KidFest and Seven Topiaries to Watch for at the Festival of Flowers

Like its signature topiaries, the SC Festival of Flowers is a living, changing thing of beauty.

  • Publication date May 5, 2021
  • Categories Outdoors

When the SC Festival of Flowers kicks off every June, there’s plenty of excitement, including KidFest, sporting events, arts, music, food and, of course, topiaries. A big part of the festival fun is spotting the changes to the charming, whimsical topiaries that line Greenwood’s streets. 

While the main weekend of events is June 11-13, 2021, the topiaries hit the streets of Uptown Greenwood at the beginning of June, and stay on display through July 12. Other events are kicking off in early June, with an aviation expo on June 5-6, followed by art exhibits, an arts and craft show, a wine walk, several sporting events and a KidsFest on June 12.

The topiary team encourages visitors to get up close to examine the details and post for photographs, but that also means the elaborate displays experience some wear and tear, not only handled by children but also pecked at by birds, who often carry away bits and pieces for their nests.

City of Greenwood horticulturist Amber Nappier is part of the team that has been hard at work sprucing up these much loved creatures to keep them beautiful and interesting. 

A Horse of a Different Color

“There have been some minor and major changes,” Amber says. “I feel like this year everything is more vibrant and fuller in color this year. Also, the bases are more colorful and will blend in with the landscape. I think a lot of us made the topiaries our Covid-frustrations outlet.”

The team rotates topiaries in and out of use, and the jellyfish that made its reappearance last year is back again for 2021. The swan and camera that many visitors recall are taking a break this year.

The popular Jeep is one item that got a complete makeover. “The Jeep was completely torn apart this year. By that I mean we literally sawed off all of the pieces and put them back together again,” Amber says. “It is one of the originals so we had to fix some pieces with welding due to rust. It is now looking more rugged and modern, with brand-new doors and more succulents!”

The always-beautiful mermaid also received a glam makeover this year. “She’s looking gorgeous,” Amber says. “Instead of everything on her just being green, everything is more defined, and we made sure we made her best features POP! I really am proud of her—she’s probably my favorite this year.”

University of South Carolina fans especially will be thrilled with the complete redo of Gamecock. The horticulturists pulled out all of the base materials and irrigation system and replaced the moss and other plantings in his “hard to reach spots.”  He usually has a large ladder that allows horticulturists to check his tail feathers to be sure the moss stays moist.

“He’s huge,” Amber says of the Gamecock, and he has a complicated irrigation system. “It took me days to even figure out—it seemed like it went on forever. He also usually takes hours to be trimmed.” Another complicated topiary is the Bearcat, a tribute to Lander University. “We had to completely tear him down this year, too.”

“Just about everything has been changed one way or another,” Amber says. “We really wanted a change this year.” Most of the topiaries will be moved to different locations as well.

The elephants—mom and baby—have more adornments this year for a real royal Indian elephant style, and the butterfly has a new design on its wings. “The turtles are way more fun and super vibrant and multicolored, less realistic than they have been,” she says, and, “I don’t want to give too much away, but the horse is a different color, with pink spots, and has a horn this year.”

Training the Next Generation

Greenwood has become so identified with its spectacular topiaries that the horticulture department has begun training a new generation of horticulturists in area schools. As part of the science curriculum, before the pandemic, Amber and other horticulture team members began visiting schools in February or March, taking along a topiary for instruction. After a brief talk, the students help plant the topiary and ask questions about the process.

When COVID-19 sent students into virtual classes the horticulture department made  use of a virtual education grant received from the Self Family Foundation. Using recording gear paid for by the grant, “We started working closely with District 50’s Johnathan Graves,” Amber says. “He came into the greenhouse and recorded six videos.” The videos, explaining irrigation, mossing and planting topiaries, beneficial insects, and propagation, were posted to the school system’s Youtube account. Students watched the videos, and teachers scheduled live virtual Q&A sessions with one of our horticulture staff (usually Amber). Those sessions usually included a tour of two of the city’s greenhouses. 

“I hate that they are missing the hands-on experience,” Amber says, “but they have more time for questions and they get to actually see us work in real time.”

Others can learn something from the videos as well, with YouTube videos like these on how to prep a topiary and how to make a jellyfish.

With the instructional plan in place and a new generation of horticulturists learning to carry the torch, Greenwood is set to keep topiaries growing and charming visitors and residents for many years to come.

In the meantime, children can get in on the fun at the Festival of Flowers Kidfest, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Uptown Market, with rides, arts and crafts, and a slate of performances, including a high-energy show by Mark Lippard and animal education events by the South Carolina Aquarium. There will be robotics, complimentary rides on the Carolina Choo-Choo Train, mural coloring and a firetruck to entertain the little ones. There will also be a USTA Tennis Experience and other demonstrations.

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