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Axel Erlandson and the Tree Circus
Every element to this fascinating story seems ripe for a feature documentary. There are the trees, seemingly extraterrestrial but undoubtedly man-made. There is Axel Erlandson, an arboreal alchemist with grand visions of commercial success but whose endless hours spent on his menagerie point to a devotion verging on the spiritual. There are the variable horticultural triumphs hinting at the fame he longed for but found difficult to cultivate. And then the neglect, the constant confusion over ownership, and the epic transfer to a theme park. An aberrant Wagnerian Philip Glass passage would be blaring in the soundtrack at this time. A wife, an architect (not a landscape architect), and a nurseryman complete the cast.

Someone contact Errol Morris!

Axel Erlandson and the Tree Circus

Axel Erlandson and the Tree Circus

Axel Erlandson and the Tree Circus

Axel Erlandson and the Tree Circus

It is a variation on a classic garden narrative — an eccentric, garden aesthete, the favorite of aristocrats or even an aristocrat himself, experimenting with forms at a grand country estate, which becomes the stage setting for social fraternizing. Amidst the part-Japanese, part-Egyptian, part-Classical regular-irregular topiary jungle, social conventions are strictly enforced. One faux pas and you suffer the same fate as Glen Close in the finale of Dangerous Liaison. Except when it's a deliciously illicit tryst, which everyone else would be having. And then circumstances of history lead to the garden's ruin, to the designer obscurity, only to be rediscovered and transformed into a theme park in contemporary times.

Tourists now flock en mass. And well-funded grad students come for an hour and then proceed to spend their remaining grant money drinking and partying.

Axel Erlandson and the Tree Circus

Axel Erlandson and the Tree Circus

Wind Tunnel QTVR
  • Geoff Manaugh
  • October 12, 2005 at 5:09:00 PM CDT
  • Have you seen this? It's the "german [sic] master of treedome growing" – the germinal idea for arboreal architecture. The ashdome. The Lindenhaus. The lattice. The growing ladder.
    (Just in case:

  • Anonymous
  • April 27, 2006 at 2:20:00 PM CDT
  • Another branch to the story....
    A young man who visited the trees as a child has an epiphany. "Pick up where Erlandson left off”!
    After 15 years of tireless planting pruning and grafting writing 2 books on the subject and traveling the world tracing down everyone who is also shaping tree trunks, all the while expecting the idea to tip....

  • Anonymous
  • January 12, 2007 at 7:57:00 AM CST
  • Check out these trees - legend has it they were markers used by pirates to find their treasure

  • D.W.
  • January 12, 2007 at 11:53:00 AM CST
  • Never seen,
    never seen,
    this picture before......

    - actual lines from "the Photographer" an opera (of sorts) by Philp Glass.

  • Anonymous
  • January 12, 2007 at 3:16:00 PM CST
  • I am from Santa Cruz, CA and have seen the trees pictured here.

  • Unknown
  • March 27, 2007 at 5:09:00 AM CDT
  • thought you'd be interested to see the Treehouse my husband and I built.

    look for the "gallery"
    Fairy Castle

  • Anonymous
  • December 13, 2008 at 7:01:00 PM CST
  • Those trees are now part of an amusement park in Gilroy. The trees were owned by by Michael Bonfante. He built the park which was know for a few years as Bonfante Gardens. It has gone thru some other name changes since. It is a really gorgeous park, with lots of rides for little children, including a spinning garlic ride.

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