Throughout the winter school term of the year 2000, landscape students from the University of Toronto Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design developed a Victorian garden design for Toronto's historic George Brown House – the former home of Globe newspaper publisher and Father of Confederation George Brown. Owned by the Trust, George Brown House is now a busy location for conferences, weddings and film shoots and provides office space to not-for-profit groups.
The student-designed garden at George Brown House was realized in the spring of 2000. Though modest in scale, the gardens have had an influence far greater than their size might imply.
Although there is little evidence to show what kind of garden existed historically, the students were able to draw on a wealth of local and international expertise to design a new garden for the historic site.
The students' challenge was this: The garden had to both complement the historic aspects of the 1876 Second-Empire-style house and add value to its wedding and conference facilities. But there is little evidence to show what kind of garden existed historically. Students researched urban landscaping of the 1870s and studied typical garden practices of Victorian Toronto's neighbourhoods, then adapted those concepts to the George Brown House site. Students also researched original Toronto nursery catalogues from the 1870s, matching their 1870s selections to what was offered by local nurseries. The varieties selected all carry a Victorian ancestry.
This historically sympathetic garden is reflective of the period. The final design chosen by the Trust was an amalgam of concepts developed by the students. The garden features bold patterns of vibrant annuals and perennials and Victorian urns overflowing with bursts of colour and ribbons of plantings, all set against a background of flowering shrubs.
The east or front garden of the house is framed by large paisley-shaped beds of annuals, planted with tulips and muscari in the spring and dusty miller, amaranthus and coleus in the summer. The north garden wall offers a casual sitting area with perennial beds of spiderwort, phlox and astilbe. The historic cast iron fence that borders the property is lined with cedar and yew shrubs. The narrow south garden is designed to soften the edge of the building with flowers, evergreen shrubs, weigela and ornamental trees.
The gardens have been in existence for several seasons. The original summer planting scheme has been complemented by a spring planting of bulbs. The annual flowerbeds have been expanded as the perennial gardens continue to fill out. An annual show of colour has become an expectation for clients, visitors and neighbourhood residents alike.
In addition to creating a garden sympathetic to the restored house, the George Brown House Garden Project fostered a number of lasting partnerships. A small but dedicated volunteer advisory group meets periodically to advise on annual planting plans and to source appropriate plant material. For the last two seasons, Spadina House Museum has provided the heritage cultivars needed for the annual beds. The gardens also continue to be visited by U of T students as a local example of period garden design.