A hedge is a row of closely planted bushes that functions as a living fence. It separates and defines private property. But here on Glenholme Avenue, two men have transcended the boundaries of real estate to share a hedge as art.
One of the men was the original homeowner whose front yard included the formerly conventional hedge and other miscellaneous shrubs. They are mostly Siberian Elm, which is considered an invasive species in Toronto – a junk shrub. He delighted in his yard’s irregular evolution.
The other man was called by the owner a “tree artist”. He lives on the same block, in a second floor flat in a house up the street. He identified this particular shrubbery as his medium and claimed it.
The two met when the tree artist knocked at the door and engaged the property owner in his project. It was not his description but his intensity which was persuasive. The homeowner gave him a respectful carte blanche. The artist began clipping regularly and fastidiously.
Years and years passed.
Patience, ingenuity and foresight are required to prune for a future shape, and for resisting or countering the inevitable winter damage to delicate shoots and buds. For much of the time, the hedge has appeared to passersby as bizarre and brutalized stubble.
The tree artist must respond to time and natural growth patterns in the realization of his vision. Gradually it becomes apparent to other eyes.
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On summer evenings the owner would often sit across the street on his friend’s front porch and enjoy the view of his own front yard. His friend would scowl at it and say, “Why do you let him do it? Chase him away, chase him away.” The owner would smile and respond, “I like it.”
Eventually old age compelled the owner to sell his house. He secured a promise from the buyer to protect the topiary. Across the street, his friend has also sold and moved on, and is no longer glowering intolerantly from his front porch. The new owner has dug up the small serene lawn and replaced it with a perennial garden and dry rock stream bed that clashes and competes with the shrub shapes. But the topiary continues to evolve. The tree artist is still at work.
The Tree Artist
Topiary is the art of creating sculptures in the medium of clipped shrubs. The word derives from Greek and Latin: topiarius, creator of topia or “places”, and the creator of this place is Ted W. Kulp. He always shows up dressed in brilliant colours; in the midst of the monochromatic green leaves he stands out like a flamboyant flower. His concentration is formidable as he clips and trims. Unlike much topiary that delights in representing animals or other recognizable entities, his shapes are abstract. Their forms are intriguing and even amazing; the meaning or references he has in mind are not easily decipherable to others.
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He has titled the long hedge between the houses The River of History. Each shape in the hedge represents a major historical event in European history. The River of History culminates at the sidewalk with the Michelangelo Wave. Michelangelo “…exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art. Considered to be the greatest living artist during his lifetime, he has since also been described as one of the greatest artists of all time.” (Wikipedia) Says Kulp about his topiary, “I do it for two reasons – the creative act of making this art, and as a challenge to Michelangelo.”
The Michelangelo Wave
Michelangelo seems to be his only artistic influence – he claims no training and no familiarity with other topiary artists such as Jacques Wirtz, the Belgian topiarist. So how did he even know how to go about it? “Just natural ability,” says Kulp.
He is out there clipping almost every day during the growing season. More than three days without a snip and he feels the shapes getting away from him. He modifies shrubs over the years as he finds some branch he can encourage to extend itself in an interesting direction, or excises one which could not sustain the effort. “I made some major changes to The River of History this year. But in some parts I just can’t get at it. Some of it would probably look better if it were taller, but you have to be able to reach it. You can only go as high as you can reach.”
Sciatica torments him. The year before last he hobbled for the entire season in great pain. Then last year he declared himself 95% improved. We’ll see how he emerges when the weather warms up this spring. In any case, age is encroaching.
“I have a new idea, an innovation for Opus One.” This is the most prominent shrub, a solitary specimen right at the sidewalk. It has evolved and changed the most over the years. “The Michelangelo Wave used to be my challenge to Michelangelo but now this, Opus One, has become so much more complex. This – this is it.”
The Kulp Topiary
86 Glenholme Avenue
– Schuster Gindin
Photos by Schuster Gindin
This article is part of our issue BREAKING DORMANCY.
Deena Altman, Toronto
Cheryl Kryzaniwsky, Port Elgin, ON