Sarah Ferrell planted the GOD Topiary on the east side of her garden in the 1800s. Near the entrance gate, she planted in capital letters, “GOD.” At the beginning of the Bible it reads, “In the beginning, God created Heaven and Earth.” And at the beginning of her garden, she gave glory to Him for His creation.

During her 1994 recorded interview, Alice Hand Callaway talks about Sarah Ferrell’s GOD planting.

The GOD Topiary was replanted with new boxwood in 2003 after two large magnolias that shaded it were blown down in a spring storm and, consequently, the original English boxwood suffered a severe decline due to the loss of shade from those trees. The new planting was done in Buxus microphylla var. japonica ‘Winter Gem.’ During an interview with former Horticulture Manager Jo Phillips, who started working at Hills & Dales in 1994 when Alice was still caretaker, she described the replanting of the boxwood.

“Whenever I came to work here, there were two big magnolias here and one was particularly large. In May 2003, we’d had a flooding rain and then not long after that we also had a terrible wind storm with rain, too, and it blew over three magnolias in the garden. Both of the ones that were here and then one that was right above the Sunken Garden. This magnolia had been shading all of the letter G and about half of the O. The boxwood that were in here were English boxwood that had been growing for over 100 years. When they suffer that much climate change, the G and half of the O that had been shaded by the magnolia started dying. The other half of the O and the D that had been in the sun, it wasn’t different for them. We did everything that we could –  compost tea, we watered them, we prayed over them, cried over them, but we just couldn’t stop them from dying. We were about a year from the planned opening of October 2004, so the decision was made to take the old boxwood out and to replace them with something that would grow a little faster and that was sun tolerant, mainly that it was sun tolerant. We picked an Asian boxwood and it filled in very, very quickly, but the design of the letters is exactly the same as Sarah had it. This oak tree was not here then. It was planted not that long before we opened to the public to make shade for this replanting.”

The L-shaped hedge near the GOD topiary is a type of English yew that was planted by Alice Callaway. According to Jo,

“If you notice down there in that corner, there’s still a little bit of a gap, but when I came to work here there was an obvious gap where one of the yew had died. When I asked Alice if she had lost one, she said yes that she did and that she had decided not to replant it. She had been told that she would not be able to grow yew here, that it would not grow well this far south. She did have such success with most of it, except for that one corner plant, that she decided to leave that hole and not replant it to keep herself humble.”

Horticultural Specimens

  • Littleleaf boxwood (Buxus microphylla ‘Winter Gem’) forms the letters of GOD. Originally planted with dwarf English boxwood (B. sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’), this faster-growing, sun-tolerant, and disease-resistant cultivar was selected to replace the old shrubs after their demise in 2003.
  • Hick’s Yew (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’) comprises the L-shaped hedge growing against the wall at GOD topiary. Planted by Alice Callaway,1965.
  • Willow oak (Quercus phellos) growing near GOD and steps leading to 4th terrace. Planted approximately 2003.
  • Weeping dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Pendula’) growing by steps to 4th terrace. Blooms white in April. Planted by Alice Callaway, 1965.

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