What entices us to seek out and spend time in gardens, and why do we take so much pleasure, find so much joy, and delight in them? Perhaps the memory of that first garden, The Garden of Eden, is embedded in our DNA and in our collective consciousness and, by stepping into a garden, we reconnect with that lost Paradise within us. In our human condition of living in exile from that first garden we, perhaps, find ourselves, for a moment, back in that first garden when we visit a garden.
When I was growing up in Ponta Delgada, I was taken for leisurely strolls in some of the city’s gardens. The most memorable for me were, Jardim António Borges, and Jardim José do Canto. These formal walled-in gardens felt magical for their beautiful displays of ponds, flora and ancient trees; a contained miniature world of natural wonder, while city life went on outside their walls. And on Sunday excursions, we would visit the primordially paradisiacal Parque Terra Nostra in the small town of Furnas. These parks still conjure up childhood wonderment when I revisit them on trips to the Azores.
I never lost my fascination for gardens after coming to Canada, where, as still a young boy, my family would spend Sunday afternoons in the grand and expansive High Park, in Toronto. Since then, I continue to search for gardens wherever I go. But comparisons are perhaps unfair, and flimsy at best, for each garden, although made up of similar elements, are all unique in their own way, with their own personality, some ostentatious and world-renowned, others modest and hidden, but all reminders that nature enriches the life of a city.
These are some of the gardens are I have had the pleasure of meandering through: Jardin des Tuileries, Les Jardin du Luxembourg, Parc Monceau, in Paris, are so magical in autumn light; and in summer, the very formal garden decorated throughout with azulejos: Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira in Benfica, on the outskirts of Lisbon; Jardim Botânico, Universidade de Lisboa; Parque do Museu Calouste Gulbenkian surrounding the Calouste Gulbenkian art gallery in Lisbon; Jardim da Estrela, on the west of Lisbon, across from the baroque/neoclassical Basílica da Estrela; Cemitério dos Ingleses (The British Cemetery) in Lisbon, where Henry Fielding has a massive monument in his honour; Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia; The San Francisco Botanical gardens, and the Japanese Tea garden, in Golden Gate Park; The UBC Botanical Garden, in Vancouver; the MNU Botanical Garden at Memorial University in Newfoundland; the Halifax Public Gardens in Nova Scotia, the Boston Public Garden, in Boston, Massachusetts; Central Park in New York City.
One garden that I came to discover only a few years ago, and which I have come to love best is The Gardens at the Guild Park in the east of Toronto, where the gardens have an organic feel, surrounded as they are by trails leading into untamed nature along the edge of the Scarborough Bluffs, overlooking Lake Ontario. A visitor to this garden will be treated to a display of plant life, flower beds and trees delineated by meandering paths that delight with every turn. That these gardens contain old architectural pieces preserved from Toronto’s past, as well as being adorned by sculptures from prominent artists, makes it all the richer and more significant to visit; a meeting place in the city originally know by the Indigenous word Tkaronto – or place where trees meet in water.
Since discovering the Guild Park, Stephen and I have made a point of bringing family and friends to experience the quiet, understated beauty of the gardens that become grandiose upon the sight of those impressive architectural remnants, casually, so it seems, scattered amongst bushes and plants and trees. They are always impressed; they always wonder why they never knew of the existence of this garden before. It’s a tucked away treasure reminding Torontonians that the city is a seamless blend of stone and flora. When I show my photographs of the park to one of my dear friends who has a long family history with the area, she shares stories of her growing up near the gardens and this enriches my experience and understanding of this place I have come to love.
The Guild Park may not be as grand and famous as some of the parks and gardens I have visited; but, in a truly modest and unassuming way, delivers an aesthetic experience that make me smile with every visit, as I continue to discover anew what I already had discovered before, but seeing it in a different light, a different season and, each time, delighting in this patch of earth dedicated to the presence of nature inside our city while taking me back, for a moment, to paradise.
Sometimes you come across a park dweller.
I took all these photos in 2016 and 2017.
It’s possible to visit the Guild Park and Gardens by taking public transportation (TTC). Buses 12A or 116C will take you right to the entrance. For any Torontonian or visitors to the city, it’s worth the trip to experience a walk through a space that will, ironically, connect you back to the city core through the architectural remnants on display throughout the garden’s landscape.