"...note how admirably an old building in the country sits on the ground, how it forms an element of the scenery. Of course garden craft...has something to do with this wedding of building to site: the old designer absorbed the site into his imagination, studied its conformation before he planted his building upon it: he likewise touched up the site to suit the building. And as a result the structure is linked with the site, steeped in its scenery, blended with all the picturesque commonplaces of the land." J. D. Sedding, Art and Handicraft, 1893
|House and front garden as they appeared in 1988, immediately after purchase|
Sedding's description of a picturesquely placed older building seems to capture the atmosphere of the home I've been fortunate to inhabit since March 1988. Often we choose a house based mostly on feelings about its potential as a nest, with looks and landscaping a remote second. But in this case, I was smitten long before getting near the inside, based on a first glance at the ensemble from the road. To say the place had 'curb appeal' would be understatement. While its grounds turned out to be a remnant of their once rambling extent, the scene still possessed an aura so lively it immediately piqued my interest in stewarding it. I could hardly believe my good fortune at stumbling upon such a captivating refuge, a feeling that only deepened as I explored its equally magical interior. House and site effused charm, despite some rough handling through subdivision and rather insensitive updating. And the site's scenic potential spoke directly to a garden imagination searching for an inspiring venue. For sure, nothing could alter the fact of visual encroachment by other houses, but I felt confident their presence could be lessened by judiciously applying more landscaping. And the reality is, proximity is the norm in much of suburbia anyway, with other dwellings often coming uncomfortably close. So close in fact that side walls now often come with few windows in order to protect privacy, irrespective of which exposure this sacrifices and how cave-like it makes an interior. It's also common for landscape features to be mutilated in development, perhaps especially on rocky upland sites. But the house on Grange Road was clearly something other than the suburban norm, its manifest charm fetching to this would-be gardener's eye. The photo at top shows the old place as it appeared some twenty-eight years ago now, gracing a natural rise with scattered oaks front and back: a modestly sized but characterful home in a still-dramatic landscape setting.
|Levelled and raised building pad for a new home under way in the hood|
Since acquiring this sweet old spot, I've focussed on healing wounds and hiding scars by restoring the house and elaborating garden spaces around it. I have also been interested, as a pastime, in collecting impressions of its long history, to establish a clearer sense of how things sat before passing through the property mill. This penciling-in of a past for a setting much-changed is a bittersweet, if enriching, business, as it sharpens awareness of what might have been avoided with greater restraint. And, as all romantic engagement teaches us, 'what might have been' can be a tormenting place to linger for any length of time. Truth is, infill development is decidedly, often brutally, indifferent to landscapes, a process of economics and geometry foremost - after which a downstream owner finds herself trying to rebuild a genuine sense of place on a fragment. I still count myself lucky to have unearthed a situation with so much inherent vitality, and to have gained the luxury of amplifying an underlying connection between building and site rather than having to conjure one out of thin air. Few suburban gardeners unearth situations where what Sedding termed 'the romance of possibility' is embedded to such a fantastic degree. Many struggle to find a way to spark an illusion of romance long after a forced union has been contrived. All I had to do here was discern the underlying possibilities and devise novel ways to express them.
|No 'romance of possibility' outside these newbies|
As a medium for interpretation, this old place dates to early in the twentieth century, making it a veritable antique in our throwaway present, a smallish house anomalously surviving in a domestic world of continual change. Heading towards an uncertain future, this old place carries its steadily lengthening history in tow, lodged in its old-growth bones and turn-of-the-century details. It's a past that, with close observation, can be made to tell us how it was made, how it was inhabited and used, and importantly, afford insight into how it came to be placed where it is.
The Savage bungalow was erected in the summer of 1913, just as a fancy new electric railroad opened access to habitable sites scattered among outlying farms and rural holdings. It was all alone out there at first, with few houses nearby and none visible through its many windows, perched high on its rocky outcrop on the fringe of an open oak meadow. The new house must have stood there quite smartly in splendid isolation, gazing out serenely over forested slopes towards farms dotted with rocky outcrops, with glimpses of distant views (Portage Inlet, the Olympics, and remotely from its front porch on clear winter days, Mount Baker).
|Lands dotted with outcrops and oak meadows|
If this situation happened to have been minted in Japan, the Savage bungalow would have been considered a shakkei landscape par excellence for all the wild scenery it took in. And when first built, it must have appeared a novel and quite exotic form of building to be placed in such a rural locale.
