Parkwood Estates, the Jewel of Oshawa
Through massive iron gates, you enter the grounds of Oshawa’s Parkwood Estates onto a circular driveway. As you would expect, the mansion, once the home of auto baron Sam McLaughlin (founder of General Motors of Canada), is grand and imposing. While the mansion itself holds interest for many, it’s a look at the gardens that many anticipate. On either side of the front doors a pair of urns are planted simply and are surprisingly understated. They certainly don’t give you an inkling of the grandeur of the gardens that lie within.
For Sam and Adelaide McLaughlin, the gardens were a labour of love as they delighted in developing their property. They spared no expense and engaged the most prominent landscape architects of the day. From 1918 to 1929 it was Harries and Hall and the Dunnington-Grubbs who designed the earliest gardens. Then, later in the mid-1930s, award-winning architect John Lyle left his mark with the estate’s award-winning “Formal Garden”.
Maintaining the property was a formidable task, but of course the McLaughlin’s had eleven greenhouses and employed a staff of twenty-four gardeners to keep their 12 acres in top shape. That was then. Today, Parkwood is managed by the Parkwood Foundation and there are neither the funds nor a small army of gardeners to maintain the property as the McLaughlin’s did.
Though the resources in money and staff may not be the same, the gardens are nevertheless a stunning showpiece and give visitors a romantic glimpse into the bygone era of estate gardens. Majestic trees and shrubs combine with beautiful sculpture throughout the grounds to delight your senses. As you stroll through the grounds you are struck by the elegance and serenity of the place. The estate is enclosed by woodland borders on all sides. Inside, cedar hedges divide the landscape into garden “rooms”, all of them connected by lush, sweeping lawns, each garden with its own special mood.
The Italian Garden
The Italian Garden close to the house takes you completely by surprise. It is fully enclosed by a high, white lattice fence that is ornate and formal. It’s not a stretch to say it conjures up the impression of a fine piece of lace. It serves as the perfect package for the treasure that lies within. As you step through the gate into the garden, the overall picture is breathtaking. Like a fine piece of jewellery, a closer look reveals details that you easily become absorbed in.
The garden features a tranquil reflecting pool where water lilies float lazily on the still, mirror-like water’s surface, disturbed only by the occasional marmalade-coloured gold fish as it passes by. At one end of the pool an elegant life-size sculpture of the Three Graces confirms this garden is an expression of romance. The pool is surrounded by a terrace of flagstones embedded with a series of flower beds. Not just ordinary flower beds though. The plantings are a tapestry of colour and resemble a room laid with intricately patterned carpets. Appropriately, this style of planting is called “carpet bedding”. It involves planting contrasting dwarf plants close together so that they form a mosaic of intricate, symmetrical patterns.
The Formal Garden
Very different from the Italian Garden, both in look and feel, the “Formal Garden” is loaded with Wow! factor. Completed in 1936, it is an example of Art Moderne architecture, a style that enjoyed great popularity during the 30s and 40s. The garden is sleek and streamlined and expresses the spirit of the new, technological age of the times.
The focus of this 2-acre garden is a formal pool, 220 feet long with a large, central fountain that is flanked by smaller fountains along its complete length. In the evening an ethereal effect is created as white, blue and green light washes over it. The perimeter of the pool is outlined with a low boxwood hedge punctuated every few feet with tall cedars, making it a dramatic frame for the flower border. The border is bold with a riot of annuals in hot colours. Variations of red, yellow and oranges predominate. It includes tall varieties of old fashioned favourites used in McLaughlin’s time… salvia, snapdragons, cleome, rudbeckia, marigolds and canna lilies.
At one end of the pool, a distinctive white limestone wall supports the terrace above. In the centre of the wall cascading water spills out from a scary looking gargoyle into a small pool below. A pair of bronze Canadian geese, aged to a verdis-green patina, stand on guard.
It’s no wonder this is a favourite photo spot for bridal parties who can often be spotted taking time out for a bit of fun. At the opposite end of the pool the Tea House welcomes guests to stop awhile and take in the magnificent vista while enjoying a gourmet lunch.
The Sunken Garden
It’s a short walk to the Sunken Garden, but once there you know the ambiance has changed. The garden is surrounded by tall trees and enclosed by a decades-old, dry stone wall. As you descend the steps, except for the chirp of a foraging bird, it’s quiet and peaceful… almost like entering a church. Suddenly the air is cooler. A flagstone terrace spreads out before you and is scattered with lush green geometric shapes that look very much like area rugs on a living room floor. They are in fact clever plantings of turf grass. At the opposite end of the terrace your eyes are drawn to the pavilion with its distinctive tiled roof, tinged green by the passing of time. Your gaze is broken only by the classical marble urns and small ponds that grace either side of the building. It’s easy to see why couples choose this intimate setting for their wedding ceremonies.
The Glass Houses
If you can bring yourself to come indoors you won’t be disappointed. Connected to the mansion are three glass display houses that are a must-see. When you enter the mansion and wander through the light-filled gift shop, you immediately come upon the Conservatory, also aptly known as the Palm House, for it is home to seven towering palm trees. If you are an orchid lover, you’ll want to head through the Conservatory directly to the Orchid House. It doubles as a tea room and beckons you to stay and enjoy refreshments while surrounded by a tropical paradise filled with blooming cattleya, dendrobium, and phalaenopsis orchids. In another greenhouse adjacent to the Orchid House the Japanese Garden awaits. A small bridge takes you over a pond used to keep koi and goldfish in the winter months. This glass house is filled with bamboo and a variety of tropical plants that change with the seasons to create a lush environment that has a decidedly Oriental flare.
A visit to Parkwood is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the, busy lives we lead today. And, though the gardens of Parkwood reflect an opulent era in history, they also leave you with ideas and concepts that can be scaled down and incorporated into the more\ modest gardens that most of us have these days.
For more information, visit www.parkwoodestate.com or call 905-433-4311.
Where’s that you say? It’s theme park central and its located in Tennessee a few miles outside the Smoky Mountains National Park. This place is loaded with tourist attractions. Sevierville’s main claim to fame is Dolly Parton, the world famous country singing artist who was born nearby. Everything here is about Dolly…Dollywood and the Dixie Stampede to name a couple of her business interests. Besides that there’s even Cirque de Chine, an authentic acrobatic show direct from China and much more. I expected the place to be hokey with lots of rides, noise, greasy food and millions of kids running everywhere. It’s good to get away from home once in awhile. It makes you dispell any idea you might have about home being the only place wonderful things dwell. Well, there were kids, and there were rides, though the rides were hidden from view by some very nice landscape features. In fact, a walk through Dollywood is a stroll through a beautiful garden. The attention to everything botanical is amazing and very inspiring. If, like me you aren’t into the thrills of the roller coaster preferring the thrill of a new variety of grass, you would not be disappointed at Dollywood. Have a look at my pictorial souvenir: