Hired to design an outdoor sanctuary for his client’s ailing wife, Randy Tumber set out to create a natural oasis over 10 acres of reconstructed hay fields in southern Ontario, Canada. He envisioned a place where she could relax among the blooming perennials and flowering shrubs, and the soothing sounds of dual waterfalls.
His design, which included two ponds at different elevations and a network of streams, required one key element to make this backyard sanctuary complete: wheelchair accessibility. “That had a major impact on everything we did,” says the president of Tumber & Associates in Orangeville, Ontario.
Instead of his preferred use of natural flagstone or weathered limestone for the pathways, Tumber opted for poured concrete. “Even with flush mortar joints, it’s still difficult to [operate] a wheelchair on natural stone because of the inconsistency in the surface,” he says. “Concrete could accommodate the great modulations and contours that had to be designed and constructed around that 12-to-1 wheelchair gradient.”
For maneuverability over the falls, Tumber constructed an arched bridge. “One of her favorite sitting spots ended up being right in the middle of that bridge, slightly to the left of the main cascade from the upper pond,” he says.
The spot now has become a veritable playground for Canadian geese, turtles, walleye fish — and even an industrious beaver. It also serves as a spawning bed for the walleyes. A second generation thrive in the lower pond after only four years.
One of the reasons Tumber’s waterfalls look so natural is his choice of rock placement. “We do not move rocks with dump trucks,” he says. “Those rocks are individually slung and hoisted with cranes, one rock at a time and placed as they were formed by nature.”
In doing so, it allows for more realistic-looking runoff from the 8-foot and 6-foot waterfalls. It also provides visual and audible access to the main cascade from the sitting area in the wife’s personal garden.
“It was important that we be able to project the sound,” Tumber says.
“But you didn’t want to have that roaring sound by the outside sitting terrace,” he adds. “We tuned the waterfeature, so she could hear more of the pleasant, singing water sound, making it a place for quiet meditation and reflection.”
It’s this peacefulness that is his favorite element of the whole design. “I firmly believe that if you haven’t created a situation where people feel moved emotionally by what you’ve done, then you’ve failed,” he says.