Topiary Testudo & Veteran’s Memorial Flag Court

The pedestrian plaza East of Benjamin Hall and South of Cole Student Activity Center along Campus Drive is home to two landmarks, Topiary Testudo and the Veteran’s Memorial Flag Court. Every day, thousands of UMD campus community members pass through this pocket park, with its criss-crossing sidewalks, on their way from parking lots to work, classes, and other activities; and every year, thousands of campus visitors pose here to have their pictures taken. The plaza was designed by architecture students working with UMD’s Facilities Planning Department.

Topiary Testudo is a frame topiary created by Tennessee artist Joe Kyte, also known as “Topiary Joe,” and it measures 12 feet long, 5 feet wide and 3 feet 6 inches tall. Kyte has refined the art of topiary, traditionally creating sculptures with clipped shrubbery and vines, by adding a metal frame through which the plants grow. His sculptures are featured at many famous landscapes, including Legoland, Disney World, and SeaWorld. Topiary Testudo is a gift from the Class of 2004 which took two years to raise $12,000 for the sculpture and commission an artist for the work.

Topiary Testudo sits on a raised circular mound in the center of a circular sidewalk. The sculptural shell is made of sheared boxwood growing through the metal frame and the head is planted with Baltic ivy (Hedera helix var. baltica). Firepower heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica 'Firepower') is a dwarf cultivar planted to the side of Testudo. Firepower has one of the best red winter foliage colors of any heavenly bamboo and it seldom produces fruit. The planted circle also includes sedum, variegated liriope, and heuchera as ground covers. Upright European hornbeam trees (Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’) outline the plaza, and will grow to about 40 feet tall at maturity.

The Veteran’s Memorial Flag Court, a place of reflection, is marked by two 50-foot flagpoles flying the U.S. and Maryland flags, and a plaque. The Flag Court honors those who have and are serving in the U.S. military, and will serve as a lasting memorial to all of America's military heroes. It was built in part with a $12,000 gift from the campus Air Force ROTC Detachment 30 and the Arnold Air Society.

Both Topiary Testudo and the Veteran’s Memorial Flag Court became campus landmarks as soon as they were dedicated in the fall of 2007. It is difficult to imagine campus without them.

Photo by Sam Bahr