Mono resident shares his experience in designing gardens

General News April 29, 2021 Imagine a log cabin, recently completely renovated, inside and out. Then imagine a tall, bearded gentleman who would look completely at home in a Parisian cafe and you would see Tony Spencer. The first time I met him at his home in Mono, Ontario, even though it was early spring and the growing season was just beginning, Tony’s beautiful gardens were evident. He is a designer of plantations and his gardens are his palette. However, these are by no means your conventional gardens. Tony follows the precepts of Dutchman Piet Oudolf in design, with his own intuitive touches and the results are breathtaking. But before we get too far, let’s take a look at Tony’s youth. Born in Toronto to British parents, Tony was “sentenced to life” at Upper Canada College. He started there at the age of six and continued until he graduated from grade 13. From there he went to Magill University in Montreal to study English literature, but left after a year to settle on his own in Northern California. Tony connects this time to his bohemian period and he landed in Santa Cruz, where he found a community of new age thinkers, alternative lifestyles, street people and eccentrics. Throughout his teens and twenties Tony played guitar, which initially appealed to him. California. Jimi Hendrix, the Monterey Jazz festival and the entire California scene were the perfect catalyst for a young poet and guitarist. It was in its own right a scene of transformation. With this new awareness of himself and the world around him, Tony returned to Magill with a new appreciation for learning. After his BA in English, Tony left Montreal and embarked on a journey of exploration, playing music and writing poetry, across Canada eventually landing in Toronto, performing in bars on Queen Street. His musical tastes ranged from Hendrix and Beck to world music and jazz. He eventually formed a power trio called Viewfinder, bass, percussion and guitar, and performed in bars and clubs in and around Toronto. However, over time gardening started to take precedence over music and Tony became interested in that. Throughout his teenage years, he had helped his mother work in the small garden of their cottage in the Kawarthas and he had worked as a landscaper for a company in Toronto, but it was his mother’s medical diagnosis of macular degeneration that really inspired him to design gardens. He wanted to create something that his mother could watch, while she still could, at the chalet. It was then that he was drawn to Piet Oudolf by a friend in a nursery. Tony had never even thought about designing gardens and it really caught his imagination. He wanted to know how he could interpret Piet’s deigns in a cottage garden and so began his journey in designing plants and gardens. out for himself. For nearly ten years he has been able to experiment and do through trial and error, make mistakes and celebrate successes, see how his gardens have evolved. Tony’s designs are influenced by a plethora of elements. Going down a driveway leading to the courtyard at the back of his house, there is a larch growing at an angle. He is intentionally trained that way. Eventually, the branches will fall to the ground and hide the structure of the tree. Tony explains that it’s about reproducing nature. Trees don’t always grow straight and that’s a tribute to that. Things are always as you hear them in his designs, so a straight tree should be straight and likewise a curved tree is meant to be curved. Likewise, the hardscape is designed to complement plantings. Around the tree are a series of stones, retaining the earth and around these are mosses taken from its wetlands. Meanwhile, on the outer edge, the boundaries are defined by a rusty steel edging, which matches the fireplace in the yard. Everything is designed. Some of the panels are very minimalist, but others are more expansive, showcasing a use of color and busy plantings. One of the gardens, near the pond, is a very wild and complex presentation of plants, it is composed, but wild at the same time. Designs surrounding the property range from tumultuous riots in complexity to an almost Zen-like approach to the foyer and courtyard. Tony equates it to a sort of breathing space approach, where more minimalist plantings tend to allow the viewer to breathe before venturing into another, more complex realm. The concept is again attributed to Piet Oudolf, expressing a need for a calm space before venturing into an explosion of color and sparkle. Today Tony has reached a point where he is comfortable offering his design expertise to others, either through landscapers, who could do the construction, or directly for existing gardens. In addition, Tony recently hosted a series of Internet and Zoom conferences for organizations, such as the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects. and make them aware of the possibilities. Tony also hopes to take his knowledge on the road and give people a chance to get engaged. Meanwhile, Tony is still active in his writing. His company, Body English, serves various advertising and design firms, digital agencies and direct clients. Then he slowly switches to design work through his blog, The New Perennialist, he hosts webinars to introduce designers from other countries to Canada, and he works on a book project. Tony works closely with his wife Troy, also a writer and advertising specialist. They exchange ideas and exchange them or collaborate in some other way. Sitting in the courtyard chatting with Tony, the sounds of the house surround you. There are many songbirds singing their notes and the two geese on the pond periodically make their hoarse calls as they fly away to where they are heading before returning once to the surface of the sea. pond, surrounded by turtles and ducks. next to the pond, where Troy is now written, and just above us, the northern sand garden begins to bloom and come to life, while the pond garden already displays the first daffodils and grasses. It’s not at all difficult to imagine yourself enveloped in the dreamlike world of Tony and Troy, as it evolves with the seasons and the passage of time.

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