Today it is a house more glimpsed than proclaimed, having under my hand retreated from the encroaching world behind a deepening vegetative screen. As its steward now for over a quarter century (joined capably by my wife Susan for the past 18 years), I have been orchestrating this gradual transition towards greater visual separation from bordering uses. My goal has been to minimize the impact of adjacent houses so that the garden's residual linkage to wilder surroundings beyond is reinforced - an ongoing work of garden legerdemain, in other words. Most of this has been based on our determining what works on the ground to strengthen connection to the wider surroundings, without benefit of images of how it all had once looked as a whole. For sadly, to my knowledge at least, not a single picture has come to light of the house's occupation by the Savage family, an original tenure lasting over fifty years; no small Kodak prints of them enjoying a garden afternoon, none of house and landscape as they appeared during their first half century. It's as if time had closed up entirely around that first habitation, sealing it off from the prying eyes of the present and leaving only the house in its immediate setting as artifacts to ponder. By the time I landed in the sprawling municipality of Saanich in 1988, the surrounding lands had been trimmed to meet the spatial requirements of an RS-6 lot in a built-out suburban area. Known photo documentation of their appearance prior to this only
|View from the street, winter 2009|
|View of the rear, from the tennis lawn|
This one is to me the most astonishing of Patricia's five photos, showing the bungalow from its original tennis lawn through the meadow fringe that was 'captured' by Savage's placement of the building. He had only to, as Sedding put it, "focus the view and frame it", his English landscape instincts prompting a placement that achieves pictorial composition at both front and rear. You can see that the house, from this angle, appears to rest directly on the ground, in contrast to its rather grand elevation on rising ground at the front. The rear roof line is brought so low in fact that at its lowest point, the gable tip actually had to be pruned back so one could walk safely under it! Setting the building on the land means one literally steps out of the back door and directly into a paradise at a meadow's edge. What an opportunity to build creatively this must have seemed to a young arts-and-crafts architect recently arrived from England! From his front verandah, he took in views to woods, fields and ocean reaches, fringed by distant mountains. At the rear, he gained a small grassy terrace that gradually gives way to scattered oaks, for a meadow effect and a compelling sense of partial enclosure. Today a boundary fence stands just on the house side of the rockery wall shown the foreground above, a blunt reminder of its severing into lots. Of interest is that the oaks depicted still stand nearly fifty years on, while a twin of the spirea shown blooming in the foreground still adorns our front walkway.
|Oaks, lilacs, renewed meadow effects|
The Savage bungalow was designed to occupy its hill-crest site without appearing to disturb the founding scene, in the English arts-and-crafts manner. The year of its birth, 1913, was also the moment a long constructional boom in Victoria (and right across much of North America) peaked, so there is a booming optimism about economic prospects behind both choice of locale and design of building. Electric interurban railways were then enabling exurban expansions around cities everywhere. The following year, however, the boom would fizzle, and with its waning the world would also hurl itself into horrific global warfare.
|Regular stops and convenient schedule|
|Jitney buses competed with streetcars|
Despite the isolation and hardships imposed by a depressed economy (Hubert was apparently forced to work outside his chosen field for a time, as a hand on the CN rail line) I doubt the Savages were much troubled to find themselves living quietly and simply in a scenic spot in
|Cougars often roamed the suburban fringe|
That the Savage bungalow was designed as an outlier appears evident, despite the unavoidable gradual infilling of its surroundings with other homes. The size of its original land holding alone suggests outlier status (large enough for three lots, plus a leftover chunk incorporated into Marigold park in the early nineties). Location and form however also suggest a conscious linkage of city and country. Had this pretty landscape been closer to town, it would likely have been scooped up by someone wealthy for their more grandiose mansion, or perhaps mangled in subdivision by local contractors intent on raiding the property larder. This locale was linked to town yet physically remote from it, thus embodying the original idea of suburbia as safe haven in the countryside. And it was built more rustically than a town building would have been, despite being dressed to appear as one. The first suburban home to be built along this edge of Strawberry Vale, it was a one-of-a-kind undertaking expressing an arts-and-crafts architect's personal sensibilities.
