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House Beautiful: Garden gates open to guests

Water gardens welcome visitors for Love of Africa fundraiser

Self-Guided Tour

For the Love of Africa’s Eighth Annual Water Garden Tour

Where: Tour of 11 local water gardens

When: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. July 12

Tickets: $25 at Duncan and Victoria outlets of Marigold Nurseries; all greater Victoria outlets of Dig This and Gardenworks; Cannor Nursery; and Elk Lake Nursery, by calling 250-891-0762 or online at watergardentour.ca

Note: Funds will help support a new vocational trade school in Tanzania. Since 2004, For the Love of Africa has built two kindergartens, two primary schools, a children’s centre for orphans and a medical facility.

 

When she first saw the steep and rocky landscape where her new house was going to be built, Jorien was horrified.

“It looked just like a quarry and was very demoralizing,” she said, especially as excavating and blasting kept making it look worse.

“My wife took one look at the building site and said she didn’t want to come back until we were out of the hole, it was too depressing,” recalled her husband Eric with a chuckle.

The owners, who prefer to keep their last name private, were drawn to the steep building site in Broadmead because of its size and expansive views to the south and west. But the property rises in elevation by more than 15 metres and is almost all rock, which made it both a construction and landscaping challenge.

Instead of using concrete retaining walls, one of their first decisions was to put all the excess blasted rock to use by creating gabion walls — baskets of carefully stacked stone, tied together with wire — that now have plants growing against them and will soon become living artworks.

“The whole house sits on them,” said Eric, who then brought in even more rock to create some of the massive landscape features.

The result is an extraordinary home with an equally astonishing garden boasting eight cascading waterfalls, a large pond, a stream, meandering pathways and a mini Garry oak meadow.

The garden is being featured on the For The Love of Africa Water Garden tour July 12.

Vancouver architect Marko Simcic and associate architect Brian Broster, who specialize in contemporary residential work, said their creation resulted from a fusion of contemporary technology, materials and effective use of space.

The lot was hugely challenging, Simcic said, especially as the clients want to live in their new home forever, with maximum privacy and full views.

The need for one-level living called for a large base to start from, and an upstairs with just enough space for guests, yoga and music practice.

“It took a fair bit of manipulation of the grade to achieve that,” said Simcic, and the owners were also keen on the concept of the golden ratio and wanted it to be a key element in their house.

Also referred to as the divine proportion, this concept refers to the mathematical relationship of each part to the whole. It is a ratio found in nature, the universe, in music and has been applied in such iconic structurs as the Parthenon and the pyramids. It has been used by artists such as Alex Colville, Le Corbusier and Salvador Dali, and even by those studying financial markets and the stars.

And so the house became an exploration in how each of its spaces could affect the whole, said Simcic and Broster, who also borrowed heavily from the Fibonacci sequence that can be seen in everything from spiraling seashells to flowers.

“All the rooms and the eight courtyards are in very specific proportion, and we were working with the idea of the helical spiral as part of the construction,” said Broster.

The house has one inner courtyard and its pool is a perfect example of a “golden” section in its descending spiral floor that ends in a water jet.

This courtyard is in the exact centre of the house and closed in on three sides, except for slim, floor-level windows, which bring light into the interior hallways.

“We asked the architects to build according to the golden ratio because sacred geometry creates a striking effect in a building,” explained Eric, who is a geologist who moved into investment services.

“It is truly amazing and it’s there in the windows, doors, all the spaces. The house has a feeling of harmony and balance. Just like in music, where harmonics give a pleasing, esthetic sense.

“The beauty of the proportions influences how we feel. It feels wonderful.”

The seven exterior courtyards, outlined by roof overhangs, all conform to the golden rule too, but are in different sizes, like the replicating patterns of fractals in nature.

Simcic said another goal was to highlight intimate, enclosing spaces, while allowing plenty of daylight, especially reflected through the central courtyard. A feeling of enclosure yet openness, restrained but unbounded.

It is not open on all sides: “If you had glass all around, it would feel like a fishbowl. You’d have too much bleed, a loss of containment. We wanted it to be a retreat.

