Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How the Other Half Garden


"It's hopeless," I thought to myself as I fished a dollar store umbrella out of my purse, "There is no way I am ever going to blend in to my posh surroundings."

A light rain had begun to fall as I stood in line for the shuttle bus to take me from the subway station to garden tour headquarters at Rosedale Junior Public School. This was not just any old garden tour I was about to embark on. The forty dollar admission price made that clear enough. No, my red discount store umbrella and I were about to get a peak into the private gardens of multi-million dollar homes in a very prestigious area in the heart of downtown Toronto.

At tour headquarters I was given a paper wrist band, rather like the ones that are issued to hospital patients, and a little paper gift bag containing a few hand cream samples, a tour guide and a free magazine issue. I should have been grateful for the giveaways, but instead I grumbled inwardly about having to carry my gifts around with me all day when I was already burdened with a purse, umbrella and camera.


The tour promised twenty-one gardens of the fabulously wealthy. I prepared myself to be impressed, a bit intimidated and yes, maybe even a little envious.

I started to wonder, "If I won the lottery or came into money (sadly both are about as likely as being struck by lightening), how would that effect the way I garden? Would I still want to go out there and muck about in the dirt or would I have people to do that for me?"

At first I scoffed at the idea that money could influence something I felt so passionate about, but then, I wondered if it would really be so bad to hire someone to take care of that horrible patch of goutweed that I have been avoiding all spring. I think that I could easily give that hard work up to someone else.






Perhaps it was the ice cream vendor's cart, but it struck me that there was something downright theatrical about the whole event as I stepped to the end of the fifty person queue at the second garden on my tour. It was like we were standing in line to see a show, or worse yet, preparing to see the habitats of some exotic animal in a natural history museum. Certainly some tour patrons took liberties. I saw a few people gawking rudely into open windows; their noses pressed to the glass.

At the front of the line, we received the first of strict instructions, "Do not step on the grass." Even without this edict one intuitively sensed there was something precious and very expensive involved. The lawn was so finely manicured it would put the average golf course to shame. One could almost imagine trip wires and alarms that would sound if an errant foot happened to stray from the path.

Lawns were not the only things out of bounds. When later in the day my foot wandered onto some pea gravel, I was immediately corrected. I would not have normally thought that pea gravel could be harmed, but it seems that in high-end neighbourhoods it acquires unique characteristics.


The garden that I am about to show you was probably the most grand of the ones I managed to visit that day. Two long rectangular ponds stretched out on either side of the front entrance like a pair of wings. My photograph does not do justice to the effect of the massed blue-grey stones at the bottom of the shallow pools. There was just enough water movement on the glassy surface to prevent the ponds from becoming mosquito breeding ponds. It was so elegant and restrained that it was quite breathtaking.

My first thought was that anyone could replicate this, but then it dawned on me what makes this water feature high-end. It is not the pool, but rather the upkeep. You'll note that there is not even the tiniest bit of debris at the bottom. I bet those stones must be lifted and the pools thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis. This upkeep must cost the homeowner a pretty penny.


If you pass the blue-grey ponds and turn to the left a pathway leads you to a small courtyard and then down a long garden allee.


This is the garden equivalent of the little black dress: classic and stylish.


I wonder if there might be drifts of daffodils here in the spring? 


If we head back to the front of the house and then to our right, we pass through a wrought iron gate and find ourselves in a small courtyard. 


 A pathway leads you to the large courtyard you see in the next image.



Stretching out from the back of the house is a large swimming pool.


Each of the two pool houses had more square feet than an entire floor of my house.


It is interesting that this area is half grass and half pea gravel.


On either side of the courtyard there were lovely beds of roses.

So what about you? If you won the lottery or came into money, how would that effect the way you garden? 

P.S. As a counterpoint to all this opulence, I have put a humble wildflower in my header today.

46 comments:

  1. What a spectacular view ! And how nicely managed! The white creeping roses, water pond lined with stones,the lawns, green grass, the wide variety of plants-everything is breathtaking here.

