One morning, William awakens to a commotion and dashes outside. There he sees that, as if by magic, a tall tree has been shaped into a topiary owl overnight. The next morning, another tree has been transformed into a topiary cat. Each day brings a new wonder: a rabbit, a parakeet, an elephant, and, finally, an enormous dragon. The townspeople all come out to take photographs, chat, make music, and play games beneath the sculpted branches. But who is making these works of art?
As the sun begins to set one evening, William notices a man carrying a ladder, and follows him to the park. The man turns to William: “There are so many trees in this park. I could use a little help,” he says. And so William spends the wee hours helping the Night Gardener and learning the man’s craft. He awakens the next morning beside a pair of shears bearing the tag, “For William.” It seems the man has passed on his title to the young boy.
This wonderful book is a rich feast for the eyes. The pictures tell most of the story through myriad details. The first wordless pages depict a faded, depressed community where people walk alone (calling to mind Depression-era images). But with the coming of the Night Gardener’s sculptures, the whole mood changes and the pages fill with colour and activity. Time periods also become incidental: cars, cameras, and fashions from different eras, as well as people of all ages and cultures, mingle beneath the trees, creating a sense of a timeless, universal space. The community spirit continues after the Night Gardener’s departure; William and his town have been changed forever by the beauty of art and the power of imagination.