculpted from California privet and yew, has been painstakingly crafted and lovingly maintained for decades utilizing traditional techniques. The garden’s geometric forms are of boxwood and California privet and the box-lined parterres from several cultivars of English and Japanese boxwood. A rigorous pruning schedule keeps each in top form.
Upon entering the garden a path leads through the rose garden to the formal garden which contains the oldest and most famous topiary forms. Each spring the garden, which was renovated in 2013, is planted with flowering annuals.
The grounds also include a cutting garden and perennial bed, fish pond, pet cemetery, greenhouse, several arbors and vegetable garden which is used for educational purposes with its produce harvested and donated to local charities.
Green Animals is the third topiary garden I have visited and the second to lay claim to be America’s oldest. While I will leave it up to others to weigh this distinction, should you be interested in topiary gardens you might enjoy my posts on the Hunnewell Estate and the Ladew Topiary Gardens.
Green Animals Topiary Garden is owned and operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County. The garden is opened seasonally. To access a schedule visit: http://www.newportmansions.org/plan-a-visit/operating-schedu
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