How quirky is Berkeley? Topiary art

Topiary sundial at University House.  Photo: National Register.

Topiary sundial at University House. Photo: National Register of Historic Places

We tend to think of topiary as an art form of the Establishment rather than as a manifestation of oppositional values. For example, the sundial topiary above from University House on the UC Berkeley campus screams out “Dominant Paradigm!” The classical revival/neo-classical house was designed by Albert Pissis, and the landscaping plan was created by John Galen Howard.

A different photo of the topiary, taken while protests involving the wearing of gas masks, brings in the “Berkeley” element:

University House.  Photo from Berkeley Tribe, April 17-24, 1970.

University House. Photo: Berkeley Tribe, April 17-24, 1970.

Scattered throughout Berkeley are a respectable number of examples of creative and fun topiary. They are by no means only-in-Berkeley, but that is not the point. They add to the overall fabric of Berkeley, and it is a quirky fabric in small part thanks to them. Further, the use of an Establishment art form in a heterodoxical fashion is, in my book, in and of itself quirky.

Most are animals, with this one striking exception on Milvia:

Topiary at 1322 Milvia.  Photo: John Storey.

Topiary at 1322 Milvia. Photo: John Storey

This giraffe on Berryman, across from the Hog Farm compound, is built on a topiary frame. That can be seen as almost cheating, but the fact that the giraffe is so unexpected balances out any negative points for the frame.

Topiary at 2033 Berryman.  Photo: John Storey.

Topiary at 2033 Berryman. Photo: John Storey

There are two large, unframed animal topiary that I drove by several times without noticing.  Once you know to look, you see two amazing examples of free-form evergreen topiary.

Topiary at 1231 Ward. Photo: John Storey.

Topiary at 1231 Ward. Photo: John Storey

Topiary at 2200 Carleton.  Photo: John Storey.

Topiary at 2200 Carleton. Photo: John Storey.

I have found two smaller, amateur topiary efforts. One is on Sacramento, near the North Berkeley BART station, and near the very quirky collection of birdhouses in front of Michael Parayno‘s house. It is a horse who has seen better days, but of course a horse is a horse.

Topiary at 1821 Sacramento.  Photo: Tom Dalzell.

Topiary at 1821 Sacramento. Photo: Tom Dalzell

The second is in the lower hills, on Glen Street, and is suffering from a definite lack of pruning. There is a bear (shown below) and a dog, which I was unable to photograph in a manner that displayed the form of the dog.

Topiary at 1171 Glen.  Photo: Tom Dalzell.

Topiary at 1171 Glen. Photo: Tom Dalzell

I believe that there are more to be found, and find them I will (or maybe you will, and you will share them with me?)

For the time being, these are smile-inducing examples of an establishment art form adapted to Berkeley, a good introduction to our quirkiness for children.

For a fuller treatment of Berkeley’s topiary, see Quirky Berkeley.

For the last few years, Tom Dalzell has been wandering the streets of Berkeley, camera in hand, to document the strange, fascinating, and unusual items he spots in yards and gardens. They range from animal-themed birdhouses, to Hansel and Gretel cottages, to wild lawn art, to unusual signs, to art cars. The only criterion he has: they must be quirky.

Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,400 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means. This is the fourth installment in the series.

Related:
How quirky is Berkeley? The giant orange of Spruce Street (04.17.14)
How quirky is Berkeley? Painted garage doors (04.03.14)
How quirky is Berkeley? Check out these dinosaurs (03.20.14)

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  • Dogen

    An interesting aspect of the topiary clock in front of the Chancellor’s house is that it is almost always broken and tells the wrong time. It’s much less likely to be accurate than the Campanile clocks which often seem out of sync with each other and the rest of the world.

    What’s interesting to me is that at the greatest public university in the world the chancellor doesn’t know what time it is.

  • John Schott

    Hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day!

  • justsaying

    Love this story! What a creative community we have of topiary artist.

    We live close to the “horse’ on 1821 Sacramento by North BART- it’s a mystery – this is kept up but the shrub and entire front lawn is full of dead foliage. The mystery is that it’s trim on a regular basis. Pity they don’t keep the front lawn alive.

    Odd….but potential lovely