You cant get much more ironic than a topiary saguaro. In the wet, dimly-lit Northwest a cactus made of evergreen juniper is not only going to grow better, itll tell the neighbors exactly how witty you are. It also shows that you dont need garden statuary to make jokes outside all you need is the right kind of plant in just the right ironic situation. We looked at four Tacoma gardens including the saguaro to give you some ideas for how to be funny with vegetation.
We get a lot of comments, says Matt Bachmann, of the juniper pruned into the shape of a saguaro cactus that stands proudly on his North End Tacoma parking strip. Ive had people literally stop and park and call out to me while Im mowing the lawn.
Exactly the same size and two-arm shape as a small desert saguaro, the juniper sits next to a real yucca in a circle of white rock, silently laughing at the fact that in the rainy Northwest this is as close as youll get to an Arizona landscape. Part of a bigger desert-themed landscape that Bachmann and his family inherited from the previous homeowner a homesick Texan the juniper isnt all that hard to maintain, just requiring a haircut now and then.
Weve had a harder time keeping the yucca alive, comments Bachmann.
Despite pleas from their two kids to put more grass in the yard, the Bachmanns have kept the saguaro.
A lot of homeowners realize that a nice garden adds value to the house, Bachmann says. Plus, its an easy landmark for people to find our house. We just tell them to look out for the cactus.
How to do it
Topiary training takes time and patience up to six years, says garden designer Scott Gruber of Calendula Nursery. Rather than growing a small plant over a wire frame, a more architectural plant is trimmed and trained into shape, rather like espaliering fruit trees. Suitable plant candidates include privet, upright juniper (try skyrocket, moonglow or Spartan varieties, which are pillar shapes conducive to carving), Alberta spruce or arborvitae any evergreen shrub that fills out with dense, small leaves. Choose a design that suits the shape of the plant, choose a few key branches to tie to the central support trunk and another few to reach out into the design, trimming over the years and twisting flexible parts into shape. If you can pick a design that pokes fun at the plant itself, even better.
CASTLE WALL HEDGE
The hedge attracted us when we first pulled up, says Marianne Haynes, former owner of a central Tacoma house with a 10-foot-high hedge trimmed into a crenellated castle wall. It looked like a secret place inside. But it was really tall and overgrown.
Haynes and her husband, Bill Somgstad, both liked the castle look, so Somgstad spent about 14 hours hacking the laurel hedge down to a neat castle wall shape, complete with crenellations, end towers and an arch over the gate. Just hauling the debris to the landfill took two days. The hedge is still a whopping 5 feet thick.
Over the past 15 years, though, Somgstad got the trimming down to a fine art where the hedge only needs a two-hour trim once a year (twice if they fertilized the grass).
And it was worth it. When the couple put the house up for sale recently, it was snapped up on the first day.
Were going to miss it, says Haynes a little sadly.
How to do it
Trimming a hedge into a shape requires a powerful trimmer or chainsaw. Hedge plants that shape well include laurel or photinia, which grow back strongly. But, you can carve anything you want, and they wont care, said Gruber.
IRONIC CROQUET LAWN
When Jori Adkins saw a giant concrete croquet set by Tacoma artist Lynn DiNino at a local nursery, she knew she wanted it. But the sculpture didnt look quite right in the living room so she put it in the back yard and gave it a tiny green lawn of its own. Its not just a humorous nod to an impossible game, its an ironic comment on Adkins own backyard: a lush strip of sedges and native shrubs bordering a parking lot and railway line behind a historic commercial property on Puyallup Avenue as far from suburban lawn as you can get.
To cap it off, the ball part of the oversize hoop-and-mallet set is a concrete human head.
The people who park back here think its great, says Adkins.
Its also not hard to maintain: Adkins set some rebar into the ground before planting the lawn, so all she has to do is lift out the hoops, mow the lawn and set the sculpture back again. We have a lot of other art out there too, she says. It just makes it more interesting to have something human out there among all the plants.
How to do it
Its easy enough to plant a lawn the trick here is finding the right plant for a humorous piece of art. Set a prickly pear on the seat of a wrought-iron chair, or frame a vegetable bed with antique bedposts. Put a concrete frog next to a pond or rest a blown-glass float with some driftwood on its own tiny stretch of beach sand.
GIANT TOPIARY BEAST
Is it a slug with legs? Or a turtle with antennae? Whatever it is, its topiary on a super-size scale: a mass of dark green ivy the size of a car planted on the parking strip of a Proctor area home. The legs sit stubby on the round body, the head angles around and a long tongue licks out like a snake.
Many gardeners experiment with topiary, but it takes a certain sense of humor to make an enormous beast and set it on your parking strip to frighten passing dogs. On closer inspection, though, this one also solves a gardening problem: a tree stump, which forms the main body of the creature. Wire forms guide the legs, tail and tongue. As a fast-growing vine, ivys ideal for this cover-up job, though it needs to be kept under control as its potentially damaging to Northwest landscapes.
How to do it
Classic topiary growing involves setting a small plant to spread over a wire frame. You dont need a huge amount of frame, says Gruber. Just pull outer growing vines and twine them onto themselves to form the shape. Its a matter of constant discipline, Gruber emphasizes. Good topiary growing plants are box, ivy, any fast-growing vine such as akebia (mostly evergreen) or even deciduous hops, which will grow 20 feet in a season, be covered with white flowers in summer and eventually leave a spider web of old vines in the winter.