In 1905, Fall River mill owner Thomas Brayton hired Azorean immigrant José Carreiro as Caretaker-Gardener for his summer home in Portsmouth, which overlooked Narragansett Bay.
Brayton desired vegetable and flower gardens; beyond this, he allowed Carreiro to develop the grounds as he pleased.
Carreiro began adding a network of arbors – grape, gourd, and magnolia – and plantings such as Giant Reed Grass, reminiscent of his homeland.
Then he applied his inherent creativity and professional skill to a formal garden plan.
It began with the propagation of privet cuttings that Carreiro envisioned he could grow into life-size animal shapes from a single plant, and without using a frame.
Over the course of his life, Carreiro developed an unique combination of formal and informal gardens, juxtaposing many topiary shapes with lush planting of flowers and fruit trees.
Upon his death in 1950, his son-in-law, George Mendonça carried on with equal dedication for Brayton's daughter, Alice, maintaining and supplementing the topiary in the spirit of what she described as Portuguese "folk art" tradition.
Alice Brayton bequeathed Green Animals to the Preservation Society in 1972 to preserve this singular expression of creative artistry and cultural values.
To shape the elephant's trunk, several privet branches were allowed to grow out from the body.
Then they were intertwined and tied toward the ground in order to counteract the plant's natural tendency to grow upwards.
In about a year, the branches hardened off and maintained the downward growth pattern.
The ears and tusks were tied into shape in a similar fashion.
The Carreiro family received an annual gift basket from the Braytons, which contained a package of Dromedary Dates.
José requested that his wife save the package; Mary Mendonça recalls her father closely examining the camel and carefully sketching it out on white butcher paper.
This was the original inspiration for the formal topiary gardens and the camel was the first topiary José shaped.
“Oh my darling giraffe lost his head,” lamented Alice Brayton to George Mendonça, observing the damage of the 1938 hurricane.
“I'll never live long enough to see a head on this animal!”
“Well,” George replied, “I can add long, tall, privet and maybe in a year we can have a head on it… of course I don&'t think this will be tall enough to replace it the way it was.”
Alice responded with a twinkle in her eye, “Don't you know Rhode Island giraffes have short necks?”
Strolling through the gardens one afternoon, Alice Brayton's guest Maude Wetmore caught her hairnet in the arches.
After George witnessed her struggling to free herself, he remarked to Miss Brayton, “I think I'm going to raise the arches so Miss Wetmore can go through without getting hung up.”
She replied, “George, if anybody wants to see your garden, they shouldn't mind bowing to enter it.”
For several years, Alice Brayton hosted a “Harvest Party” to entertain the Kennedy children, Caroline and John, Jr. After digging potatoes and pulling up beets and carrots, they looked forward to having their picture taken together in the Morris Chair.
For this occasion, George Mendonça rigged the topiary by inserting pipes into the base and placing a piece of plywood on the seat to protect the topiary.