9 January — This week, after a bit of a holiday break, Phyllis and I reconvened the Tuesday Walking Society and set out for a walk inspired by yet another route in the book of Toronto walks sent me by my Long Beach friend Marty.
I thought I knew the grounds pretty well, but I’d never seen this plaque before, so I learned things I hadn’t known before. European settlers first came to this area after 1812, with one Scottish settler, Alexander Milne, arriving in 1817 and building up a farm that eventually covered 240 hectares.
In 1944 (!! no, I don’t know what happened in between), Rupert Edwards, head of Toronto Varnish Ltd., bought the original 11-hectare Milne homestead, and developed ponds, gardens, a rockery and a 9 hole golf course on the grounds. He wanted it eventually to become a public garden, and in 1955 his wish came true: it was acquired by Metropolitan Toronto.
I remember the building and grounds decades ago as delightful, but modest. This century both building and grounds have been renamed (as the TBG) and significantly redeveloped, and in the process — I am relieved to say — have become even more wonderful to visit.
They make a point of being of this century, not the last; talk about their contemporary gardens and design. What you see supports what they say. Here’s a section of the Arrival Courtyard, with the main entrance to the Centre for Horticulture just behind.
I love those beech! Green all summer, rusty orange all winter, and, year-round, pruned to fit exactly flush with their metal framework. “Living sculpture,” says the brochure… You can’t tell from this photo, but the Centre has 223 square metres of green roof (and is itself LEED Silver-Certified).
We walk between the beech and turn right, close to the building, to follow the Entry Garden Walk. It’s the work of Dutch designer Piet Oudolf, a demonstration of the New Wave style with perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees planted in naturalistic waves to create the look, says the designer, of a “sophisticated meadow.”
A lot of it is under snow at the moment, but not the grasses, not the trees, not the towering sculpture by Canadian artist Ron Baird — and not the hawk!
Check high in the tree to the left of the sculpture. See that distinctive shape? There he is.
We walk through more of the high-level grounds for a while, then down a path through the rockery to the lower level, carved by Wilket Creek — originally Milne Creek as I now know, thanks to that plaque. Rupert Edwards surely had his own garden beds down here, perhaps his golf course (long gone), and, again the plaque tells me, rustic bridges over the creek.
The bridge is still charmingly rustic, but it is certainly not one of Edwards’ — we’ve had too many flash floods come roaring down the creek for that. There’s been a lot of thought and sensitive engineering in recent years, finding ways to protect nature from some of nature’s wilder events, and still maintain a natural look in the process.
Eventually we pick our way up the rise on the far side of the creek — carefully, on snowy surfaces made slick by rising temperatures — and start down the path that continues west through the grounds.
“Look!” cries Phyllis, who gets her footing at the top of the climb before I do. I follow her pointing finger to the right. There’s Snow Cat.
Well, with those pointed ears, it’s not Snowman, is it? I grant you it’s not a wonderful snow-creature, even a hint of melting makes the best of them look a bit pathetic, and this was never the best… But somehow I find it endearing. I think what I really like is the evidence of how it was built: that great green swirl showing exactly the path taken by Snow Cat’s creators as they rolled the snow into balls of just the right size.
So that’s good fun, and on we go, exchanging pleasant greetings with a TBG groundskeeper as we head for the western edge of the grounds, and our next area of exploration.
Oh, this will be different from the botanical garden we are about to leave behind! No public welcome here; we’re going to walk up and down the secluded streets that lie between Edwards Gardens and Bayview Av. – Bridle Path and Post Rd. being the best-known names, the ones that are Toronto shorthand for Very Very Serious Money.
This is on the Bridle Path, but could be on any of the other streets. It’s typical, with its air of calm spaciousness, but also atypical, because most of the homes are much bigger and much more ornate than these. After a few blocks, Phyllis and I joke that our new definition of a modest home is one that does not require you to swivel your head left to right in order to see it all.
I couldn’t bring myself to photograph any of the monsters, every one of them some kind of pastiche of ye-olde European grandeur. I just didn’t like them. So, sorry. I should have at least one to show you, but I don’t.
What I did like, a lot, was the remaining examples of 20th-century modern. I say ”remaining,” because that had been the area’s signature architectural style, but those earlier homes are being systematically razed and replaced by what I’m decided to call the Euro-Pastiche school of architecture.
For example, I liked this gate: simple, especially vivid on a flat winter day.
And this home, its tones as warm and bright against the winter landscape as that gate above. To be honest, I didn’t notice the house first; I stopped to admire the the grasses and the evergreens. Then I saw the house, and liked the whole thing.
There was few signs of life, among all those homes. Maybe they’re off south somewhere? Many blinds and curtains drawn, no people glimpsed through windows — though a little Scottie dog yapped happily at us through an upstairs window that had “Duke” spelled out above his head against the glass. (A Scottie dog named Duke? How odd.)
Two joggers, no other pedestrians. One Creeds van (“couture dry cleaner”) went by, and lots of construction trucks. The only sounds on the streets were those of construction. Down with 20th-Century Modern! Up with Euro-Pastiche! Most of the trades firms had suitably pompous names, to go with the price bracket. No so the painters for one of the largest residential projects of all: “Mike & Sons” said their plain little notice. We saluted it with yips of delight.
The battered Lawrence Av. E. sign pointed us to our final exploration. We decided to follow Lawrence right to its dead end in the ravine just east of Bayview Av.
This gave us a satisfying bit of hill work — down down down, about turn and up up up — and one last discovery while still down in the ravine.
I knew this road ultimately gave access to the York University parking lot for its Glendon Campus; I didn’t know it was also home to a school. Crestwood School, says its sign; a private day school, JK to grade 6, says the website I check later.
More winter grasses popping out of the snow, and a building mural that I bet is at its best now, against January monochrome, rather than competing with nature’s exuberance the rest of the year.
After that, it’s back up the ravine hill, back to Edwards Gardens, back to the car. I’d forgotten my pedometer, but we check our watches. Two and a half hours of pretty sustained clipping along. We’re happy.