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  2. Although these gardens are quite grand and beautiful, I prefer the charm and personality of the small garden in your previous post. If money were no object, I'd probably hire someone to do the tasks I hate, such as spreading mulch and pulling oak sprouts. Other than that, I like to do my own gardening. And I agree completely with you about the upkeep on the beautiful stone lined pond...I keep stones in the bottom of a terra cotta dish for the birds to stand on and just keeping those free of debris and slime is an ongoing job!

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  3. Jennifer, thank you for sharing this interesting tour! I love the photos of the shallow pools with blue-grey stones and another one of the half grass and half pea gravel garden. Lovely!

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  4. I think these gardens are a bit too sterile and clipped for my tastes. They didn't have much soul. There was very little color other than green and I didn't see any wildlife. If I won the lottery, I'd hire someone to scoop dog poop for me (my daughter would be forever grateful!) and install a sprinkler system for the grass. I like your garden much more than any of those! :o)

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  5. Beautiful but I am missing the flowers and if you can't enjoy the feel of grass on bare feet I think you lose part of the joy of the garden!

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  6. I am sorry Jennifer beautiful garden but I would be affraid to take a step in it, to me it's to perfect. No soul in it. If I won the lottery I gave my money away to an animal protection organisation. I love your garden hundred times more.
    Have a nice evening Jennifer

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    1. Marijke, Giving money to a animal protection organization is a wonderful idea.

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  7. I think the problem with some of those saying the 'gardens' lack soul, is they are not gardens per say, rather landscapes. Often these tranquil spaces do lack color, but depend on texture and scale for visual interest. Estate landscaping is a whole different ball game, and the ambiance of the spaces is much different than small intimate spaces, often not designed, but grown through time. I will be doing a post discussing the differences in the future.

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    1. Donna, I look forward to your post. Estate landscaping is, as you point out, quite different the gardening involved in a small, intimate space. Though these garden are less personal, they do have a beauty all of their own. Again as you point out, texture and scale are key. The use of the groundcovers and hardscaping in the second garden were wonderfully done. There was also a birch garden, which I did not manage to photograph. My favourite textural element however were those blue-grey stones.

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  8. I'm in agreement with the majority. The opulent landscapes seem too perfect to me. I prefer the softness of natural, free form plants to poodle-clipped. What I do admire is the hardscaping like the long gray pool with stones and that's where my lottery money would go. Thank you for reminding me that it doesn't take millions of dollars to be surrounded by beauty.

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    1. Teresa, On last weekend's pond tour, I saw the same blue-grey stones edging a walkway. It looked terrific.

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  9. Jennifer,
    I didn't take you for a pea-gravel mauler. I'm constantly surprised by what I learn by stopping by. This garden is definitely one that would be a great backdrop for a party. Those limes are calling out for gin. And, I'm sure those stones are lifted and polished at least one day a week - was this the garden with the 4 permanent gardeners? I'm with you, it wouldn't be the garden I'd make either, but it is memorable, and I was pleased to be able to take a little peak. Looking back between the bungalows wonder if they're going to box up the trees or even make them into perfect upside-down bowls? So sorry to miss the pond tour - had to work this w/e - will put it in the calendar for next year. B

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    1. Barbara, I think you are so right about the limes calling out for some gin and a party. I can so imagine guests in the finest evening wear strolling through the garden on a warm summer night, drinks in hand.
      And I agree that the garden was memorable and it was a treat to take a peak. I also think the homeowners we generous to open this private space to the public and allow hundreds of people to walk through the it.

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  10. Thanks for the tour. It's a good thing my taste runs to the more humble garden. However, with a few million to spare I probably wouldn't be picking the weeds out of my patio. Although, it is beautiful out today!

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    1. Karen, You couldn't ask for a much nicer day!

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  11. Fantastic tour and amazing garden!

