Up until recently, I hadn’t really thought that much about topiary since I was a tiny tot in the 80’s. Back then, it seemed to be everywhere in Tassie. The Midlands Highway, connecting Hobart with Launceston, was practically HEAVING with road-side shrub sculptures. There was a topiary TRAIN, a topiary ALLIGATOR (complete with open mouth which revealed pointy teeth), a KOALA and a GIRAFFE. Plus, at the half-way mark, there was an entire picnic rest area teeming with topiary treasures. These slightly ridiculous masterpieces made the commute from Hobart to Launceston much more interesting than it would otherwise have been. They also gave my poor parents a reprieve from my sister and I grinding biscuits into the car seat and asking “are we there yet?”
The animals, trains and other things were all carved out and maintained by Jack Cashion. He wasn’t commissioned by anyone; He never got paid for it – it was just something he got a kick out of doing. He continued to maintain them up until his death in the 1990s. After that, most of his creations gradually went back to their natural state.*
Fast forward to 2013…..
I’m living in Melbourne’s northern suburbs where elderly couples and neat gardens abound. Hedges are trim and terrific, planter boxes are blooming and the smell of freshly cut grass is always in the air. There’s even one old lady who edges her nature strip with scissors (!).
It was out in these parts that I got to thinking about topiary again.
One day, as I cruised home via the back streets of Preston, I saw something that reminded me of Mr Cashion’s landscape shrubbery: It was a large topiary deer with antlers. Well, actually, it was more like an ex-deer as it hadn’t been clipped for some time. I felt a twang of nostalgia as I recalled the demise of Jack’s designs; observing something that was once THE talking point of the garden fading back into a non-descript plant.
For the past few months I’ve been riding past that deer every day on my way home from work, always hoping that it’d been finessed back into shape; always feeling a little bit depressed when it hadn’t. That was until LAST WEEK when I peddled up the street and discovered that it had finally been resurrected. I felt ecstatic!! It was like some sort of garden miracle had occurred! The site of that over-sized, closely-shaved perennial made me laugh out loud and smile all the way home.
Since then, I’ve been seeing topiary everywhere. Nothing as spectacular as the deer, mind you, but there’s some pretty savvy shape-work going on if you look for it. Next time you’re out and about, see if you can spot some yourself. I hope you get the giggles like me.
*A friend informed me recently that some of the Midlands Highway topiary creatures had been cut back in again, although the train (my favourite) remains lost forever.