Green Animals Topiary Garden – Portsmouth, Rhode Island - Atlas Obscura
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Portsmouth, Rhode Island

Green Animals Topiary Garden

Unicorns, elephants, and bears, oh my! 

Long before Steven King included topiary animals in his novel The Shining, plants rendered in unconventional forms have held an enchanting and, at times, disconcerting appeal to outsiders. As America’s oldest and northernmost example, Green Gardens has remained a destination for botanical enthusiasts across three centuries.

The seven-acre estate perched on the edge of the Narragansett Bay was originally purchased in 1872 by Joseph Brayton. Shortly thereafter, Brayton commissioned a well-regarded Portuguese gardener by the name of Joseph Carreiro to turn the landscape surrounding his home into an otherworldly art garden. Carreiro set to work laying the foundation for what can be seen at Green Gardens to this day, focusing much of his efforts on creating live vegetation sculptures.

Topiariy animals made by Carreiro’s kin in the 1940s were crafted from California privet and yew, heartier plants that are more suited to the sometimes extreme climate of Rhode Island than the boxwood used in more traditional landscape sculptures. Fantastic imaginary figures such as unicorns and a Don Quixote stand along side exotic replicas of camels, elephants and giraffes. In addition to the eponymous animals, flowers and ponds saturate the landscape, and more than 60 topiary trees carved into elaborate geometric shapes guide visitors on winding paths through the grounds.

After the passing of Alice Brayton, who had inherited her father’s gardens, Green Animals was left in the care of the current operators, the Preservation Society of Newport County. Please note that the garden is open during the warm seasons only, due to maintenance of the plant life.

Know Before You Go

There are picnic tables, and you can bring food to eat there, but no trash cans. Take out what you bring in. Best time to go is late May/June when the topiaries are grown in and most of the flowers are blooming.