It looks picture perfect now, but Jennifer Carter's garden has been 20 years in the making. When she purchased the semi-detached heritage home, dating back to 1894, in Toronto's lush Rosedale neighbourhood two decades ago, there wasn't much of a garden to speak of. "It was four beds with nothing: a piece of Muskoka driftwood and two trees," says Carter, CEO and president of Hermès Canada. As plain as it was, the garden and the tall brick wall at its perimeter was what clinched the deal when it came to making the big decision despite the house being slightly out of her budget. "When I looked out the kitchen window and saw that wall, I said, 'That's it.'"
The three-storey house needed quite a bit of work. "We did it in stages," says the luxury goods executive who first tackled the garden herself in a long process of trial and error. "I just started adding bit by bit. I kept the four beds as they were. First, I had the wrong ground cover. Nothing was working," she says, recalling her frustration. She called a green-thumbed friend for help, and things slowly began to bloom. "We started balancing with maple and a berry tree. And I wanted more annuals so that there is always something different." Although Carter prefers an eclectic, untamed look, the garden is very structured "Everything has to be very orderly for me; I like things kept," she says. Sprinkled around the lounge area are dwarf cypresses and hostas, her favourites, and potted tropicals surround the dining areas. Although Carter still loves to get her hands dirty, she has enlisted a gardener to help cultivate the abundance of flora.
When it came furnishing the dreamy garden, Carter opted for classic wrought iron dining and lounging sets, both family heirlooms. "The furniture might be older than me. It was my mother's. I think she had bought it before I was born," she says. "Like a fool, I went through a white period and painted it white, and now I have to paint it black." She looks to textiles when the need to experiment strikes. This year, Carter is embracing the nautical look with striped seat cushions and adding a touch of glamour with Hermès beach towels on the antique recliners and the contemporary Acapulco rocking chair by Innit. To create even more depth to the luscious garden, she recently added a large custom-built mirror at the back wall of the house. "My favourite thing is the mirror," Carter says. "It didn't cost a lot. That's a nice thing about the garden: You don't have to spend a lot to make it look nice." She loves to mix family heirlooms and unique finds from 507 Antiques, near Toronto's Leslieville neighbourhood, with inexpensive terra cotta planters. "I buy them in the south of France and ship them back."
Between hosting family and friends, and work functions such as the annual Hermès Canada staff party, the garden is in constant use year round. But the most special of soiree in the space was her wedding to husband Michael Cassels two years ago. "We didn't tell anyone," she says. "We invited a few close friends, but they thought it was for his birthday. And we had the jazz band here." There are no big festivities planned for the rest of the summer. Carter will be using her urban oasis to unwind before the fall fashion season kicks off her hectic travel schedule. "I love Toronto in the summer. It's great – especially when you go through winters as we do – to have a little garden. It's like another room."
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