One Very Large Caterpillar Gets a Haircut from Seattle Tree Care

May 27, 2021


Seasonal, Update


Once a year, the Seattle Tree Care arborist crew heads to South Seattle to help a large laurel hedge transform into a very leafy caterpillar. Safeguarding the Seattle Children’s PlayGarden, this 100-foot laurel hedge needs just a little bit of coaxing to come out of its slumber and shimmy into its signature caterpillar shape.

What is the PlayGarden?

A carefully created playspace, the PlayGarden is a park and playground designed specifically for children with disabilities. It reimagines certain playground staples and provides interactive and accessible activities all year round. Children with disabilities travel from across Washington state to play and learn in the dirt, and children from nearby neighborhoods can enjoy the basketball court, swing set, and chicken coop whenever they please, as long as summer camp or preschool isn’t in session. 


Growing an accessible spaceA laurel hedge is shaped like a ball with a smiley faced carved into it.

The PlayGarden is the brainchild of Elizabeth Bullard, the garden’s Executive Director. A speech therapist, Elizabeth was tired of seeing her patients in sterile, uninspired doctor offices flooded by fluorescent lights. She knew all children would benefit from outdoor, interactive play. But the right environment was needed. Working with various other partners, Elizabeth opened the Garden in 2002. Their Caterpillar Hedge was born in 2005 and although it’s never metamorphosed into a butterfly, it has definitely matured over time. 

Caring for the Caterpillar

Seattle Tree Care started working with the Caterpillar Hedge in 2019. The first haircut was the most drastic and really helped set the shape of the topiary. For the past two years, our team has returned to help carve the Caterpillar’s signature contours back into place. 

This year, our team members Adam and Donta’ spruced up the critter by themselves, with Donta’ working in the bucket truck to get all the good angles. The part of the job that takes the longest? Probably the cleanup. Those caterpillars are known to shed!

A yellow sign at the Seattle Children's PlayGarden is decorated with dandelions and a metal dandelion statue.


Gardens of glory

The hedge is just one aspect of this garden, which was carefully and artfully planned with the help of Wendy Welch of Wendy Welch Garden Design. The landscape includes all kinds of arenas to bolster curiosity and encourage interactive learning. There’s a butterfly border to attract pollinators, a living fence, a sensory zone full of plants with interesting textures and distinct smells, a tree fort, and a wild zone, reminiscent of a resting place in the middle of a woodland hike.

Wendy volunteers her expertise and her staff helps keep the garden maintained and engaging year round. A refreshing change from her typical project, Wendy says it’s a lot of fun to plan a garden with “play” as its main purpose. With everything from a compost fence to a mud pit that’s dug out annually, Wendy has helped create an environment that will keep its visitors entertained for hours on end.

We are delighted to donate our hedging services to the Seattle Children PlayGarden. Thank you to Wendy from Wendy Welch Garden Design for recommending us for this important task, and thank you to Liz and everyone at the PlayGarden for letting us contribute to this community resource.

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