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  12. Thanks for the wonderful garden tour. Awesome gardens!!!

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  13. A little too formal for me. Love the casual cottage garden look with benches inviting you to sit a while. Nice place to visit but wouldn't want to live there.

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  14. Like you I loved those long reflecting pools with the beautiful stones sitting at the bottom. Overall though a bit too refined for my tastes. Like many others I notice a lack of personality that tells me the owners don't garden here, it's all professionally done. While beautiful there's that something that is lacking.

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  15. I hear this a lot from home gardeners, that a garden that's been professionally designed and maintained is missing something. I have to admit that when I visit a "home" garden I usually feel that, although deeply personal, opportunities have been missed. So I guess it goes both ways. I'm a garden designer and have seen many many times how a well designed garden can transform the lives of a family. Whether or not they are affluent is, I feel, beside the point. Having dirt under your fingernails is not the only way to experience a garden. Can't we allow, in our garden world view, that some people like to be hands-on while others like to stroll or dine or listen or feel the sun? Gardens are many things to many people. I wish our dialogues about gardens could be broader and more inclusive.

    I thought this garden was a stunning example of a traditional garden. It's soul was in the quiet, in the green palette, in the accents, in the moving water, in the vistas, in proprotions, in the balance. Thanks so much for the beautiful photos and great commentary.

    By the way, who designed it?

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    1. Carolyn, You make many great points. You are certainly right to point out that there is more than one way to experience a garden.
      If I know of the designer, I always try to credit them, but I was remiss in this case. The tour guide credits landscape architect Mark Hartley and MHLA INC. on the first property (first cluster of images). Sadly, the tour guide does not credit the landscape architect for the second property, which begins with the image of the ponds with the blue-grey stones.

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  16. I have been to so many garden tours in extremely expensive homes over the years ~ at first I was enchanted and sometimes I even came home with something I could adapt and use in my own garden. But in recent years I have grown disenchanted with these showcases...I really perfer seeing real gardens, populated with real gardeners. If I have lots of $$$ the first thing I would do is hire someone to rebuild my arbors, as it is I am going to try and do it myself...wish me luck!

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  17. The prose and photos are all beautiful, but the way you said what you see is really entertaining. I actually laughed at your reference to your feet wandering on pea gravels, that they have new identities in those locations! And i can't imagine how difficult it is to wash the blue stones one by one, perhaps! But looking at the photos and the plants, it seems like lifeless, i wonder why. I don't know if i am biased in my psyche or am affected by your lovely insinuations of the place. But thanks for giving us a peek on your very privileged tour. Here, because there is no such tours like that, i just bought a coffee-table book of the local gardens of the rich and famous, and it is rather costly too.

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  18. It's always fascinating to peek over the proverbial garden wall, but at the end of the day I truly prefer my side, weeds and all. A garden needs soul, life. A garden needs to be experienced not just observed.

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  19. I love a garden tour, but I'd rather a tour of a small city garden or a suburban garden that has been worked by the home owner. These large gardens show little imagination - they all seem to be emulating something from a glossy magazine. Give me a cottage garden in a small-town tour any day!

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  20. Not a leaf out of place, such perfection, no wonder they didn't want anyone walking on the grass. It left me feeling that the people concerned were not gardeners themselves, but had a team to keep their acres neat and tidy. The ground cover was doing an excellent job and the hedges were so neatly clipped, but where was the passion!

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  21. Oh Jennifer this is a wonderful post. The tour is just my cup of tea, nothing better than having a snoop around beautiful gardens. I adore the fifth from last picture with the rose triptych- how gorgeous is that! Wear your dollar store umbrella with pride, I barely manage to hang onto any umbrella for a day or two before losing it anyway.
    Paul

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  22. I am drooing over the beautiful roses.... oh to have a professional gardener! Love the tour , wonderful garden but oh I kept wanting a splash of bright colour in all the green space and all that gorgeous stone.... guess I would never be hoity toity..

