By Carla Charter
PORTSMOUTH, R.I. – Newport Rhode Island is famous for its mansions. However, tucked behind the Brayton Estate in nearby Portsmouth is the northernmost and oldest topiary garden in the United States.
In 1872, Thomas Brayton, CEO and treasurer of the Union Cotton Manufacturing Company in Fall River, hired Gardner Joseph Carreiro to create a fresh fruit and vegetable garden. Along with the requested gardens, Brayton allowed Joseph to expand the plantings and he created topiary figures as well as flower gardens. “We believe Carreiro had been trained in gardening in the Azores. He wanted to create an interesting garden space for the family to enjoy. He enjoyed doing it, according to Dan Christina, Chief Horticulturist of the Green Animals Topiary Garden.
After Carreiro died, his son-in-law George Mendonca took over from 1945-1985, when he too retired. “Between the two of them they expanded the Perennial Bed, Annual Bed, Dahlia Gardens, created a formal Vegetable Garden, Fruit Beds, and a majority of Topiary pieces which still exist today,” Christina said. In 1972, the property became a part of the Preservation Society of Newport who continue maintain the estate garden as it was in the mid-1900’s. It now takes two full time staff and four part time staff to maintain the gardens contained on the 7-acre property.
There are 88 topiary shapes in the garden. These include a giraffe, camel, elephant, lion, dog, boar, reindeer, chicken, rooster, swan peacock, baby giraffe, donkey, various birds, unicorn and a rider on horse. There are a lot of unique pieces, Christina added.
“We add new pieces every couple of years. It encourages creativity and repeat visitors,” Christina said.
Among the most recent topiary additions are dolphins, shaped spirals, a baby giraffe, and the bird bath which was recently rebuilt.
New topiary pieces begin, according to Christina “when we choose the design concept and decide where it would fit best. Then we design the framework and decide on the most appropriate growing material for the shape chosen. Much of the topiary is created from privet because it grows quickly and recovers faster from winter damage. “
The garden requires constant maintenance. “There is something that always needs to be done.” Christina said. Every three weeks the shape of the garden changes depending on what is blooming, he continued.
The garden runs several educational programs including the Edible Schoolyard Project. Produce from the Estate’s Vegetable Gardens is shared with the Lucy House for Women and Children in Middletown, R.I. and the Martin Luther King Community Center, Food Pantry in Newport Rhode, Island. More information on the Green Animals Topiary garden can be found at
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