Logically, I should harbor the same dislike for topiary that I do for lawns. Both phenomena seem wasteful and silly. Yet, topiary fascinates me. Where a good-looking lawn seems to be merely the product of patience, well-trimmed topiary takes an artful eye and an amount of patience that seems to border on OCD.
I think I can trace this fascination back to Edward Scissorhands and my crush of Johnny Depp, both the actor and the character he played in that film. What teenage girl is immune to the quiet charms of a tragic, brooding young man? Later came Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, easily one of the best documentaries I’ve seen.
My two years spent living in Oakland constituted a veritable topiary utopia. Every kind of neighborhood provided impressive and inventive examples, and they accompanied every kind of architecture, from Craftsman bungalows to the Mission style. In the Bay Area, topiary is a kind of Googie architecture for the front yard.
Sadly, the unabashed absurdity of Googie topiary forms is almost completely absent from Cincinnati’s greenspaces. We have a fair number of well-trimmed hedges and shrubs, but very little formal variety and experimentation. With the exception of downtown’s Saks Fifth Avenue, shown above, I sense a lack of ambition when it comes to this art, which becomes apparent when you delve into the topiary typology documented by Bay Area blogger Printer & Piemaker: