Photo: Kelsey McClellan
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On a first visit to San Francisco’s residential neighborhoods, it’s easy to believe you’ve entered a sort of Seussville. Rows of brightly painted façades in every color imaginable are ornamented with shapely green bushes in both impossibly round and intricately twisted forms. From delicate pom poms to large swirling branches, these are not your average bushes.
Just as San Francisco residents often embrace their garage doors as a canvas, many have also created art in the form of incredibly ornamental juniper, cyprus and boxwood trees.
With the advent of Instagram, a growing number of photographers are documenting this unique craft for public consumption. Inner Sunset resident Kelsey McClellan moved to San Francisco five years ago from Ohio and immediately noticed how different the trees were than anything she’d seen before. “The first thing I noticed was the topiaries. They’re everywhere and they’re so different from anything I’d ever seen in Ohio,” she said. “We all have the same draw to them because they’re so weird.”
McClellan said initially she’d noticed them on walks throughout her neighborhood, but now she seeks them out. “If I’m bored I’ll try and go to a new area and try to find them,” McClellan said. “Sometimes I’m driving and I have to slam on the brakes and take a picture.”
Another local photographer, Marc Alcock, moved to San Francisco in 2010 from the north of England. In contrast to the restrained style of his home town, he said he was immediately drawn to the more playful residential homes in San Francisco.
“Where I’m from there were a lot of similar Victorian brick buildings, but there isn’t a lot of self-expression when it comes to people’s homes,” Alcock said. “Homeowners in the Bay Area seem to value individualism, and the paint color and landscaping play a big part in the identity of the home.”
After spending a few years documenting his favorites on Instagram, Alcock decided to turn the work into a book. He said California Topiary explores the special relationship between architecture and nature.
“I don’t think there’s any other place in the world where topiary and architecture combine in such a unique way,” Alcock said. “They form a portrait of the homeowners.”
Tessa McLean is a digital editor with SFGATE. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @mcleantessa.