Topiary Courtyard

Each year boasts a big garden project, some that I had been planning through the previous winter, and others that are more of an impulse—or surprise. Bret, my number one supporter of my gardening efforts, has surprised me (without consulting me) two years in a row with a game-changing landscape plan. In 2013, while I was on vacation visiting my folks with the kids, he bought 11 climbing roses and planted them in wine barrels to line our circle driveway. All the effort and thought, amazing, but without understanding the plants that he bought, all the hard work had to be undone as they all had to be replanted in the ground against our house. But now, as they have begun to climb the stone wall, they are truly beautiful.

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Last year, in his equally secretive and ambitious plan, he designed a topiary courtyard on our property. A little background: in the early part of the century, our two acres was home to a small hotel, just blocks from a popular lake for summer vacationers. As the rumors go, the Maples Hotel burned during the depression, leaving us with ruins of the once glorious veranda, including a ornamental balustrade with several cement and stone staircases leading to various levels of the property. This veranda became overgrown with small trees and invasive understory, which we had slowly cleared over the years, leaving a large, unanswered open space.

Again, upon my return from vacation in 2014, I discovered the infant-stage of the topiary courtyard—the space was covered in pea-stone (wow) and 13 sculpted evergreens now resided in those same wine barrels. In addition, 50 arborvitaes in their nursery pots were lined around the exterior of the courtyard, creating a private and serene space for entertaining. As amazing as this was, we had more 60 trees that needed to be planted in the ground (those wine-barrels were just a temporary show)—no simple or inexpensive feat, especially considering the ground surrounding the courtyard had to be cleared of brush and existing trees and leveled, and then retaining walls needed to be built. Hubby, who prides himself on doing “pro-jobs,” completed these overwhelming tasks at the beginning of December, having spent every weekend on the project from August until the ground was frozen. I don’t think his back will ever forgive him.

The big question will be how the trees survive our harsh winter. Periodic inspection over the last month shows deer damage to several of the arborvitaes, but the topiaries look to be in great shape. I am anxious to share photos of the final product as soon as our three-feet of snow melts, but below shows some of the transformation.

View of the courtyard area when we bought the property.

After removal of overgrowth and stumps.

Topiaries go into the ground.

Preparing to plant the arborvitae border.

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