The idea of water lapping at the feet, as you walk along interior halls, adds to the sense that this house is unfolding as you move through it.

Jorien credits her husband with the vision that transformed the garden from depressing to uplifting, but Eric explains a waterfall was the only solution with such a rock face.

“The rock kept fracturing during excavation, we had to claw back more and more, so we ended up with a very steep cliff. My vision was to turn a problem into an asset.”

Even before construction began, Aaron Wing, of Chi Earth & Waterscape, started building a stairway fit for a giant, nestled into the trees. He also created a pathway along the top, back of the property, a cascading waterfall, stream and deep pool.

“We went in with some really big machinery and started to shape and place,” said Wing and one day an enormous boulder almost toppled the excavator.

Wing looped each rock with a piece of three quarter-inch chain, then hooked it to the excavator, and lowered it into place, adding different rocks to prop it up. “You can’t just knuckle them into place,” said Wing, who has a degree from the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific and also took architectural drafting and landscape design at Camosun College.

“For the stairway we excavated down to bedrock then worked our way back up, placing each rock. There is no real science to it. You have to visualize as you go.

“The biggest challenge was the waterfall. Normally you build from the bottom up, but here we did it top down because there wasn’t enough access at the bottom.

“This job really pushed our limits, and the machines’ [limits], but really good jobs always involve a little blood, sweat and tears.”

He designed the pool to be two metres deep, to keep the water cool and allow fish room to retreat from predators, and built it with a concrete wall on one side, which supports the patio, and a natural rock cliff on the other.

It is lined with rubber, and Wing built benches at different levels underwater, to grow everything from deep aquatic plants to the ones along the margins, and floating water lilies.

“Aaron is a true artist,” said Eric. “He must have played with a lot of blocks as a kid. And Lynn and Eryl Morton did a fantastic job on the garden. She has a fantastic eye, and will also be here for the tour, to answer questions.” (See details on the opposite page.)

Campbell Construction built the 3,100-square-foot home and they did “a fantastic job, too, with all the cantilevers. The house seems to float,” said Jorien who said she and her husband wanted to downsize, “but not too much.”

“We have our treasures and the older you get the more emotionally attached you are to them. A major downsize is not for us yet.”

And this house suits them perfectly.

On fine days they open the dining area to the inner courtyard that is walled, like the rest of the house, in small white pieces of quartzite. “They sparkle like tiny diamonds in the sun and keep it so bright inside.”

housebeautiful@timescolonist.com

 

Garden genius had a blast

 

Creating a garden on a steep, rocky slope is no mean feat.

Especially when there is a mini Garry oak meadow to protect and herds of gluttonous deer.

But Eryl and Lynn Morton, of Eryl Morton Garden Designs, were up to the challenge.

“This home’s modern exterior incorporates strong vertical and horizontal lines, and a distinctive black and white colour effect, so one of the landscaping challenges was to accentuate some of that architecture while blending the building into the natural features,” explained Eryl.

Because of the deer problem, she decided to erect a discreet deer fence on both sides of the house to protect the rear garden.

She used ornamental plant materials around the house, pond and waterfalls, for “greater esthetic appeal and bio-diversity” and designed a cedar chip trail as a natural-looking delineation between the Garry oak meadow and ornamental garden.

The front landscape features deer resistant plant materials along with a clover lawn — “where the deer can eat themselves silly,” said owner Jorien — and above this, on a steep rock bank, are white winter heather, Mexican feather grass and compact myrtle.

Native Oregon grape was introduced to blend with the Garry oaks, and to accentuate the home’s modern lines she created a simple boxwood hedge along the drive, ending in clumping bamboo for movement, sound in the breeze and screening.

Beside the ponds and waterfalls, she used gnarled pines and Japanese weeping maples with under-plantings of spiky-leaved iris, day lilies, agapanthus, tall grasses and ferns.

Rock plants were tucked around the stone steps and, near the main pond, she created “a cornucopia of colour” with low shrub roses, cistus, abelia, hydrangeas, hardy fuchsias and herbs.

It’s a new garden, but the owners are amazed at how fast everything has grown.

“Things have quadrupled in just one year,” said Jorien.