Harper's Topiary Garden – San Diego, California - Atlas Obscura

Edna Harper was not a fan of the boring, cookie-cutter shrubs that decorated the hilly landscape of her Mission Hills home in San Diego. 

Unwilling to yank the bushes purely for aesthetic reasons, she and her husband Alex came up with a delightful solution that would be (arguably) easier on the eyes without destroying the preexisting shrubs-a whimsical topiary garden for everyone who passed by to enjoy. 

For the last 15 years, Edna has been conceptualizing what she’d like the bushes to become, and then grabbing her pruners and making it happen. The couple has tenderly shaped and trained their formerly blah foliage into over 50 different creations, many inspired by their travels around the world. Thrilled to share their lovely living sculptures with anyone who delights in them, the Harpers are happy to show off their topiary free of charge, as long as everyone promises to tread carefully and refrain from climbing them, regardless of the temptation. The garden museum includes pyramids, a dinosaur, a surfer, a Buddha, an entire menagerie of animals including a whale and an entire herd of elephants, and a figure of their gardener, who helps Edna maintain her artwork. While most topiaries are shaped by growing the shrubbery around wire figures, Edna’s bushes were already mature, so they are patiently shaped and slowly guided as their new growth appears. This makes them unique in the sense that they are solid foliage all the way through as opposed to hollow inside a wire cage. 

Edna shows no sign of being satisfied with her garden of creatures as it is, and continues to come up with new, fantastical shapes to give the lucky shrubs that were rescued from a drab landscape existence.

The Harpers welcome anyone to come and enjoy their outdoors museum, but if you do visit, please remember this is a private residence, and treat it with love and quiet observance. 

Know Before You Go

If you walk from the Park, you can go across the Spruce Street suspension bridge which will take about 45 minutes. If driving, be prepared, as Vine Street is rather steep.

It's a quiet little area, and many people drive past. There are signs to not touch or enter the garden, which is totally fine. Evening time is a great time to take a photo as the sun sets in the garden.


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