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Iconic topiary dolphins of Corona del Mar getting fat, to be uprooted

The topiary dolphins at the entrance to Corona del Mar -- once shaped so precisely they appeared to be leaping out onto bustling Coast Highway -- have begun to resemble manatees.

Leaf-trimming couldn't save the creatures; no specialty pruner could be found. So the city has decided to remove the iconic bushes and hire someone to grow and groom new ones.

"It's very, very difficult to get them back to the original shape unless you're like an Edward Scissorhands," said Kathy Sommer, a horticulturalist who works with the city on plant care issues.

Sommer, who lives just blocks from the Corona del Mar dolphins, has been chiding the city for years about snouts that had grown too round and dorsal fins that appeared to be disappearing.

Newport Beach plans to spend just under $8,000 for the replacements, which take more than half a year to grow. An additional $5,000 will go toward highway median landscape improvements.

The concept will remain the same. Abandoning the dolphin form was out of the question, said Bernie Svalstad, chairman of the Corona del Mar Business Improvement District.

A pod of 12 in all, the leafy mammals leap toward each other, six diving from either highway median at the entrance to Corona del Mar.

"It just seemed to be part of that community. The community seemed to be part of the dolphin life," said Don Glasgow, who co-founded the local improvement district. "There was a really good relationship."

The topiaries were the brainchild of Patti McDonald, a real estate agent who often did volunteer work, Glasgow said.

He helped her to bring the concept to life, paying $2,100 for a topiary grower to create the dolphin shapes. The same grower will likely be used to create the replacement pod, Sommer said.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the topiaries. A car once plowed into one of the dolphins and a city arborist was brought in to render a verdict on whether the plant would survive. It did.

On holidays, the dolphins are decorated by a group calling itself the “Dolphin Mothers”; the exception is St. Patrick’s Day, when a more underground group has dressed up the dolphins in green top hats.

"I think everyone's just kind of adopted them one way or another over the years," Councilman Ed Selich said.

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emily.foxhall@latimes.com

Twitter: @emfoxhall

 

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