Design, In the Garden


Inspiring Garden Design: Green Animals Topiary Garden

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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!

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

18 thoughts on “Inspiring Garden Design: Green Animals Topiary Garden

  1. Thanks Betty for the wonderful insight into Green Animals. It is very often one of the PSNC properties that is overlooked by our public.

    1. Yes, Barbara, I’m glad you pointed that out. Such a little treasure that gets a bit overlooked since it’s so far “up island.” xB

    1. Looks like white dahlias to me; Green Animals has a wonderfully full dahlia garden, as well as those used in the landscaping.xB

    1. Thank you, Nell, but it’s a dedicated long list of those islanders who have contributed their time and efforts to Green Animals, starting with the Preservation Society of Newport County. xB

  2. Such a breath of wimsy and meticulous green work.The garden gets better every year. My favorite place on the island with many yearly visits, as the flowers change with the seasons. The afternoon 14th of July party, for years past, such a delight for children. Soon again…
    A truly magical place!
    Caterine

    1. Cat, so love hearing from you, with your personal take on our favorite garden. Yes, truly a magical place!!
      Hope all’s well with you down in the sun. Sending you warm Valentine wishes!! xB

  3. I’ve never known of this adorable garden, so thank you for sharing it. It is wonderful that so many are helping to keep it going, and also paying it forward by philanthropic endeavors. I love going a little bit south to view Ladew Topiary Gardens, a smaller but still quite lovely garden and historic home. It amazes me, the effort and skill it takes to create these whimsical figures! Hugs!

    1. Oh Bobbi, if you know Ladew you most certainly will want to know Green Animal, so happy that I could introduce you!
      Yes, it takes a lot of time to create them, but keeping them tidy and alive is even more of a task. Happy Valentines Day, xB

  4. Dan and his volunteers have done a remarkable job expanding and refining the planting schemes here. His dahlia classes are the best!

    1. Oh Louise, nothing would please me more than to have you all return to Newport; in fact, I was thinking just the same thing a week ago!
      Great minds thinking together…can’t wait to see you in October!!! Happy Valentines to you and Guy, xox B

    1. It truly is magical, Barbara, and worth a trip up island! And while you’re up there, visit Blithewold in Bristol, just over the Mount Hope Bridge from Green Animals.
      An arboretum and gardens as special in their own way as Green Animals….xB

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