Jesse Vilhelm Stensson (“Bill”) immigrated to Canada with his family in 1913, after his father Herman answered an ad in London’s “The Gardener’s Chronicle”. Herman became foreman of Sheridan Nurseries, founded by Lorrie and Howard Dunington-Grubb.
As a youth, Bill spent long hours working in the Nurseries. He studied architecture at the University of Toronto, winning a scholarship to study landscape architecture at Harvard. In 1934, he received the Charles Eliot Traveling Fellowship, which allowed him to study garden and park design in Europe. Returning home, he became a partner in Dunington-Grubb & Stensson landscape design, and with the Dunington-Grubbs, joined with six other landscape architects to found the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects and Town Planners (now the CSLA). In 1938, and again in 1948, he became President of the Society.
Bill’s early work with the Dunington-Grubb’s included Graydon Hall in Toronto, a remarkable sportsman’s paradise of parklands and a golf course, with a walled-in forecourt for the manor house, a pool and gardens. He worked on many private gardens, wrote authoritative gardening articles for “Canadian Homes and Gardens”, and joined other CSLA members to broadcast gardening tips on the radio.
In 1939, after his father’s death, J.V. took over as managing director of Sheridan Nurseries. For the next 34 years, he was the face of the business, expanding the Nurseries to over 1000 acres, and in the sixties, providing 47 houses for Sheridan staff. Yet he continued to work closely with the firm on its many notable projects, including Toronto’s University Avenue, and the Oakes Garden Theatre and Rainbow Gardens – still one of the most popular sites in Niagara Falls for its Beaux-Arts landscape and Art-Deco style gardens. When in 1958 he married Polish-trained, Janina Nałecz-Korkuć, she also joined the firm, becoming Howard Dunington-Grubb’s partner and continuing to work with him after Bill’s death in 1972.
Humphrey Carver, one of the CSLA founders, called J.V. Stensson a true professional, whose “monument and legend” was his ability “to record what the idea is for a particular landscape… and then to translate the idea into actuality on the ground.” J.V. was made a CSLA Fellow posthumously in 1974.
For short descriptions of selected projects, the CSLA recommends The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s website:
For further reading: Sheridan Nurseries: One Hundred Years of People, Plans, and Plants, by Edward Butts and Karl Stensson.
J.V. Stensson. Photo by Farmerette Olive Mahon, who wrote on the back, “Big Boss but Nice.” Sheridan Nurseries
- Sheridan Nurseries 1936 catalogue cover: the Stensson home, by J.V. Stensson. The catalogues became a virtual handbook of gardening.
- Sheridan Nurseries 1929 catalogue, by Group of Seven artist J.E.H. MacDonald
- J.V Stensson and sister-in-law Lois Stensson, Sheridan Nurseries’ first female office employee. Sheridan Nurseries
- Graydon Hall watercolor, by J.V. Stensson. Photo Sheridan Nurseries
- Rainbow Gardens. Niagara Falls, Ontario. Courtesy Sheridan Nurseries.
- Oakes Garden Theatre, Niagara Falls, Ontario. Photo Ron Williams.