|Trio of advancing gables pointing skywards, echoing a fir forest behind|
It is also noteworthy that the house was inserted so carefully into its picturesque setting, without any obvious leveling to make a building pad or any manipulation of the underlying bedrock. This allows it to appear to 'belong' right where it's built, rising directly from the ground. Running lengthwise along a crest of glaciated rock, it perches securely on its ledge while sitting parallel to the road (this in sharp contrast to typical subdivision layouts of the day, which tended towards long, narrow, rectilinear lots, gable ends facing road-wards). Its long walls face east and west in an ideal siting, giving the building lengthy morning and afternoon light. By choosing the bungalow form, Savage opted to emphasize horizontal lines echoing those of the ridge and so appearing in harmony with them.
|Deep foundation on the south wall|
I've long nursed a hunch that Hubert Savage foresaw dual purpose for his house, serving as family domicile while offering a suggestive example to prospective clients - a sort of demonstration home for those who might thus be persuaded to pay the extra ten percent to deploy an architect's skills on their dream home's behalf. Grange Road in this view would have been intended to showcase just how artfully even a modest floor area might be arranged to optimize sensations of spaciousness and variety. And also, importantly and rather eccentrically, to illustrate the practicality and beauty of picturesque placement, whereby a house is conceived in
|Animated by eastern light|
Rosemary Cross, daughter of Savage's friend and sometime-partner Percy Leonard James, often visited the house while growing up. She relayed to me that the place rapidly became a social hub for arts-and-crafts types from around the region - other architects like the James brothers, for example - and that there were many gatherings and tea-parties held there, often spilling out into the extensive grounds at back. This active social life in a rural setting, aided and abetted by the grass tennis court set out in the lower back garden (today occupied rather prosaically by a no-step rancher) would have quietly helped extend the reach and influence of its architect back in town.
|Nestled into a framed view|
|Oak meadow thickening slowly, future shrubby understory just appearing now|
History tells us, however, that this house would not become trend-setting, that whatever it stood for as a mode of dwelling would not 'catch on' in the wider housing marketplace across the region. Houses in more closely packed subdivisions, nearer the central core and clustered around streetcar stops, would have been more marketable and appeared more realistic choices to new home buyers. After all, moving so far out of town for habitation could easily have seemed oddly complicating rather than liberating to townies. Instead, the Savage house would continue as it began, a unique interpretation of the bungalow themes of its day - themes that would be more popularly interpreted in the California and Craftsman idioms popping up on the nearer edges of town in more densely settled suburbs. Its economics and, even more, its distance from downtown were likely against it ever spawning more of its kind. And however cheap the land it sat on may have been by dint of its relative remoteness, the house itself was far too elaborately festooned to ever qualify as market housing (yet not nearly
|Cal-bungs were popping up all over|
As a form of scenic placement, the Savage bungalow was part of a broader phenomenon launched by the advent of commuter railroads, beginning around 1840 in the USA. Dependable rail service created the opportunity to occupy beautiful pieces of pristine countryside in the hinterlands of growing cities while enjoying town income, giving rise over decades to genteel enclaves of lavish homes in park-like settings.
|Close-packing entirely eliminates context|
|Worcester bungalow in rural Piedmont, San Fran|
We can only dimly imagine the initial impact such a horizontal dwelling occupying its own ridge would have exercised on passers-by (who admittedly may at first have been few, given its rurality). Town buildings of substance were often more vertical and built close together throughout the Victorian era. The Savage bungalow dramatically reinforces the geological lines of force on this site with its ground-hugging placement and linear drop siding, then balances it all with a trio of advancing, skyward-pointing gables set cross-wise on its long roof form. Design of this house reflects an idiosyncratic synthesis of town and country values that, with no modification of its footprint since the Savages' day, persists still as a distinctive local landmark. The main discontinuities with its more open, sylvan past are the now-abridged lot and the house's greater encirclement with vegetation, the result of (and conscious reaction to) the crude facts of subdivision popping up on all sides.
