Berkshire Botanical Garden Grows with Gift of Topiary Collection
Jumbo the baby elephant will have water spouting from its trunk. Visitors will be allowed to sit in the howdah (carriage).
Topiaries await their planting.
Matt Larkin, creator of the topiaries and board chair of the BBG, supervised the transfer project.
The armchair is shaded by the yew umbrella behind it.
One of the peacocks gets positioned in place.
The team from Twin Brooks Gardens prepares the ground for one of the peacock topiaries, part of a world-class collection of 21 gifted to the Berkshire Botanical Garden. The topiary needs to be gently set in place and balanced correctly.
Matt Larkin signals an adjustment.
Once the topiary is placed, workers cut off the burlap covering the root ball.
Next summer, the Berkshire Botanical Garden is going to be populated by a baby elephant, peacocks, frogs and a hunting dog, among other creatures. They’re not real, but they are alive, in the form of lifesized and giant topiaries from a private collection in Greenwich, Conn. that’s been gifted to the Garden.
Not only is the collection an extraordinary and generous donation, its transfer from Greenwich to Stockbridge, Mass. is unprecedented. The garden, donated by Lucy and Nat Day, is considered one of the finest collections of topiaries in North America. Digging up, moving and replanting 23 topiaries is not for the faint of heart. And the relocation, which took place over the past two weeks, has been fairly heart stopping for its creator, Matt Larkin, who happens to be the Berkshire Botanical Garden’s board chairman and principal of Grant Larkin Designs in Richmond, Mass.
Larkin began working with the Days in 2001; the first piece was a giant urn. Larkin actually went back to school, taking adult-ed classes in welding so he could make the forms for the topiaries himself, right in Richmond. Over the years, he created 23 topiaries, making one of the very few topiary gardens in the country. When the Days decided to sell their property, rather than leaving their world-class collection to an unknown fate, they offered to pay for the expenses involved in transferring 21 of them to the BBG. It was an unexpected but perfectly fitting gesture on their part, knowing that their cherished topiary collection would remain under the watchful eye of Larkin and the horticulturists there.
The relocation process was handled just as lovingly. While trees are typically dug up by a tree spade with four big blades that slice through the soil and roots, conditions were so tight at the original site that the tree spade couldn’t get access. So these topiaries were hand dug, expanding the time the task would take from about 20 minutes to hours, in total a five-day process. Once uprooted, the topiaries were craned above the Days’ two-story house (all this during Hurricane Michael, Larkin added) and trucked nearly 100 miles to Stockbridge. The expert crew of 10 from Twin Brooks Gardens in Millbrook, New York worked another couple of days, carefully positioning the topiaries, cutting away the burlap covering the root balls, and adding the backfill.
“Moving a topiary garden like this has never been done before,” Larkin said, carefully watching that no branches were harmed as workers settled one of the peacocks in its hole. It took several adjustments until the crane lowered the peacock to a perfectly balanced state.
To say that the BBG is delighted with its gift would be an understatement; the Garden is going all out to make sure the collection will thrive in its new space. An irrigation system is being installed, and in the middle of all the topiary figures, a gazebo will be built, destined to be a future site for musical events and children’s parties.
“This will be photo opp central,” Larkin said.
The topiaries have been carefully sited to tell a story and feel like a “deconstructed room.” The arboretum will be a wondrous place inhabited by, among others, Jumbo the Elephant (root ball weight: four tons) whose trunk will spout water at the alligators; giant umbrellas made from wisteria; a sit-friendly yew wing chair with a leafy floor lamp right beside it…a fanciful zoo and giant-sized tea party come to life.
“This is just a terrific addition to the garden,” Larkin said. “It never crossed my mind that the topiaries would come back here and have a whole other life.”
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