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He doesn't meditate or partake of tea ceremonies, but William Thorsell may be found among his Japanese maples upholding another hallowed ritual: the sundown martini. "Tea, marTIni"--his editor's mind is quick to emphasize the homophonous similarities. In theory and in practice, however, the tranquil oasis he has created in midtown Toronto strays way off the traditional Japanese garden path.
"This isn't Japan," he says of his loose interpretation. "I think you have to watch out for kitsch when you garden. I define kitsch as something that is grossly out of context." Thorsell, who lived in Japan in 1970, was editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years before assuming his present job as president of the Royal Ontario Museum. What he understands about the elements and essential harmony of a Japanese garden he gleaned by osmosis. "It's an internalized influence," he says, "which is the best kind. It's not too conscious."
If that travel experience helped form his gardening aesthetic, the Alberta-born Thorsell considers the outcome to be more of a hybrid, an Alberta-rooted, Toronto-grown, Japanese-inspired affair. "There's far too much going on in here. The Japanese are much more sparse and disciplined in their gardens," he says of the dozen or so Japanese maples and assorted conifers he has mixed in …