August 1, 2011

At the Shore: Sculpted Hedges

As often happens to me when I am in a somewhat familiar place, I notice something that never struck me before, something that was always there, but never moved to the front of my consciousness. Thoreau has an apt phrase "...we find only the world we look for.", which I quote in this blog post. So during my short trip to the New Jersey shore, I suddenly noticed all the shaped hedges and trees in gardens throughout the borough of Deal. Above is the fanciful arrangement of shrubs and tree in front of the Catholic Church. It looks more like a setting for Alice in Wonderland, where magical happenings might occur, than the entrance to a serious place of worship.

Some of the sculpted hedges are privet and some are evergreens. Here the large plants are cut in swooping volumes, great curving masses whose shapes are emphasized by their straight sides. I wish I'd asked a gardener who I saw where he got his ideas for this sculpture; it is the professional workers who make these forms, not the owners of the large houses.

I love this grouping of a large round cake in front of a huddled array of tall forms, looking as though they are leaning together for comfort or for a good gossip, or maybe they're waiting for a slice.

The artificial nature of the shaped trees is in keeping with the grand formality of the homes. It's hard to imagine seeing this kind of gardening here in Vermont, where the wild of the woods is part of the garden aesthetic.

At another beautiful old home, the muffin rounds of shrubs are contrasted with the dripping lines of parallel leaves of a cherry tree. The tree, though not trimmed, has a remarkably formal presence.

Lastly, here is a marvelously inventive hedge, one that I didn't see repeated anywhere else: pointed cones rise up from the body of the rectangular hedge, adding a surprising bit of geometry, little hills above a flat plain. None of the hedges I saw came up to the complexity and exuberance of some of the most imaginative topiary, but I certainly enjoyed seeing their artful shapes in the gardens.


  1. I've always found these types of hedges make me chuckle. When I recently moved into this neighborhood I was struck by how many attempts at formal hedge and topiary there were in front of all the very modest homes.

  2. i noticed these also for the first time on a recent trip to Ft Worth Texas - did I just over look them before or is this a renewed fad? their startling formality - yet i find them funny, personal, expressive...

  3. Elaine, I love the idea of home gardeners trying their hand at this type of sculpture. And so much of it is very amusing.
    rappel, I was trying to think back on last year's visit with the same feeling you had: did I just miss these? how could that be? I agree that they are expressive, and often humorous.

  4. I have not been to Deal in many years, but always marvelled at the homes. If I go again I will surely look for the sculpted bushes. I am told that my great grandfather built many of the chimneys in these grand homes.

  5. I usually have very mixed feelings about this type of pruning: fun to me but often unhealthy for the plant. Your last image reminded me of a trip to Lisbon in the late 1990s (another time, eh?). I remember seeing fantastic plant pyramids rising out of hedges. Not sure if it was at Palacios de Fronteira, but do recall that is a marvelous garden known for its hedges cut to represent the four seasons. And yes, Vivaldi would be the perfect backdrop!

  6. Debbie, you mentioned your grandfather in a previous comment, so I took a good look at many of the beautiful chimneys on the large houses.
    Julie, I didn't realize that this type of pruning wasn't good for the plants; I'm not happy to know that. I'd love to someday see one of the complex hedge gardens.

  7. Altoon, you've captured these sculptural hedges so well. Not much in my past gives evidence of these forms, but I liked seeing them here.