The Picnic as Art Form: Strolling the Topiary Park of Columbus, Ohio

We’ve all seen charming topiary gardens which run the gamut from grandiose geometric to cute Disney characters, and everything in between. But imagine a lush topiary that’s a living reproduction of a post-impressionist painting from late 19th Century France; an afternoon in the park with Paris at its casual best. 

This distinctive garden art all happens in downtown Columbus, Ohio in the aptly named Topiary Garden Park. Modeled on Georges Seurat’s famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, it’s the only topiary park in existence that’s based on a painting.

There are lots of reasons that most of us don’t have one of these verdant vistas in our back garden: lack of time and money are two of the biggies, but also, because creating a topiary garden requires an unusual combination of skills. 

First, the gardener must have the green-thumb gene which helps them know what to plant and how to keep it alive. Next, must come the patience to allow the shrubs enough time to grow to the desired size. And most importantly, the creator must have the vision and artistic skill to trim a living sculpture from a green clump of vegetation, all using normal gardener’s tools.

Visiting this unique topiary was one of the high points of our trip to Columbus. It was fascinating to realize that walking through the garden gave us the perspective of being inside a famous painting; enjoying a picnic, watching the boaters on the Seine, or simply people-watching. 

Ever since the Revolution opened the Royal Parks to the public, the French have had the right idea about the picnic as an art form. Now it seems that the city of Columbus has adapted the idea in a big way and the Topiary Garden Park is proof positive. Don’t miss it.

Happy Trails and Good Health,

James & Terri

Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

43 thoughts

    1. Annie, we were there on a Sunday morning, so it was relatively deserted. But it’s a very pleasant park, and given its location I can imagine it’s a popular picnic destination. ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. When we saw that the topiary was modeled on an impressionist painting, we had to see it. It was great fun walking around and identifying the characters from the painting. ~James

    1. Jo, on our travels in the UK we really enjoyed the grandiose topiaries at National Trust Manor houses, but the ability to wander around the figures made this one even more interesting. They are a labor of love I’m sure. ~James

    1. Ray, this is a very small, pleasant park in a historic neighborhood, and in fact, it was the site of the old Deaf School. I’m sure it’s deserted on football game days, and would make a good offset for Buckeye mania. 🙂 ~James

  1. So very unique! Aside from the beauty of the garden and plants themselves how fun to have carved the foliage into sculptures taking Seurat’s painting as inspiration! Very clever and creative.

    Peta

    1. Peta, isn’t this a whimsical wonder. It was great fun being able to wander between the pieces. We called up the actual painting on our phones and looked for each of the elements. My favorite was the fancy-dressed lady with the monkey on a leash. Fabulous!

      And BTW, major congrats on your new award and adventure. I’m sure that you two will gain the maximum mileage and fun from the experience. Take care and Happy Trails. ~James

      1. I’m awfully good with tomatoes and roses. Come to think of it I have a number of cedars that I could probably do a little experimentation on….

    1. Pam, Terri is a big fan of Monty Don, so we’ve seen lots of his dog on the show. We’ll have to see if we can locate his topiary episode. That must be the perfect garden-show dog: always relaxing in the video, and never causing any problems – sounds like the ideal formula for any dog as a matter of fact. ~James

  2. How timely is this post for us! We’re headed to Columbus, Ohio this coming weekend, so we’re putting the park on our to-see list. Thanks for reminding us of how difficult it is to design and maintain one of these gardens. I won’t be duplicating any of the “sculptures,” but I will be admiring!

    1. Rusha, I’m sure that you and Bert will enjoy the topiary. Pull up a copy of the original painting on your phone so you can compare the painting figures and the topiary carvings. Did you notice the aristocratic lady with her bustle and monkey on a leash? Be sure to look for the her and her pet in the garden: wonderful! Have a good weekend and don’t let those Buckeyes give you any grief. 🙂 ~James

  3. What a brilliant idea to use a painting as an inspiration for how a park would look! I usually overlook topiaries, but when there’s an interesting story behind their appearances like this one, I would certainly pay more attention.

    1. Bama, I’ve seen and enjoyed many topiaries, but I must admit that none have ever enticed me to walk in and inspect the details so closely as this one did. It’s very well done, and we loved making comparisons to the original piece of art. It’s a unique and fun piece of public art, and hats off to Columbus for pulling it together. ~James

    1. Carol, we did exactly the same thing. Some figures were obvious, others took viewing from different angles. And some of the figures were still taking shape while others needed a bit of a trim. Very fun. ~James

    1. Juliann, definitely make a stop if you get the chance. It’s an easy place to find and visit, and it really is good fun. As I’ve said to others, get a copy of the original painting on your phone for comparison. Pretty cool. ~James

  4. I love this! I actually had no idea what topiary meant, but now I know based on the photos and your content. What an amazing idea to sculpture the trees and shrubs after a painting. If Columbus was on our way west, we would stop to see this, but our route goes north of there. Did you and Terri visit anything in Cleveland or Toledo, Ohio? 🙂

    1. Glad you liked the topiary Liesbet. I’ve seen a number of topiaries and this one is the most creative. No, we didn’t make it as far north as Cleveland or Toledo on this trip, but have visited both in the past. I’m sure you have plans for the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. You better hurry through. Winter comes early in that part of the world. 🙂 ~James

  5. Seurat was ahead of his time. The dots of paint that he applied to form the scene are like the pixels on a modern television screen. Thanks for including a photo of yourself, James. It is good to see you looking so healthy and well-trimmed.

    1. Thanks Jo. At my age, healthy and trimmed sounds like the best I can hope for. 🙂

      You’re so right about Seurat’s painting technique being ahead of its time. It’s one of those paintings that really benefits from a very close look at technique. In fact, this painting could be a post in itself. I understand that it took him forever to finish it, and at the time it wasn’t very well received by his contemporaries. But obviously, he got the last laugh.

      And BTW, you’ll appreciate that Terri and I are going camping tomorrow in southern Indiana, where I hope to be able to scramble around a couple of Devonian outcrops in search of fish fossils. My chances of finding one is about .00001%, but it never hurts to look. My collection is full of Ordovician invertebrates. ~James

      1. Thank you for the interesting art history, James. I can picture you on the outcrop, rock hammer in hand, cracking open Devonian shale in search of fossil fish. Happy hunting!

  6. Thank you, James. This is one of my favourite paintings. Myself and M have done a number of versions, with people, without, with outlines. Never thought of cutting the hedge in that shape though!

    1. Sorry for the delay in response Shane, but I’ve been doing a bit of off-grid camping and have been out of touch. (But good news that I can travel a bit again!)

      I wasn’t aware of this piece, but after researching for the post and having a look at it, I can understand why it’s so famous and popular. I love the technique, and can’t believe Seurat can create such delicate and distinctive colors with different colored dots. Amazing. ~James

      1. Glad to hear you are getting out and about James. An interesting thing about pointillism is that it anticipated colour printing. All those photos on billboards, bus shelters etc are achieved with four colours: red, yellow, blue and black. Seurat aimed to be the first photorealist, and gave us art that forms a mesmerising snapshot of time.

    1. Laura, I’m not sure who’s responsible for the care of this garden, but they knew what they were doing. I’m sure it also helps to choose the right plants in the first place. But, these issues wouldn’t be a problem in your rock garden. 🙂 ~James

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