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Topiaries are stars of South Carolina’s Festival of Flowers
Jill Odom | May 31, 2016
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One of this year’s topiaries features two water-spewing elephants, Milak and Horton.
Photo: South Carolina Festival of Flowers

Creating topiaries is a labor of love and for the city of Greenwood’s horticultural crew, it is a yearlong operation in preparation for June’s South Carolina Festival of Flowers.

Although this is the 49th Festival of Flowers, the topiary displays are still relatively new.

They were introduced nine years ago after the Greenwood Area Chamber of Commerce received training and inspiration from the horticulturalists’ work at Walt Disney World’s “Festival of Flowers,” which is held at Epcot every year.

Previously, the South Carolina festival featured trial gardens created by the company Park Seed that drew in thousands of visitors, but those went away after the company was sold. Greenwood soon turned to topiaries to become the next new attraction.

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A mermiad topiary from last year ruminates in the pond.
Photo: South Carolina Festival of Flowers

The process is not an easy one, but Greenwood’s horticultural crew chief, Ann Barklow, finds the task worth the effort.

“I work a lot of hours, but it doesn’t feel like work,” she told the Index-Journal, “It’s just a lot of fun.”

What started out with 13 topiaries originally has grown to 43 this year. In previous years, Greenwood’s topiaries had a safari theme, but now the topiaries’ form can be just about anything. Each topiary has an organization responsible for its design and care and a separate entity that serves as its sponsor.

The frames of the various sculptures are kept in greenhouses. There, the workers use clippings from numerous plants to grow plugs that they use to cover the structure.

“We’re locked up in the greenhouse for months,” Barklow said. “We come out here and we just get bombarded with compliments – it makes it all worth it.”

Before working on the topiary crew, Barklow ran her own landscape maintenance and design business in California for 25 years before she sold it.

“I did landscaping, but with topiaries you’re growing vertically,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun; you get to be much more creative with the structure.”

One particularly complex set of topiaries is the pair of elephants, Milak and Horton. They both have irrigation systems within them allowing Milak, the larger elephant, to spray mist from its trunk, while Horton’s trunk serves as a trickling fountain.

More than 25,000 plants make up the topiaries and special care was taken that the plants were pollinator friendly as well.

The city’s six-person crew doesn’t take all the credit. Barklow notes that they received plenty of help from hundreds of volunteers throughout the year.

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Fujifilm’s sponsored topiary is a camera, of course.
Photo: South Carolina Festival of Flowers

The topiaries are scattered throughout Uptown Greenwood, and citizens along with visitors appreciate the whimsical designs.

“When you work downtown, it’s so nice to see it lit up in Christmas and so green in the summer,” said Mary Cooper, who works at Carolina Health Centers. “They do a fabulous job; it speaks volumes about our community.”

There are a number of events that go on during the South Carolina Festival of Flowers, but the topiaries are definitely iconic for the celebration.

“The minute the first topiary goes out on the Square, we see an increase in the foot traffic in Uptown,” said Lara Hudson, director of community relations and programs at Greenwood Chamber of Commerce. “The topiaries are the signature event of the festival.”

The topiary display will be open to the public June 1-26, and the main weekend for most of the events is June 2-5.

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