|Spring 2014, recently repainted house and flourishing vegetative buffer, south side|
Where the house once declared its presence openly to all and sundry, today it peeks out more modestly through a vegetative screen. To me, this partial revelation from the road only enhances feelings of mystery and interest as one approaches it on foot. The entry pathway walks you along the entire facade of the building, before accessing a switch back to a grandly projected front
verandah. The next piece of this narrative sketches the site's scenic
|Building now more glimpsed than declared|
I documented in pictures what the place was like when I took possession in 1988 and began tending its landscape, showing the front yard oaks already beginning to pencil their grainy presence into the scene's character. And now there is also Patricia Brown's clutch of precious photos affording glimpses into how things were before they were chopped up into lots. What's truly remarkable is that Patricia herself had the chance to experience the place at a time when the subdivision was approved on paper but not yet carried out on the land - making her years there a happy, final idyll for the original place. This must have been rather like inhabiting a rural dreamland, a woodsy private Arcadia with scenic views orchestrated from every window - a self-sufficient island enclave in a slowly advancing sea of shrinking lots and more modest abodes. I am so happy she departed the scene before the original landscape was taken apart, because it would have been miserable to watch while its beauty was handled so peremptorily after knowing it pristine. By her own account, it was an entirely romantic setting, one impossible not to be charmed by, which I think you'll see is confirmed by her pictures.
|Emerging oak and sprinkled understory already hint at a meadow effect|
The photo above is taken in 1988, the year I happened upon the scene. It would be fair to say I didn't know the details or any implications of what I'd jumped into, but had simply allowed my imagination to choose a unique combination of setting and house. The scene depicted here is in high summer, hence the straw-coloured grass baked into dormancy by the sustained drought typical of southern Vancouver Island. I recall being shocked by the extreme aridity of this upland parcel, having had initial impressions of the place set in still-moist spring, with first daffodils, then lilies and finally lunaria poking up through moist green carpets. This is typical of long-blooming spring on our wet west coast. But it all disappears abruptly in summer, some years as late as June, some as early as April, but always inevitably turning greenery to brownery in full-on drought, shrinking the moist masses of moss to mere rinds. So despite having passed several summers here on the south island, my unexamined impression of Victoria still tilted towards this wet-season manifestation (lush, like the classic English landscape). And haling from humid Ontario, one is not given to understanding wet-dry climates, full stop. I did however find some relief from the sun's glaring exposure on my upland slope in the
|Lilies, lilacs, lunaria: later spring greenery|
|Recycled original lamps on shed|
I also felt it was really fortunate no one had built a garage, which I recognize discloses a certain eccentricity on my part. For along with its access drive, a garage would have chewed much further into the glaciated rock outcrops that give the site its feeling of natural terracing, and likely would have introduced a competing structure in front of the house. And, there is the modern tendency to creep the garage, typically double, as close to the house as possible, if not outright making it into part of the building's facade. The retaining wall behind the pickup implies the modest scale of cut and fill required to enable off-road parking, something I guessed was required by the subdivision bylaw.
|Panhandle drive eliminates context between houses|
|Summer before the drought wins out, showing a tangle of flowers and greenery|
I recall thinking early on that while it was tragic the original landscape ever had to be carved up, the job could in fact have been far worse. And that's because it left enough of the original landscape intact as frontage to preserve the scenic quality of house-and-setting as a unity. And just enough context remained at the back to galvanize some semblance of the original oak-meadow effect (aided and abetted by the retention of forest cover beyond the panhandle as part of Marigold Park). The feeling of oneness with surroundings was definitely shaved rather thin on the sides courtesy of the new lot lines, especially to the north where Saanich had allowed an inadequate setback to bring the neighbouring house closer than either owner might wish. Fortunately, a high, solid fence separates the two dwellings, and the Savage bungalow has no significant north-facing windows.
|After walking visitors along the entire facade, a switchback accesses the front door|
Yet despite my curiosity about how the place first looked, I remain grateful for not knowing it prior to subdivision. I didn't have to watch it being turned into rectangles. I didn't have to endure the blasting out of rocky outcrops to make the panhandle road or insert the parking pad. I'm sure that would have seemed a crude violation of so naturally picturesque a scene. So in that sense, it's fortunate I came along when I did, well after the deeds were done, because that allowed me to be smitten by my first views of the property,
so to feel its residual pull from the curb upon arrival. As a newcomer to the scene, and a would-be gardener, I could approach those remnants as givens, and simply marvel at their persistence and muse about possibilities of rescue and affirmation. I was in any case habituated to landscape violations from days growing up in high-growth Ontario. To my eye, much more was intact with building and site than was gone, and certainly enough remained to keep a strong continuity with the past alive. It was simply awaiting some touches of garden magic to be enabled to feel more whole again. I could feel the romance of possibility beckoning me.
