Persian paradise

Cascades of water and pillars of light add drama to this sweeping Victoria garden.

Credit: Gillian Reece

Cascades of water and pillars of light add drama to this sweeping Victoria garden

When Fred Kasravi retired from his career in life insurance and moved to Victoria from Toronto, he came looking for waterfront property. He vetoed the first place the real estate agent showed him because it had been a horse farm and needed a lot of clean up – organic and otherwise.

“The house required remodeling,” he recalled, “and the grounds looked like too much work, even though I was eager to do some gardening.” But a hunch took him back to the horse farm. “When I had a good look around again, I realized this was just what I had dreamed of. There wasn’t a garden to change or remodel, just a clean slate – of sorts – to work with. I could design the garden of my choice.”

Considering Fred’s background, his passion for plants was no surprise. When he was growing up in his native Iran, one of six children, his father was a professor of agriculture at the University of Teheran and a designer of royal-palace gardens.

“My mother was with him when he was designing one on the Caspian Sea, and I was born in that royal palace. My father did all the royal palaces in Iran and a few in Europe. When I was a kid, he used to take me with him, and I always had a burning desire to do the same thing one day for myself.”

More than a hundred truckloads of refuse had to be hauled away from the 1.6-ha (4-acre) property before one shovelful of dirt could be turned over. Now, sweeping pathways connect lush lawns, ponds and an eclectic expanse of blooms in wide perennial borders. Five Egyptian-style propane pillars with colourful ceramic caps, each about 3 m (12 ft.) tall and aflame at the top, sit in a rectangular pond facing the house. Illuminated at night, they cast a magical glow.

Natural stone pathways meander amid 60 fledgling rhododendrons grafted to produce three or four colours, ornamental cypress, giant palms and other exotics, 7,000 tulips, countless rose bushes, wide perennial beds and borders and massive hanging baskets. Then there are whimsical touches, such as a metal “dinosaur” egg and a boulder-size pink pomegranate, that nestle in this Persian garden of delights.

The house is surrounded by the burble of water – it trickles from a fountain on one side of the house, spills down steps around the terrace in an L-shape, then flows into two recirculating pools on the flagstone patio entry to the house. “I’m Persian,” explained Fred, “and if you look at our culture, everything relates to running water. We can’t live without it – and besides that I just love the sound of it!”

Running water plays big in the latest water feature, a 9- by 15-m (30- by 50-ft.) pond designed to attract migrating swans. Framed by towering trees and near the edge of the sea, this masterpiece by Larry Follestad of Western Water Features in Sidney (referred to by Fred as “my Michelangelo!”) has a waterfall plunging into the 1.2-m (4-ft.) deep pond.

When it came time to illuminate the garden, Fred called in Ric Fischer of Fischer Manpower. “We started in August and finished in November,” Ric recalls. “Fred and I walked through the whole property and he would say, ‘I want to put a light here, a light there.’ He directed everything but took my advice, too.” Low-voltage lighting illuminates plants, trees, fountains and ponds, and floodlights are placed at strategic spots; there are close to 150 units altogether.

There was always a grand idea in Fred’s imagination, but no design on paper. “I sort of make it up as I go along,” he said. Influenced again by his father, “a social activist who was always interested in issues related to social justice,” Fred dreamed of making this extensive garden available to non-profit organizations as a fundraiser. One such event brought in funds for a local stable specializing in teaching children with disabilities to ride horses.

There is no mistaking his vision when you see the huge Canadian flag fluttering high above the cliff that defines the garden’s seaside edge. “I want to make this the best garden in Canada – and one that everyone can enjoy. I don’t want to sit here all by myself!

“Canada is the best country in the world – and I’ve been in 64 countries. Victoria? It is heaven. . .”

Following the writing of this article, Fred Kasravi died on July 1, 2004, Canada Day.

Four years ago, Daniel Byrne, while studying for a law degree, went to work for Fred Kasravi. “Lucky for me,” he says. “He not only taught me a lot about gardening, he became my mentor. In the beginning I worked 20 hours a week and then graduated to every day and eventually became Fred’s property manager.”

Daniel and four employees still care for the gardens. “The property belongs to the family so there is a lot of maintenance to carry out, which includes the sprinkler and electrical systems,” Daniel explains. “But, right now, more than anything else, I am fulfilling what I promised to Fred when he became ill. So all the work we are doing is out of loyalty to him and his family. He was quite a character and the gardens here reflect his vision and determination. He was very patriotic and wanted to create something special for Canada, his chosen country.”

Betty Campbell is a freelance photojournalist based in Victoria.