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The Empty Vase: the story behind the topiary

September 6, 2009 |  7:46 am

Empty vase 128 

I shift to a crawl when I'm driving past the Empty Vase on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. I can't resist owner Saeed Babaeean's take on topiary animals -- a brontosaur (sans tail), mom and daughter giraffes, a large rabbit and more.

Topiary, the art of clipping live shrubs or trees into decorative shapes, has been around for centuries. Think Louis XIV's gardens at Versailles in France. But growing a hedge and shaping it into balls, cones and spirals -- let along a life-size horse -- can take years. Babaeean has sped up the process, fashioning metal forms in the shape of animals, then stuffing them with moss and planting them with ivy. Depending on the climate, a piece will be covered in three to six months.

Prices for the whimsical creatures range from $8,900 for a 14-foot-long dinosaur to $129 for 12-inch pigs, birds and dogs. The Empty Vase also will make custom designs. Just bring in a picture of what you want, in the position you want it.  Orders take about two weeks to fill, depending on the size. Then all you have to do is soak the sculpture with water every two weeks and give it a shot of fertilizer once a month.

Babaeean says he can do anything, citing one of his most unusual commissions to date: a life-size Porsche convertible. 

Although the large, expensive topiaries aren't selling like they did a couple of years ago -- the dino hasn't moved from his parking space for two years -- customers are still buying the small and medium ones, saleswoman Brenda Hwang said, adding, "People still want something fun in these bad times."

-- Barbara Thornburg

Photo: Barbara Thornburg / Los Angeles Times

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