Of course there's an element of trompe l'oeil at work here, because today a suburban grid, with its angular and arbitrary lot lines, is superimposed on what was formerly a continuous landscape. The original house and lot are sorely abridged, abruptly so at back where open oak meadows ran all the way to high fir forest without interruption. And yet, as I've said, with the original magic of site and building as fused entities intact, a possibility afforded
|Savage's Hall cottage,also fused with its site|
|Heritage sandwiched by behemoths|
|Flat, featureless, typical of many suburbs|
|No discernible landscape in modernia|
Prior to seeing Patricia Brown's revealing photos, I got a first intimation of how the old place once appeared from an unexpected source, which is reproduced below. This artifact affords no more than a hazy window to peer through, but it does give us a peep at the entire frontage at a time when all was yet pristine.
This is a photocopy of what I gather was a hand-made Xmas card, drawn by Joy Savage at some point while growing up there (you can just make out her signature at bottom right in the white band). The 'To all in your house, from all in our house' was apparently commonly used on such cards in those days. This was sent me by Albert Barth, Joy's husband, as part of a package of information that included the precious gift of copies of the original floor plans signed by her father, Hubert Savage. I love the fact this piece shows us the frontal landscape so far back in time (I'm guessing it may have been the thirties). Here we can see how the land falls away in folds to where the road runs, or alternately, see how the land rose up from the road in informal benches to the house-crescendo above.
|Asphalt walkway as it appeared at the outset|
This bungalow certainly does sit proudly on its own rise, its gabled
angularity softened by the smooth folds of glaciated bedrock for an effect of natural terracing. It's not clear exactly how the house was originally accessed from the road, as no front path is evident in the drawing. But Patricia Brown assures me it was always as it is today, running up informally from the left, but with fewer steps back then. This sloping pathway and sequence of steps walks people along the building's facade before accessing stone stairs that finally lead to the front door. Elaborate in its layout, this must have been a conscious choice on the architect's part, a way perhaps of further extending architecture into the landscape and knitting the two into a common fabric. The indirectness does make for a surprising entry and certainly imparts a sense of expectation to visitors. It is also decidedly rural in nature, breaking all the rules about designing direct pathways to front doors that are applied in town.
Something that jumps out of Joy's picture to my eye, in contrast to the emerging oak and understory landscape it hosted when I appeared on the scene, is the now-startling view of grounds pretty much bereft of oak trees. By 1988, oaks were well-along in establishing themselves across the frontage, often rather stunted in their thin, rocky pockets of soil, but with a few more mature specimens towards the northern edge. I was initially skeptical of the etching's lack of treed presence, but now accept that the site was probably only slowly generating oak meadow at the time. Initially I wondered if original oak cover may have been logged off when the house was built, but I've never located an oak stump to confirm this idea. There were however two prominent stumps at the back of the house where a couple of largish oaks once stood, perhaps too close to the building and giving a bit too much shade. I removed those tough grey stumps at one point in order to clear the grass terrace of a coarse note in plain view from the kitchen. But the fact that the front of the building remained quite open to the road in the 1970s was confirmed by Patricia Brown, and the next of her photos illustrates that fact. On looking carefully at it however, one discerns even then a slow infiltration of oak meadow landscape to the left, along with the beginnings of its native shrubby understory (all of which I retained and built upon). And, the photo is framed through branches of what was becoming a substantial fir tree, now long-gone. One can also see that the entry path indeed ran from the left, running across and up the slope without, at this point in time, any steps. How lovely that approach is, how naturally it runs with the land form.
|Early integration of house, landforms, vegetation|
In the photo above, the house sports a fading cream-and-brown colour scheme, likely its second colour iteration at least. The southern exposure takes a toll on any paint job here, and one can gauge the sun's force from the canvas awning above the trio of living room windows. The roof appears to be clad in duroid shingles, added over the original cedar shingle roof. There were three layers of roofing on it by the time I came along. An aluminum storm window has been added over the main living room window (it was still striking its discordant note when I arrived and was one of the first removals I made, along with a regrettable plastic chandelier in the dining room).