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  23. Hi Jennifer,

    These gardens are so manicured but are too green for my taste. I would prefer your garden with lots of color.

    Eileen

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  24. The gardens are really a work of art. Something to be looked at but not lived in. Not my style but I do get ideas from these sorts of gardens and it is a great way to give some talented designers and artisans a place to practice their craft.

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  26. All very beautiful but no real fun if you cannot feel the grass under your feet in a garden is it. (Reposted as I left a vital word out!)

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    1. I can't imagine that gardening would be half as much fun if I didn't get my hands dirty. My favourite moment in the garden however is the walk around the flowerbeds that I take before I get to work. I note what has come into flower, what has changed and what needs to be done. I loves quiet moments of observation.

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  27. Hi Jennifer
    I love gardens that are well maintained and quite formal in design, therefore this was one my favorites on the tour. It felt as if I had walked into a Garden Design magazine. I don't blame the owners for asking that the public not step on the grass or even pea gravel! Can you imagine how many hundreds even thousands of people toured on those two days? It would take weeks for a lawn to recover. Anyway - what would I get someone to do in the garden if I could afford it? The really heavy work in the spring and pulling weeds all summer and autumn. I love pruning, shopping for plants and the actual planting. But hauling dirt and mulch - I could easily watch someone do that plus weeding. Fabulous photos - thx so much for a great post!

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    1. Astrid, This garden is easily magazine worthy. And I am sure you are right that the grass would take a bit of a beating with hundreds of people tramping through the gardens. I did try to be very respectful during my visit to each garden. Heavy labor is definitely the chore I would choose to farm out if I had money as well.

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  28. Interesting post Jennifer. While the 'rules' were strict and a little over the top/snooty I think if there were fifty people walking through my gardens I would try to 'guide' them to where they can and can't walk.
    You are so right about the upkeep on that river rock pool, it has to be cleaned like it were newly installed, moving all the rocks out to get any debris.
    I think the half grass half pea-gravel fountain area is an interest affect. Kind of like it.

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  29. Well for heaven's sake, had I known you were coming I would have put the kettle on! Or had Mildred do it of course!
    ;-P

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  30. I'm not sure money would affect the way I garden - the pictures you showed were pretty sterile and too manicured for my liking - give me my jungley unkempt garden any day

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  31. WOW, what a nice post Jennifer..... wonderful pictures
    it's a pleasure too see such lovely work....my compliments.

    greetings from Holland, Joop

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  32. Ogród jest wypielęgnowany, zielony, pełen wody, ale to nie dla mnie ogród. Mało tam kolorów. Bardziej kojarzy mi się z pięknym parkiem niż ogrodem. Pozdrawiam i dziękuję za bardzo miłe odwiedziny.
    The garden is neat, green, full of water, but it's not for me to garden. Little color there. More reminds me of a beautiful park than a garden. I greet and thank you for a very nice visit.

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  33. Oh Jennifer, I am at a loss for words here. Breathtaking beauty is good for starters. I know it seems steep, but what a wonderful way to spend $40. I would be like a kid in a candy store!

    Thank you SO MUCH for taking us along here. This is really a very special treat.

    Hmmmm, the lottery? I have a feeling it would go into camera "stuff" before my garden. :-)

    You have a fantastic weekend, my friend.

    xo.

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  34. Well written! Gave me a good chuckle! The gardens were beautiful but I don't know, I think there is a disconnect when you are not interacting with your garden...same applies for your home. That is why it is good there are all kinds of people. I can appreciate these museum like spaces but I really perfer a garden that I can walk in!

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  35. You write so well and illustrative. The pictures of the garden makes me imagine the grandeur and all the work. As a well-kept castle park. I wish you a wonderful weekend! Zinnia

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  36. I have to add that I would have stepped on the grass a few times just to see if an alarm went off. :o)

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  37. I must say I was surprised by the response to these two gardens. People either liked them or they didn't. I don't think anyone would argue that they are beautifully designed and executed.

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