This garden contains 65 iris varieties (770 plants), including bearded, spuria, Siberian, Japanese and Louisiana. Look for the topiary Chinese junk “afloat” in the pool at the bottom of the garden. Buddha is up the steps to the right. The pagoda topiary was started in 2001, restored from Mr. Ladew’s original design, and is located to the left of the junk. The Nature Walk entrance is left of the Buddha, toward the gravel driveway.
2011 BUDDHA RESTORATION
Buddha: Going back to his roots
by Tyler Diehl, former Head of Gardens
As Head of Gardens, I am constantly making decisions about pruning, transplanting or removing plant material. Yet every so often there is an occasion when, even though the decision seems correct from a horticultural perspective, the little voice in my head says “Don’t do it”. Don’t do it because of its importance. Don’t do it because it’s stressed. Don’t do it because it may not respond accordingly.
Some choices are made for you. When a plant is diseased, damaged or planted in the wrong site, action is warranted. But when a plant has historic or landscape significance and has outgrown its space, or morphed into something that it is not supposed to be, it can be difficult to act. Such was the issue with Ladew’s Buddha.
A few years ago, Ladew’ Senior Gardener, Phil Krach, and I were interviewed by a Japanese author, who was writing a book on topiary. We took the author and her interpreter, on a tour of the gardens and when we arrived at the bottom of the Iris Garden in front of Buddha, they spoke quietly in Japanese to each other and then giggled. Phil and I could tell they were laughing at Buddha, so we asked “What’s so funny?” Surprisingly, the answer did not come from the interpreter, but instead, it came in clear English from the author, who said “He’s a western Buddha. He’s fat!”
Our visitors were absolutely right; the Buddha was never intended to grow into the rotund shape they saw that day. He was designed as a Tibetan Buddha, leaner and more pointed than this jolly figure. Pruning anxiety had set in and we had hesitated over the years to take the steps necessary to bring Buddha back to Harvey Ladew’s original design.
You may have noticed that Buddha is growing thinner. For the past two years, garden staff has been aggressively pruning the 16 plants that make up the topiary in an attempt to rejuvenate them. We have also removed several “junk” trees from around Buddha allowing in more light and reducing the possibility of damage from falling branches (one took off Buddha’s head a few years ago).
Early spring is the proper time for taxus to be pruned for rejuvenation, and this spring Buddha will undergo another rigorous pruning. It will take several years for the topiary to be restored to its original appearance, but our patience will be rewarded. If all goes well Buddha will be restored to his Tibetan ancestry, or is it Mr. Ladew’s ancestry?
Top image copyright Helen Norman Photography.