|Dilapidated shed found upon arrival|
|Tennis court and edge shrubberies set informally into the oak meadow.|
Above is another of Patricia's photos, this one also a treasure. It's the sole known picture of the tennis court and lower garden behind the Savage bungalow. There may be others, but next to nothing by way of photographs has surfaced in my time here. The grass court appears in the foreground, and there is a rockery edge around two sides of the lawn, with steps up and through an arbour and gate leading to the back garden, where I believe vegetables may have been grown. The feeling overall is that of a serene glade, here shown in late spring or early summer. Snow-in-summer, which survives here still in several patches, blooms in drifts along the loose rockery edge.
|Tennis court gate recycled|
|Back garden with oak stumps, foundation plantings, fringed with oaks|
Another Patricia Brown photo (above) from the early seventies shows how the house and back garden appeared as an ensemble. There's no visible presence of neighbouring buildings yet, young oaks (to the right) create a sense of loose enclosure, and some sort of shrub (holly perhaps) serves as a foundation planting by the rear door. Also visible are the two oak stumps protruding abruptly from the lawn, and two former vent openings beside the back door indicating a cooling cupboard's presence within (refrigerators weren't invented until about 1918, so the house came with several of these built-in cooling devices). Compare this photo with how the ensemble appeared after the neighbourhood was infilled, as in the photo below from summer 1989.
|Second summer, view now of the rancher next door, planting beds being rebuilt|
Taken from a somewhat similar angle, this photo reveals the stark reality of suburban development - a blank white stucco wall replaces what had once been treed forest edge. The young Garry oaks are gone, young fir trees (right) now displacing their presence (fir are an aggressively advancing species on this site). An apple tree that appears to have been recently planted in the previous photo has now taken form. The holly has disappeared, which is a positive step as it was an inappropriate foundation plant. Here I have just begun rebuilding and extending planting beds from the scattered stone remains I discovered, mostly using hardy mediterranean herbs inspired by plantings at Murray Cook's herb farm near Sooke (long gone now). The iris were there upon arrival, and remain in expanded plantings to this day. The next shot illustrates our garden response to the blunt facts of subdivision, which has been to try and screen them partially from direct view.
|Circa 2011, the back garden is now becoming more screened and enclosed|
Here we see the scene twenty-odd years on and the changes are palpable. Gone are the asphalt shingles, a roughly incised cat-door, the decorative shutters (which weren't sized to fit their window openings), the aluminum sliders, the rising fir trees, the foundation plantings, and most importantly, the baleful impact of a vista comprised of a blank white stucco wall. Newly, the empty pond is now a planting bed fronted by a curving line of boxwood, the raised patio terrace is repaved in stone with its steps rebuilt and expanded, and importantly the rockery bed behind the patio terrace has been enlarged and its plantings are now filling in, screening the garden from the adjacent home's presence. Also, exterior Tudor-style lanterns have been added as garden lighting, while the colour scheme has swung to yellows and black in indirect reference to things Tudor. The back garden is now becoming a more private space, less open to its immediate surroundings, more an enclave divided loosely into garden rooms off a small central lawn. The bones of the old garden, which lay in disrepair and were bafflingly discontinuous, have now been elaborated into fuller expression as a network of beds. I have tried to make design choices that are compatible with the leads left from the past, respecting them as much as possible while lending each my own interpretation. Much has changed in the overall scheme, but to my eye at least, it's compatible with and integrated into earlier surroundings. Removal of the surging young firs have allowed a Garry oak that was losing the competition to flourish and become a mainstay of the back garden. I have always given the oaks pride of place and stopped firs - an advancing species in our changing climate - from setting up shop, which they do very quickly if you aren't careful. All the garden changes give the ensemble a structure that wasn't necessary prior to subdivision. But some form of enclosure becomes a necessity with infill - both to achieve the potential for quiet enjoyment and to build up the edge scenery from inside the bungalow, so the vistas from within aren't so dominated by views of other dwellings. It's not possible to remove these views entirely, but they can certainly be softened and diminished to a great extent.
