A well-hedged business: Topiary

A former welder ditches his career to start his own topiary business.

By Aviva Erlich, FSB Magazine

(FSB Magazine) -- Before cliff finch entered the topiary trade, he was an underwater welder, setting up pipelines at the bottom of the North Sea. But for Finch, 58, the switch to creating garden sculptures wasn't as erratic as one might think: Beneath every topiary Finch produces is a custom-welded metal frame holding the structure together. "Building the frame is the art," Finch says, "Once you have the frame, you know exactly what you're going to end up with."

Today Finch and his wife, Joanie, own and run Cliff Finch's Topiary Zoo in Friant, Calif., just north of Fresno. Finch does the welding and, over the years, has created sculptures ranging from the seven-foot chess pieces seen here to increasingly popular tabletop arrangements. In the past few months Finch designed and produced race- car- and jazz-themed centerpieces for private parties.

Rather than increase production by adding staff, the Finches have kept their business small - they're the only employees, apart from a smattering of part-time support staff - limiting their revenues to about $75,000 a year. But for Finch, who retired in search of a less dangerous occupation, the topiary business has its perks: "It's enjoyable," he says, "and people like the sculptures. It has worked out."

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