A well-decorated lawn is a thing of beauty--especially in a suburb-rich city like San Diego, where the acres and acres of ranch homes with their flat green lawns can seem like a three-dimensional reproach to any semblance of individuality. Lawn art can be sublime or ugly, eccentric or vaguely terrifying, but it is always a symbol of the uniqueness of the creator.
Tucked away in Mission Hills is an 18-year labor of love by Edna Harper. Approaching her steep lawn from Vine Street, it seems like you've stepped into a fairy tale. Her creation, christened 'Topiary Hill,' is a maze of more than 52 figures, everything from Martians and winged cats to a parade of elephants. Harper works on the figures at least three hours a day, four days a week.
'The vine they're all made of is called cape honeysuckle,' she says. 'It used to grow over from our neighbor's side, and we'd have to look at all these lumpity-lumps on our lawn.' Lumpity-lumps be damned, Harper created designs for a garden that would remind her of her travels: elephants, Buddhas and the pyramids of Egypt. She confesses that the elephants are her favorites--the hill now has six of them. Soon, however, she branched into the more fantastical: giant serpents and dragons, and even a space alien.
One of the most extraordinary things about the hill, aside from its sheer novelty, is that unlike most topiaries, these are freestanding, created without underlying supports. Instead of coaxing the vines to grow over metal skeletons, Harper weaves them together like baskets
Over in North Park, University Whirligigs is the creation of Jim Knott, whose small lawn on 29th and Landis streets is a garden of moving art, powered by the wind--a single gust will dazzle you with spins and flashes of light. Dozens of twirling birds, glittering cyclones and elaborate pinwheels crowd for space, along with a few sports-themed spinners rooting for the Chargers and the Padres. The recently retired Knott has created most of the pieces himself, citing the need for a more involving pastime than watching television.
'I like the bizarre,' Knott told a Union-Tribune reporter recently. His front porch bears this out. It's been transformed into a whirligig workshop, with tools, books and a terrarium filled with dried iguanas.
One more to check out: At 2022 Rosecrans St. in Point Loma you'll find a series of white, waterless fountains and towers created entirely of seashells, some ringed with garlands of Christmas lights.