Saturday, March 02, 2002

Garden Reflective-E.T. Seton Park (Central Don River)

After passing over the big stone bridge, I came across one big green lawn. E.T. Seton Park reminded me of a park in where people go to walk their dogs, play Frisbee and touch football. It resembled a school field, rather than the garden I was expecting. I am not quite sure what I was expecting. According to the City of Toronto Parks website, the area is maintained as a valley park fit for picnicking. We saw archers in the north end of the park and came across equestrian signs, which prompted a discussion about the relative merits of owning a horse in the city. Indeed, this place is ideal for both as well as cross-country skiing, as suggested on the website. This would also be a very attractive place to bring the family for a nice Sunday outing. This "pastoral garden" had a rolling green landscape with a few well-placed trees but was not dominated by any one feature, as in the forests of Wilket Park. Benches were available to rest and enjoy the park. Apparently there is even a pool located in this park. Unlike Edward's Garden and Wilket Park, the only sound that I could really hear was the sound of traffic, which traveled down from the Don Valley and disturbed this area. I did not feel as insulated or removed as I did in the other two gardens, perhaps because the landscape design was very open. I did not expect to see a wealth of flora and fauna in this garden but I know that the Central Don River tributary also runs through this area, which is a nice feature. I did not expect to see any wildlife either but I was told that deer occasionally do make their way from Wilket Park through Seton Park to Queen's Park.

From the photos posted on the park website, I now realize that there are other parts to this park that would have been of interest to visit, if we had had more time. Other dirt paths lead through areas of dense shrub, trees and plants. There is even an experimental water purification system on site set up by the plastics industry, surrounded by abstract art. Out of all three of the gardens that we visited today, I would have to say that E.T. Seton presented the most diverse set of uses.

Overall, each of the areas were dramatically different in form, function and purpose. At the same time, each of these distinct gardens shares some characteristics such the interweaving of abiotic and biotic components of nature. The gardens, in a way, remind me of an interconnected set of ecosystems. Wilket Park was built to connect Seton and Edward's gardens which created the corridors that deer and other wildlife follow to get to Queen's Park. I find this a unique example of the urban garden. It is an unusual and fascinating blend of wilderness with ordered placement, nature with human engineered sculpture and untamed biota with groomed landscapes.
Garden Reflective-Wilket Creek Park (Central Don River)

Wilket Creek Park, built in 1960, was the so-called "wild garden"of the three. It is filled with natural regeneration areas, large trees, forests and grasses. It gave the appearance of a wilderness and was meant to give the impression that little or no maintenance was required. This is deceiving, however. We witnessed meters of artificial plastic orange fencing keeping grasses back, trees protected and rocks in their place. There were also tarps visible along the bottom the dried up riverbeds to facilitate its flow, which probably wouldn't be visible under normal conditions. Wildflower plantings were undertaken as well. It isn't a wilderness but a managed wild garden. Here again we are faced with the question of the definition of the "garden". This area is referred to a park and not a garden. Perhaps it is because of the cycling and running paths present. Perhaps it is because there are no visible planted shrubs and gazebos, which were present in Edward's garden. Perhaps it is because the title of "garden" seems inappropriate and "park" is a better fit.

Wilket Creek Park was a very beautiful area and I appreciated the less manicured landscape as compared to Edward's garden. It is a place where you could easily imagine yourself away from the city. This area differed in that it was more a forest than a garden. The species diversity here is quite astounding, I am told with tree species here ranging from hemlock to sugar maple to beech and to oak. I noticed both coniferous and deciduous trees. This park is also home to rare Canadian species as well which adds to the diversity found here. The park is actually part floodplain which is one of the reasons it can support such a wide variety of tree species. I was disappointed that we did not come across any marshes but maybe it is too early in the season for the cattails. I will have to come back in the summer. The warm winter Toronto has experienced this year caused some of the trees to bud early, as pointed out by my classmate Kady. This could be worrisome because of the appalling lack of moisture which certain species might not tolerate very well. With the abundance of trees and grasses, I am betting that this area would be beautiful in the fall, when everything is changing colours. I enjoyed this garden visit but I might make the suggestion that this be undertaken in the fall or late spring so that students might be able to see the different trees. In the winter, everything is pretty much bare. It was very quiet here and we encountered quite a few people enjoying a walk or cycle outdoors, more so than in Edward's garden. Indeed, Wilket Creek Park is billed as a great place for nature walks on the City of Toronto Parks website. It is an extensive area that covers 108.1 acres with 2.11 km in paths. I would love to bring my bike here over the summer and ride through more of the park. It also felt warmer here than in Edward's garden, probably because of the sheltering effect of the valley and the trees. Indeed, this garden is a different space with a different feel, look and sound.
Garden Reflections-Edward's Garden

