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The Arts and Crafts Movement in Victoria, B.C.


Arts and Crafts Gardens in Victoria

By the late 1870's in Canada, proponents of full, natural gardens were delivering their message throughout the country. Aided by the writings of Gertrude Jekyll, a major horticultural figure in this time, neatly bedded and sparsely decorated gardens were being rejected for a more full, comprehensive garden which fused lawn, trees, shrubs and flowers into an "artistic whole, with nature as teacher and example" (von Baeyer, pg. 105).

Samuel Maclure, leading domestic Arts and Crafts architect in Victoria around the turn of the 20th century, was greatly influenced by the gardens of Jekyll and formalized the classic English garden in Victoria. Maclure had a life-long interest in gardens and in the conserving of nature and, in particular, in the conserving of trees. It is said that when Maclure designed properties, he would go to great lengths not to have to cut down a single tree if it was not absolutely necessary (Segger, 1986, pg. 175).

Garden at Miraloma, by Samuel Maclure
Garden at "Miraloma"
by Samuel Maclure

Maclure was also influenced by the earlier Arts and Crafts garden designs by Thomas H. Mawson which were included in his first publication, The Art and Craft of Garden Making in 1900. As a founding member of the Vancouver Island Arts and Crafts Society, founded in 1909, Maclure was involved in influencing civic beautification and was among the leaders in garden design.

The mild climate in Victoria and its long British tradition made it the ideal community for the growth of the art of gardening. The temperate climate made it possible to garden year round while the natural rugged environment contributed to development of Arts and Crafts gardens.

The turn of the century was a "watershed period for Victoria landscape design" (Segger, 1996). Private gardens were regularly open to the public, large scale nurseries were established and many publications, guides and catalogues were produced.

Facade and garden of the Biggerstaff Wilson Residence.
Facade and garden of the Biggerstaff Wilson Residence
by Samuel Maclure

Gardens were very much an integral part of the social life of the middle and upper class in Victoria. To have a beautiful garden in the latest mode, using the proper furnishings was a "socially enhancing" activity which was considered to be at the utmost of civilization (von Baeyer, pg. 107). The garden was a reflection of its owner and if the owners of the property wanted to be seen as progressive and prosperous, so must the garden.

To designers such as Maclure, gardens completed and enhanced the natural environment. Gardens were seen as an extension of the living space of the house and not just an ornament. This concept of the fusion of house and garden was carried through to the need for fresh cut flowers to adorn the interior of the house in the Spring and Summer months.

The garden and house needed to create a sense of harmony and balance. The function of the garden as an extension of the residence was to assist in the transition from the natural environs to the exterior of the house to the interior.

The gardens that Maclure designed, despite financial and spatial constraints, needed to reflect the civilized and social standing of the owners. The Arts and Crafts garden had the appearance of a natural environment with the recognition that as a human construction, it needed careful planning and constant maintenance.

Maclure created gardens and designed properties using features of the natural surroundings to achieve the utmost feeling of consonance with nature. Flower beds, trellices and ivy were used in Maclure's gardens to make the transition from grounds to residence even more subtle.

Waterfront view from Miraloma
Waterfront view from "Miraloma"

The most published Arts and Crafts garden of Samuel Maclure was that of "Miraloma", the summer residence of Lieutenant-Governor William Nichol in Sidney, B.C. To this day, examples of Maclure's Arts and Crafts garden survive at homes such as the one built for Biggerstaff Wilson in the Rockland area.

Like in his architectural designs for his houses, Maclure's gardens "reflect the architect's same sense of spatial acuity, his penchant for the complex spatial inter-relationships, the subtle tensions between the formal and informal, constricted and open space" (Segger, 1986, pg. 177).

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