Looking Ahead to 2016

December 27th, 2015 | 12 Comments »

Two weeks ago I looked back at Glen Villa to see what I accomplished in 2015. Last week I reviewed the gardens I visited during the year. So as we approach the new year, the topic of today’s post is almost inevitable: my garden plans for 2016.

Announcing goals has positive and negative aspects. Seeing something that is clear in your mind become reality can be extremely satisfying, whether the transformation is in the garden or somewhere else, far removed. The prospect is exciting even when the amount of work involved — planning, executing and modifying as needed — is taken into account.


The future is as misty as the piece of land partly hidden by the tree branches.
Will I accomplish my goals? The future is as misty as the view of Black Point, on Lake Massawippi, Quebec, here seen partly hidden by tree branches.


The negative side to announcing goals comes when your plans don’t turn out as you expect. Or they don’t happen at all. Sometimes time runs out, sometimes money, sometimes the vision itself is unrealistic.

But announcing goals, whether publicly or in private, has a way of focusing attention. Deciding from all the many things I want to do which are really important makes me set priorities, something I am generally loathe to do.

So here they are, TEN goals for Glen Villa in 2016.

1. The Cascade: I want to modify the plantings around the cascade so they are more in keeping with the strong lines of the new gabion wall. This means simplifying the number and type of plants I use. It also means improving the drainage and the soil in the beds themselves so that these plants have a better chance of thriving.

We started this work in November. (Is it cheating to set this as a goal when I’ve already started?) We removed the gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) that was spreading too vigourously, the blue lyme grass (Leymus arenarius) that was supposed to spread but didn’t, and the ligularia (Ligularia dentata ‘ Britt Marie Crawford’) that had sulked for several years. We left in place the spirea that tumbles and sprays like the water in the cascade itself and the staghorn sumac and hemlocks that provide a backdrop for the area. We improved the drainage and repositioned the rocks before adding compost and good topsoil.


The cascade looks bare with only the new topsoil. But thank goodness the gooseneck loosestrife is gone!
The cascade looks bare with only the new topsoil. But thank goodness the gooseneck loosestrife is gone!


What to plant in the spring in that big empty section is the next questions. I tried Physocarpus ‘Summer Wine’ this year and it seemed to like the location, and — surprisingly — it wasn’t bothered by the deer. I liked seeing Persicaria micrcephala ‘Purple Fantasy’ in front of ‘Summer Wine,’, so I’ll probably add more of both. Still, I haven’t made up my mind, so if you have suggestions, let me know.

2. The Egg: This area was among the first I designed at Glen Villa. Some fifteen or more years later, it is in desperate need of a total rethink. I intended to do this in 2014 and in 2015. I’m determined to get to it this time around.

My problem is deciding what to do. Initially The Egg was a tribute to my origins in Virginia and I want to retain that connection. At the same time, I want to transform a generalized reference into a memorial for my mother who was a Virginian through and through, proud of her family and proud of the communities she was a part of.

I started work on this area in early December during the unusual spell of warm weather that extended the gardening season for well over a month. (Another instance of cheating? Or can I just say I jumped the gun?) I haven’t done much yet, only cleaned up the area and levelled the previously sloped ground.


This photo suggests the oval shape of The Egg. The woven wooden strips were the basket that held the egg. The boxwood that circles it isn't shown in this photo.
This photo suggests the oval shape of The Egg. I planted it with tiarella cordifolia that resembled beaten egg whites in the spring when it bloomed. Around the oval were wooden steps meant to suggest the egg shell. The woven wooden branches you see in the photo above were the basket that held the egg. Some of the boxwood that circled the Egg is visible at the far right of this photo. I’ll keep it, perhaps leaving it where it is, perhaps using it in some other way.


I have a germ of an idea for the memorial that involves a bench and a tree and I hope the idea will become clearer as I ponder and plan. Boxwood, in my mind the quintessential Virginia plant, will definitely remain part of the memorial, as it was of The Egg.

3. The Gravel Garden: This was a new project in 2015. In 2016 I will evaluate the plants I chose, replacing whatever doesn’t make it through the winter. I will add some brown-toned gravel to the grey gravel that is there now to make the area blend more compatibly with the stone walls of the house. I want to define the edge more precisely and I may enlarge the space. Zen-like rocks may find a place here, too.


The sedum Razzleberry is colourful... maybe too much so?
The sedum Dazzleberry is colourful. I’m debating whether it is too colourful for this area. What do you think?


4. New Pots for the Deck:  In 2015 I simplified the plants on the dining room deck, moving from an exuberant mix of colours to a calm row of boxwood. I want to extend this simplification to the deck on the other side of the house, replacing the hodgepodge of pots and plants there now with a cleaner, more modern approach. I envision metal pots, irregularly shaped and angular, of varying heights and widths.

The colour of the pots remains a question. Currently I’m vacillating between grey/black, shiny green or some other colour entirely. Turquoise and mustard to tone in with the Chinese pot and the lions on the adjacent log terrace are possibilities, but I fear those colours would limit the plant choices. On the other hand, if I could find the perfect plants, the colour combination could be amazing.


The arrangement is cheery and colourful but what I'm looking for now is something sleeker and more contemporary.
The arrangement is cheery and colourful but what I’m looking for now is something sleeker and more contemporary. I do like the spiky grass and will probably use it again.


5. A Fence for The China Terrace: For several years now, the deer have wrecked havoc on the plants I’ve used at the entry to The China Terrace. I need a fence. Over the winter months I will design something that fits with the idea of a Victorian era hotel, that also protects the plants and allows them to grow. A combination of wood and copper would be ideal since I’ve used those materials elsewhere on The China Terrace, on the window frames and staircase.