Out of the three gardens that we visited today, I have to say that Edward's garden was my favourite. Perhaps it was because it was pretty and had many interesting paths. The placements of the trees, the bridges, the gazebos, the sculptures and the signs all made it appear very attractively groomed an laid out. The bricks with the names of sponsors gave the garden a corporateness that was not so obviously present in the other two gardens. Even the trees were for sale. The cost of maintaining such an area must be huge so I can understand why the civic garden centre needs to do this. Still, the garden was very appealing. I was disappointed to learn that not many people use or had heard of these gardens--an island in the middle of a metropolitan city. It might also be due to the fact that the gardens are closed during the winter months. I am sure that the garden would look beautiful covered in snow but maybe the paths might be too treacherous to traverse. The garden was designed purposefully. The bridges and the ducks close to the pathways prettily complemented the walk. I could hear chickadees calling in the distance and saw birdfeeders strategically placed close to the path so that people might be able to see them. The garden was very user-friendly and created a pleasant atmosphere that I think Fredrich Olmstead might picture as an ideal retreat. The creeks running through the garden were, I noticed, very low, not more than trickle in some spots, which was disturbing to see. The ducks were relegated to the very middle of the river -- the only spot with any water. The water underneath some of the bridges was very shallow in some spots and very green, which might be indicative of anoxic waters. The sound of the water, however, was very soothing and I imagine that people come here to relax and escape. I know I would. I was amused by the sign "Path Unsafe: Use at Your Own Risk" and couldn't help but cynically think that it was more for the protection of the city than the patrons. All this brings me to the question of whether or not this is really a garden. I must admit that the "gardenesque" (Stephen's term) landscape of the place rendered it more park-like than typically garden-like. The garden was highly structured, manicured and planned. Even the river banks were maintained to prevent erosion and meandering, a natural river process. What defines the boundaries of the garden? Does the garden even have boundaries? Can a garden be more that just a garden? I am apt to think that the lines are blurred between garden, park, field and backyard. Indeed they must be. The sign upon entering said Edward's Garden yet I could have sworn that I have seen similar areas labelled as parks. I think that these are just terms in the English language that we have discovered to describe different aspects of the landscape. Just as the Japanese have several words for "rain," I think that North Americans have several words for "garden."

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Further Musings on Tricksters, Dracula and Maureen's Valentine's Day Lecture

I have just finished reading Gina's blog on Trickster Makes this World and would like to comment on her take of the politicians as modern tricksters. I also noticed the little footnote at the bottom of the page suggesting that tricky politicians are perhaps modern tricksters but I would have to agree with the author, especially in light of Maureen's lecture, that the true trickster belongs at the edge and not in the centre. I do, however, believe that some in politics come very close to the nature of the trickster, especially those who are not themselves in the limelight but are working to promote someone who is. Then again, perhaps their ends are just as petty and mundane, as Lewis Hyde says.

I also wanted to thank Gina for including the quote "I was of three minds, like a tree in which there are three blackbirds." It is a beautiful way of summing up the point of Maureen's lecture for that day. I had forgotten this quote that was read out in class but I find it now, upon reflection, to be very appropriate, setting the tone for the entire lecture. What I would like to know is where the quote came from? I realize that the author was mentioned in class but alas, my brain was quite leaky that day and try as I might, all I remember is feeling thrilled that reading week was only a day away.

I also quickly perused the Dracula site that Jason posted on the Blog communication board and found one of world renowned lecturer's, Elizabeth Miller, smiling out from the page. I found it interesting to read more about her studies with Dracula, not only because I find this subject facinating, but because there is so much more to know than what was covered in the lecture. For example, I did not realize that Dracula had evolved into the sex symbol he is today, but on further reflection, one realizes that Hollywood has made this true. When I remember Gary Oldman as Dracula, I recall scenes when he was very youthful, intense and sexy. In the book, Dracula is described as sharp, thin and dark, even during his youthful stage. Interesting....