Thirty minutes “up island” from Newport, but another world apart, the Green Animals Topiary Garden is the oldest garden of its kind (and one of only two) in the United States. This glorious setting overlooking Narragansett Bay was purchased in 1872 by Thomas E. Brayton, Treasurer of the Union Cotton Manufacturing Company in Fall River, Massachusetts.
In 1905 he retained an accomplished gardener, Joseph Carreiro, from Portugal to design imaginative, whimsical topiaries. His inspiration ranged from the family pets and livestock to the dromedary on the Camel cigarettes package. While topiaries of today are usually started on metal forms, these were trained into life-sized animal shapes the old-fashioned way–by training the limbs of young bushes.
Green Animals is a rare example of a fully self-sufficient estate…vegetable and herb gardens, orchards, grape arbors and flower gardens join the topiaries in an enchanting world of yesteryear.
At the same time, it is a touching story of continuing generations who have loved and tended this property. Mr. Carreiro’s daughter and son-in-law continued to care for the gardens when Mr. Brayton’s daughter, Alice, inherited the estate They did not retire until 1985!
Twenty-four of the eighty topiaries are of animals, hence the name “Green Animals.” They cavort across the seven acres in a merry mix…giraffe, lion, unicorn, duck, donkey, reindeer, swan, peacock…and an elephant. Living creations that dwell in these historic and expansive gardens.
And the always favorite Mama and Baby Bear (receiving a virtual hug).
Some topiaries are highlighting formal flower beds…
Others are lining the garden paths…
While still others are to be seen in a cameo.
There is even a train (inspired by the one that runs along the Bay at the bottom of the property)
Designed of Yew, California privet, and English boxwood, one marvels that this now 150 year old garden is still as “viewable” as it is given the Nor’easters, hurricanes, droughts, and disease (i.e. boxwood blight) that have beset it. My horticulture friends and I have taken turns chairing the Green Animals committee for the Preservation Society of Newport County, to whom it was willed in 1972. I’m keenly aware of its challenges. Which makes us all more appreciative that it still survives…and thrives, with Kudos to the Preservation Society staff who continue the meticulous maintenance!
For example…From May-November 2020 the Green Animals vegetable garden contributed over 1,000 pounds of organic veggies to a local Feed a Friend food pantry.
The next time you are coming our way, plan to drive up to Portsmouth for an experience you will cherish. The large but simple white clapboard summer residence is open, housing a children’s collection of antique toys on the second floor. With the welcome mat always out, a day at Green Animals is a respite we all deserve (currently closed due to Covid restrictions).
Happy Valentine’s Day from Newport!