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Atlanta Garden Design

A Walk Through the Toronto Music Garden

Posted by Stuart DiNenno on June 25, 2011 at 5:00 PM


Image: Sam Valentine



Earlier today I took a stroll through the music-inspired public garden situated along Toronto’s lakeshore. While I was observing the pleasant vistas and exploring spiraling paths, I found myself impressed by the thematic program that unfolded before my eyes. As I moved through the landscape I realized just how few gardens effectively incorporate art, music, or dance into their designs.



Image: Sam Valentine



The Toronto Music Garden, a segment of the city’s forty-acre Harbourfront park system that lines its Lake Ontario coastline, has many notable aspects. Upon entering, a visitor will surely notice the organic, Art Nouveau styled metalwork that wraps the signage, provides structure for benches and handrails, and forms the dynamic framework for the music pavilion pergola. Also consistent throughout the landscape, one might take note of a range of paving treatments and lush perennial plantings.


For all that is notable in the garden, perhaps it is what is least noticeable that is most impressive. While walking through the garden, I kept forgetting that I was never more than a few hundred yards from the busy streets and dense high-rises of downtown Toronto. Given such a narrow strip, it is remarkable how well the garden screens views and provides controlled vistas to the skyline, the marina, and the blue Great Lake waters beyond.



Image: Sam Valentine



Well past its tenth anniversary, the garden serves as a glowing precedent of collaborative landscape design. The garden was imagined by the world-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma, landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy, filmmaker Niv Fichman, and philanthropist James Fleck. Additionally, a sculptor, an architectural blacksmith, and landscape architects from the City of Toronto Parks, Forestry, and Recreation Division worked together to bring the park to fruition.



Image: Sam Valentine



In order to give you an unadulterated understanding of the garden’s rich and complex thematic program, I am borrowing the following description from Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre website:


Hearing the Toronto Music Garden


Each dance movement within Bach's Suite No. 1 in G Major for unaccompanied cello, BWV 1007 corresponds to a different section of the Toronto Music Garden:


1. PRELUDE: An undulating river scape with curves and bends

The first movement of the suite imparts the feeling of a flowing river through which the visitor can stroll. Granite boulders from the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, are placed to represent a stream bed with low-growing plants softening its banks. The whole is overtopped by an alley of native Hackberry trees (Celtis occidentalis), whose straight trunks and regular spacing suggest measures of music.


2. ALLEMANDE: A forest grove of wandering trails

The allemande is an ancient German dance. Interpreted here as a Birch forest, the movement invites the visitor to swirl inward to various contemplative sitting areas, that move higher and higher up the hillside, culminating in a rocky vantage point that looks over the harbour through a circle of Dawn Redwood trees.



Image: Sam Valentine



3. COURANTE: A swirling path through a wildflower meadow

Originally an Italian and French dance form, the courante is an exuberant movement that is interpreted here as a huge, upward-spiralling swirl through a lush field of grasses and brightly-coloured perennials that attract birds and butterflies. At the top, a maypole spins in the wind.


4. SARABANDE: A conifer grove in the shape of an arc

This movement is based on an ancient Spanish dance form. Its contemplative quality is interpreted here as an inward-arcing circle that is enclosed by tall needle-leaf evergreen trees. Envisioned as a poet's corner, the garden's centerpiece is a huge stone that acts as a stage for readings, and holds a small pool with water that reflects the sky.


5. MINUETS: A formal flower parterre

This French dance was contemporary to Bach's time. Its formality and grace are reflected in the symmetry and geometry of this movement's design. Hand-crafted with ornamental steel, a circular pavilion is designed to shelter small musical ensembles or dance groups.


6. GIGUE: Giant grass steps that dance you down to the outside world

The gigue, or "jog", is an English dance, whose jaunty, rollicking music is interpreted here as a series of giant grass steps that offer views onto the harbour. The steps form a curved amphitheatre that focus on a stone stage set under a weeping willow tree; a place for informal performances. Shrubs and perennials act as large, enclosing arms, framing views out into the harbour.



Image: City of Toronto Parks, Forestry, and Recreation Division



Perhaps by combining the above description with the garden map you are able to sense how inspiring – and how rare – of a place the Toronto Music Garden is. The designers of the garden masterfully incorporated themes of dance and classical music into their design, and believe me when I tell you that it is even more impressive in person.



Image: Sam Valentine



Author: Sam Valentine, BLA, LEED AP



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