Reflecting on Site and Insight

September 29th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Site and Insight. I’ve used these words many times in talking about gardens, in thinking about landscapes, in writing about both. 

Recently I’ve added a third word to the list. Sight, Site and Insight. This is what art, landscape and design are based on: looking at what surrounds you, observing the lay of the land, the spirit of the place, the conditions that govern it, and then using those observations purposefully to create a space that engages the mind and the emotions. 

This is what I try to do at Glen Villa. This is what I plan to do in my soon-to-be launched new website.

In October 2007, with the help of my good friend Louise, I launched my current website: Glen Villa Gardens. Louise and I worked hard on the layout and the content and were delighted with the final product. It felt good in every respect. Its title accurately reflected the content, giving a close-up view of the place I live and garden. The subtitle was equally accurate (and for it, I thank Susan, another good friend). Creating a Personal Landscape was the lens I used as I looked for ways to represent the history of the Glen Villa site and to tell stories of the people who lived there long ago and who live there now.

The website featured photos of the garden and the art that was there, art created by me and by the renowned sculptors Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito. Almost in passing it mentioned that I gave talks about Glen Villa and about using art outdoors. ‘Almost in passing’ generated a few enquires, and talks I gave led to more. And more.

For six years and counting, the website served me well. But for the last few years it has felt out of date. It was static. What was written there rarely changed — and as anyone who refers to websites knows, that is a fatal error. 

I considered other ways to share my thoughts more broadly — thoughts about gardens, about landscape in general, about how people use the land, how they see it in different seasons, how they mark it with their presence. Increasingly, I was creating sculptural installations at Glen Villa, using art to draw attention to what was present on the land, and to what was there in spirit only, ghostly remnants of the past.

A foggy autumn view over the foundations of an old summer cottage,
onto the Big Lawn at Glen Villa and the beautiful linden tree in the distance..

In January 2013, I started writing this blog, Glen Villa: Site and Insight. The addition of the subtitle reflected my widening interests in landscape and how it is viewed. Over the past twenty months, in almost 100 blog posts, I’ve reflected on my own garden practices and on the way history has influenced gardens around the world. I’ve observed my surroundings more carefully. I’ve discovered plants I never knew and looked at different ways of using them. Art outdoors has featured prominently, and in the process of writing, I’ve reflected more deeply on what art can accomplish when it is used thoughtfully.

So add a fourth word to the mantra: Sight, Site, Insight, Write. Or should it be Sight, Site, Write, Insight? Without doubt, writing helps me to clarify my ideas. Sometimes, when I begin a blog post, I’m not sure what I want to say, or what I think about a particular topic. Does art add to a garden or distract? Do some shapes work better in a landscape than others, and if so, why? How can we become more aware of what surrounds us, and what happens when we do? The act of writing brings these ideas into focus. 

A natural composition in the forest at the Adkins Arboretum in Maryland

As readership of the blog has grown, I’ve developed on-line connections with thoughtful gardeners around the world. Anne Wareham and the contributors to the international forum Thinkingardens have introduced new ideas and helped me to think more critically. Inspiration about the use of indigenous plants has come from William Martin in Australia and James Golden in the United States. Cindy at Enclosure: Take Refuge has introduced me to historic garden photographs and to views of her own garden in Rwanda. The popular blogger Kathy Purdy has given good and regular advice about gardening in cold climates. And more recently, I’ve established a world of friends interested in trees, through a meme created by the English blogger Lucy Corrander

Reading the thoughts of others offers insight into different ways of thinking and different ways of seeing the landscape that surrounds me. My post a few weeks ago about the tree broken by storm winds provoked more suggestions than usual from readers, and those suggestions inspired a new art project that will use the stub of the tree that remains. 

My focus is changing. I am less interested now in gardening and the complex problems of plants and their arrangement, and more interested in discovering what the land itself offers. Responding to its suggestions fills my head with ideas waiting to be made into talks to share with groups far and near, and with art, for myself and for others. 

Coup de Foudre, 2013

Visiting gardens around the world has become more important, and leading small groups through these gardens gives me real pleasure. Preparing for these trips increases my knowledge, and experiencing them with
  people who think critically about what they see heightens my own observations and enjoyment.

These changes in focus and activity mean that my current on-line presence no longer fits. Starting next week, you will find me at Site and Insight: Reflecting on Art and Landscape. You’ll see a new logo, a new style and a new cohesion that bring my website, blog, art and other activities into a single location.  

A reflective approach to questions about art and landscape will remain, as will my desire to engage with others. So please let me know what you think. I look forward to your responses. 

Pruning: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

September 22nd, 2014 | 3 Comments »
Pruning shrubs has always been one of my favourite garden occupations. It's satisfying to clear away the dead wood (literally) -- and when the work is done, you can see what is there. It's a practical activity as well an aesthetic one. My aim may be to shape a shrub so that it looks its very best, but in the process I am improving the health of the shrub, giving it room to breathe and light to live by. As an activity, pruning is more rewarding than weeding -- it's


Going and Coming

September 14th, 2014 | 8 Comments »
Before and after photos are a great way of showing the effect of changes -- if you have them. Which, in this case, I don't.Last week the weather was wonderful, with warm days, bright blue skies and a touch of crispness in the air. This week, the sky is grey and the temperatures are hovering around 6C (in fahrenheit, that means cold!). A big storm with high winds accounts for the dramatic change, in the temperature and in the view from our house to the garage.Here is the only photo


Following my tree, down a colourful garden path

September 7th, 2014 | 9 Comments »
It's that time of month again, time to write about the tree I started following in March this year. My corkscrew hazel (Corylus avellana 'Red Majestic') is looking about as tired as the rest of the garden -- late August and early September are not prime times at Glen Villa.Something is eating the hazel leaves.Something likes the leaves of this corkscrew hazel.They are welcome to it.The leaves are looking decidedly weary. Not to mention spotty and full of holes.So instead of writing about this unattractive tree, I'm writing about some


At the End of The Aqueduct

September 1st, 2014 | 5 Comments »
A few posts ago, I wrote about the journey that water makes as it flows down the hill and into the lake. A few posts before that, I referred to the 'haste makes waste' pond that is just above the boathouse, the final spot on the water's journey. Today I want to show how important it is to acknowledge errors when you make them -- and don't we all? -- and to correct them as soon as possible, before your eye becomes accustomed to what is there.Here is what the