|Photo from the tennis lawn again showing the open oak grove|
Of all the photos Patricia shared, I find this one and the related photo at the outset absolutely the most nostalgic to contemplate. They reveal the harmony and complicity that once existed between house and oak meadow. It's a natural world that's only lightly gardened, one tweaked tastefully for human enjoyment but not at the meadow's expense. Sadly, this view and this world no longer exist. When the tennis lawn was subdivided and a house erected there, it vanished, leaving only vestiges like the oak and the boxwood. Sometime after it all went down, a couple of owners on, I happened upon the scene, determined to undertake a rescue and to re-knit the remains. Fortunately the house was intact (if neglected) and surrounded still by enough land to stimulate a gardener's imagination, on a site that most would find daunting. And there would certainly be major challenges to address on the road to returning it to something like a private Arcadia, as the next photo reveals.
|Back yard: how I found it and the point where my garden-making began|
This shows the southwest corner of the back garden pretty much as I found it. I've begun building some rockery walls to define new planting beds, but the garden has clearly been neglected and shows a derelict compost bin and a fir stump overtaken by ivy (as were the neighbouring oaks behind them). You can't help seeing the arbitrary lines of the subdivision process traced literally on the land by the cement block wall supporting the fence. A precise right angle at the corner of the lot is marked with frank clarity, likely a surveyed resolution of a dispute between neighbours over where a drive and parking pad for the new panhandle had been placed. Happily, I missed that bit of fun! Excavating the ground that first summer, by way of starting to heal the raw mess left behind, I unearthed asphalt paving running beneath the cement blocks, indicating where the neighbour's parking pad had been built in trespass onto the remaining Savage property. The not-yet-grey fence suggested a relatively recent resolution of this dispute, as did the abandoned construction debris. Fixing that area up so the coarse edge of construction was replaced with continuous garden became a primary design task. The next photo indicates how that piece of the garden was looking in spring 2016.
|Looking towards the southwest corner, spring 2016|
It turns out I was a good fit for the challenge of making a garden that would feel consistent with house and placement. When I found the bungalow on Grange, I was seeking a character house on a lot with garden possibilities. I couldn't have told you then what a bungalow was, didn't know much about the arts-and-crafts era, and definitely had never heard of Hubert Savage. But I was as smitten by the site as by the house sitting so comfortably upon it, so I knew at first sight that I wanted to explore gardening the ensemble. I immediately sensed the potential to elaborate landscaping (as difficult as the site was) and believed that this setting would continue to stimulate my imagination for a very long time (as it still does). I saw the challenge of reinforcing complicity between house and setting as the rarest of opportunities in a world of mainly bland residences set on mostly featureless grounds. I also felt the call to heal wounds inflicted on landscape by the process of turning it into building lots. That's a quirk of my personality that was well-suited to the mission. This site certainly came with many challenges, in the form of vexing proximities and bluntly intrusive infrastructure - yet, I had never encountered a house and setting combination on a single suburban lot with greater potential for expressive landscape gardening. It was, as it were, love at first sighting.
|View through a window across the patio towards the former tennis lawn, 2013|
Three objectives have guided my approach to tending and modifying this landscape: the need to heal or mask the wounds inflicted by land division; the desire to separate the edges to a greater degree from adjacent uses made near lot boundaries (including and especially the now-busier road along the frontage); and my personal desire to make a garden with a balance between native species and gardened plantings, one expressive of interaction and complicity. My goal is to blend the gardened components into the native landscape and geology of the site - so that things feel as though they belong where they are and, like the house, somehow just grew out of the situation. Call it, as Sedding did, a garden that's been conceived and contrived in a state of 'betweenity': not old, not new, but both; not all art, nor merely wild, but each and both in a convincing blend of formal and informal that feels like a unified whole. This exercise in garden-making has gone through many phases and continues to evolve as I head towards seventy years of age, as it should if one is still learning the craft and is still stimulated by a venue. In a future post, I'll chronicle how my notion of a garden contrived as 'betweenity' has evolved over my nearly three decades of inhabiting the magical Savage bungalow and its immediate environs.
|Still life: barrel burner (left), rampant ivy, dilapidated shed and happy new owner|
|Still life: old meadow oaks, original white lilacs, camas lillies, and new garden shed|