Taste of Versailles

Versailles in Toronto, Photo by Andreas Trauttmansdorff

With memorable views and inspiring ideas, a grand garden in the heart of the city is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Photo by Andreas Trauttmansdorff

One of the rarest kinds of garden in Canada is an estate right in the middle of the city-especially an estate that has all the elements of grandeur: all?es, a woodland, a swimming pool, a fountain, water courses, a rill, a reflecting pool, a greenhouse, amazing focal points and, of course, graceful and elegant borders. We have found such a garden here in Toronto and it is a stunner.

This mini-version of Versailles not only delights the eye, it also gives us pointers on what to do in our own small (by comparison) gardens. This is an important exercise in gardening: seeing where you can raid ideas. “Creative stealing” is what I’ve always called it.

When you walk into this grand garden, you aren’t immediately aware of all its different elements. You feel an enormous sense of calm as though you’ve walked into another, better world. Then the garden slowly reveals itself-each element leading to the next in a series of unfolding pictures. (Every garden, even small ones, can benefit from this alluring device, with plants or screens to conceal part or parts of the space.)

One revelation here is how the designers dealt with quite an irregular garden site: 175 feet by 183 feet by 100 feet. To straighten out the eccentric dimensions, a rectangle 83 feet long by 50 feet wide was carved out smack dab in the centre and put on a north-south axis. This gives the space excellent bones, and also adds some
formality to an otherwise loose perimeter. The result is symmetry within asymmetry, which is a valuable principle to apply to any difficult garden space.

This formal interior section acts as a connection between the house and many of the garden’s structures. The owners didn’t want anything too severe but needed the kind of visual calm a formal design affords. Here they find a feeling of romantic peacefulness-a necessary respite in their overburdened lives. From the living room, they look down an all?e of crabapples to a glorious focal point: a fountain sitting in the middle of a sward comprised of half grass and half pea gravel. It’s a stunning effect.

The lesson here is framing: you may not have room for an all?e but you can still frame a feature with two small trees and create an enchanting picture. When you’re putting in a border or installing a structure or even just adding a big plant or a birdbath, always check how it looks from every window of the house. These are the views you’ll be seeing year-round.

All the elements in a garden, including the hardscaping, should always relate to the house. The chosen material for this large space was mostly Wiarton limestone. Its subtle beige tone complements both home and plantings, and gives the paths, edgings, copings and terraces a consistent look.

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