Since the fence will cross the path that leads into the China Terrace, I need a gate. I’d be delighted to find an interesting one in some junk shop somewhere but more than likely I will have to design one and have it made. Luckily, this is a job that my go-to guys, Jacques and Ken, can do.


The white banister in the border used to be part of the imaginary staircase that led to the even more imaginary second floor of the hotel, Glen Villa Inn.
The white banister in the border used to be part of the imaginary staircase that led to the even more imaginary second floor of the hotel, Glen Villa Inn. The path leading into the China Terrace is on the far left of this photo.


6. The Lower Garden: The planting in the beds along the lake needs to be freshened up. Hydrangeas do well here and I want to replace the old ones with newer varieties that will provide earlier and longer bloom. I want to keep the Astilbe ‘Fanal’ and the Aralia ‘Sun King’ I planted last summer and will group them in and around the hydrangeas.


The border looked ok when the Astilbe 'Fanal' was in bloom. At other times it looked a bit boring.
The border looked ok even if a bit straight line-ish when the Astilbe ‘Fanal’ was in bloom. At other times in the summer it looked boring. The border in the background also will get a make-over. Here, as elsewhere in the garden, the plants need to be deer-resistant.


7. The Upper Field: The Upper Field is gorgeous in early summer when buttercups turn the field to gold. Later in the season part of the field turns purple/blue, thanks to the Canadian thistle that seeded itself and continues to spread. I want to encourage fewer thistles and more colour, in mid-summer and later. Since part of the field is quite wet, Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) should do well. We have lots of it elsewhere on the property so in the spring I’ll transplant as much as I can and let it spread on its own. I’d like to add other umbellifers — possibly wild carrot or cow parsley or yarrow — and something spiky that will seed around as it likes.


These wildflowers occurred naturally. I'd like to enhance the spirit.
These wildflowers occurred naturally and I’m leaving them to spread wherever they want. I’d like to enhance this free-flowing spirit by adding other natives or near-natives. Suggestions, anyone?


8. Art projects: I am working on two art projects. One should be finished in January — I was hoping to have it ready for Christmas but that just didn’t happening — and its colour may affect my choice of colour for the pots on the deck. The second project, inspired by some ruins in the woods, will develop gradually over several years, although the outlines of the project are already in place.


The mossy wall just barely visible is the starting point for a new art installation.
The mossy wall just barely visible is the starting point for a new art installation that I’m calling Orin’s Sugarbush. A sugarbush is the area where sap is gathered for maple syrup. Orin was a farmer who worked on the property many years ago and this is where he made the syrup.


9. The Big Lawn: Transforming the Big Lawn into the Big Meadow will take several years. 2016 will be a year of experimentation. I intend to let the grass grow, to see what appears. Perhaps I’ll edit out some of the more unattractive elements and replace them with native grasses or wildflowers, but I hope editing won’t be necessary since once you start, it’s hard to stop. Going through the transition phase without changing my mind will be difficult. It’s like letting your hair grow out after you stop colouring it — there’s a time when the roots look so bad, you almost give in and colour it again. Changing this area without ploughing and replanting is a major challenge that will require determination and perseverance.


The mown strip shows where one path through the Big Meadow will go. There will be other paths, as well as a mown circle under the linden tree.


10. Garden Visits: No year would be complete without visiting other gardens, wherever they may be. I want to return to the Reford Gardens in Métis, Québec for my biennial injection of excitement — the result of seeing the work of talented designers from around the world exploring exciting ideas in imaginative ways. I’ll be hosting two garden tours in 2016. In May our small group will visit gardens in the home counties around London; in September I’ll be travelling to Scotland and the north of England, repeating this year’s successful tour with a new group of men and women.


Leaning back on the grass atop on of the mounds in The Garden of Cosmic Speculation was a cosmic experience.
Leaning back on the grass atop one of the mounds in The Garden of Cosmic Speculation was an experience to remember. Almost cosmic, I could say.


Have you set goals for 2016 or do you decide what you are going to do as the year goes on? If you set goals or make lists — which for me amounts to almost the same thing — are you willing to share them?

Let me share a final goal,  that goes out to all of you. May 2016 be a happy and healthy year, full of gardening pleasures!


A Year of Visiting Gardens

December 20th, 2015 | 13 Comments »
2015 was a bumper year for garden visits. I'm almost overwhelmed when I realize how many gardens I visited -- well over 100 by a quick count. Some days, I found the experience exhausting; every day it was fun. My year of visiting gardens started in February when I saw two outstanding gardens in South Carolina. Middleton Place lived up to its reputation as one of America's premier historic gardens. Begun by Henry Middleton in 1741,  the garden follows the principles of André Le Nôtre -- which means that order, balance and focal points enlivened by


A Year in Review

December 14th, 2015 | 13 Comments »
Last December, on a grey and gloomy day much like today, I wrote out my goals for the garden for 2015.  Re-reading that blog post a year later, I'm amazed to see how much of what I set out to do I actually accomplished. Discovering this was a big surprise, but after only a few minutes of thought I realized that it wasn't because 2015 was such a productive year but because I set myself rather modest goals. (Who, me? Surely not!) I wanted to make the 'staircase' on the China Terrace more prominent,


Tree Rings

December 6th, 2015 | 14 Comments »
Tree Rings, my most recent sculpture, was installed at Glen Villa a few weeks ago. Making this sculpture has been more challenging technically and mentally than I anticipated. Certainly it has taken longer than I thought it would. The project began in September 2014 when the top of an old maple tree blew off during a heavy wind storm. [caption id="attachment_3144" align="aligncenter" width="1500"] The tree stood between the house and the garage, the flat-roofed building seen behind the tree.[/caption] Luckily, the tree fell away from the house, causing no damage and leaving