Garden Plans: I’m Dreaming Again

March 27th, 2017 | 8 Comments »

Now that winter has dumped several feet of snow on a garden that was almost snow-free, I’m back by the fire, metaphorically at least, dreaming of the seasons ahead.

 

I took this photo about ten days ago, on a bright winter day after a fresh snowfall. More snow is falling now.
I took this photo about ten days ago after a fresh snowfall. Today is grey. And maybe more snow will fall. I hope not.

 

I’m dreaming about a trail that will lead around the property. I’m considering the route it will follow and what I will call it. I know the purpose of the trail — it will connect art installations now in place and others I’m working on, or planning. And while there are problems about the route, the big question is what the trail should be called.

The choice of a name may seem inconsequential but in my mind it matters enormously. A name does more than describe, it defines significance, and finding the right name is proving more difficult than I anticipated. The name I’m searching for will encapsulate what links the different installations and how they add to the experience of walking the land. It will identify something meaningful.

The trail as it now exists starts in the Upper Field beside the Skating Pond and leads into the woods.

 

In Transit/En Route is a path lined with signs that ask questions.
In Transit/En Route is a path lined with signs that ask questions about time, space and our relationship to them.

 

The end point of this installation, called In Transit/En Route, is a clearing, where a bench offers a place to sit and reflect. (I’ve written more about In Transit/En Route here, here and here.)

 

This is the Sundial Clearing. The shadow of a dead pine tree marks the hours of the day.
This is the Sundial Clearing. On the left is an uncomfortable pine box that serves as a bench. The shadow of a dead pine tree marks the hours of the day as it hits upright posts placed around the circle.

 

The trail continues beyond the sundial clearing into a meadow-like area with a small stream.

 

You can see a bit of the trail on the left side of this photo, taken in 2009. We cleared brush from this area last fall. Some of the wildflowers have disappeared but the site still feels the same. Is this an example of unity persisting despite change?
You can see a bit of the trail on the left side of this photo, taken in 2009. Last fall we cleared the brush that was smothering the wildflowers. I’m betting that now they will return.

 

Currently there is no installation in this space, tentatively named the water meadow. I plan to create something for the site but I don’t know what, although Heraclitus comes to mind. Over the summer I’ll spend time in the area, giving it a chance to speak —  and giving myself time to hear it.

Beyond the water meadow, the path splits and splits again. At the second division, a tall tree trunk painted yellow announces Two Roads.

 

This is one of the simplest pieces Ive made.
I learned only recently that the ‘yellow wood’ Frost refers to is not the yellow of New England’s autumn foliage but a wood full of yellow daffodils. I’m still trying to get my head around this change of season.

 

As in the poem, the two roads that present a choice to the walker lead to much the same place. At that spot, years ago, there was a farmhouse and a barn. Now it’s a quiet spot, out of the way, with a glade that reminds me of a poem by Yeats. In a year or two I will make an installation for the site, and possibly Yeats’ poem will be the genesis. But my idea needs time to grow and ripen, like the nine rows of beans he dreams of planting.

 

From the farmhouse there was a view onto the lake that we are restoring gradually.
From the farmhouse there used to be a wide view onto the lake. We are restoring the view gradually.

 

Beyond this site the route becomes complicated. There are simply too many ways to go, and too many sites that call out for recognition. The marks that history has left on the land often dictate where an installation needs to be placed and these land marks are not arranged neatly in a loop. Sometimes they veer off abruptly. Sometimes they are too close together, or too far apart. And sometimes the rhythm of the walk dictates the need for an installation even if there are no historical marks or striking natural features.  That is the case in the fields near Lilac Cottage, a small house surrounded by lilac bushes, that many decades ago was used by a tenant farmer.

On two sides of the cottage are farm fields, and I’m working now on installations for both. Crossing one field will be a simple avenue of crabapple trees that I hope to plant in early spring. Crossing the other will be a more complex installation, inspired Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Scottish garden, Little Sparta, and tentatively titled The Past Looms Large.

 

My current project will lead across this field towards the Big Chair. I hope to complete this project by May, so stayed tuned for more information.
The installation I’m working on now will lead across this field towards the Big Chair. I hope to complete the project by May, so stayed tuned.

 

Logic dictates that the path continue beyond the Big Chair, from the sun-filled field into a rather gloomy forest. The transition from light to shade is abrupt and is matched by a change in topography. From a dry, relatively flat field, the path leads downward, becoming increasingly soggy, provoking a  change in mood that I hope to make explicit. (Dante, anyone?)

Following this same path, walkers reach Orin’s Sugarbush, a project that needs only a few finishing touches before it is complete. (For more about this installation, click here and here.)

 

On a snowy day in January, my husband and i snowshoed past Orin's Sugarbush. It is magical spot in winter, with tin maple leaves tinkling in the wind.
On a snowy day in January, my husband and i snowshoed past Orin’s Sugarbush. It is magical in winter, when the tin maple leaves suspended from the trees chime in the wind.

 

A short distance beyond Orin’s Sugarbush the path comes out into another field. Here, walkers cross a stream before heading up the hill to the Skating Pond where they began.

 

The metaphoric bridge is what my family calls this spot. Their name for it makes me laugh.
My son calls this the metaphoric bridge. In one direction the words are written in French, in the other, in English. And despite what the signs say, the bridge is actual.

 

Walking the trail I’ve sketched out would take a fast walker an hour at least. Loops off the main trail could easily add another hour or more. And loops seem necessary: at almost every junction another site calls out to be honoured.

These site specific installations speak to what was, but also to what may be. It is easy to walk across the land and see nothing, or to see only a tiny part of what is there. It’s easy to miss the spirit of the place. My hope is that the art I create makes this more difficult. That it helps us to see.

 

I've been watching this tree rot for half a dozen years or more. Each time I pass it, I stop and notice what has changed.
I’ve been watching this tree rot for half a dozen years or more. Each time I pass it, I stop and notice what has changed.

 

Which bring me back to what this trail will be called. I’m searching for a name that brings to the surface the ideas that link the installations. Regular readers will know that I like using words outdoors. (I wrote about this recently on the English website ThinkinGardens. You can read that here.) Words are a part of the installations I’ve created to date and that will probably continue. The passage of time and the history of the site are elements as well, yet I know there is something more, something deeper that I haven’t identified.

I want a name that rolls off the tongue easily, that isn’t pretentious. Most important, though, it needs to encapsulate what the trail as a whole reveals about the land and the experience of being on it. It needs to speak to the deep heart’s core.

Do you have suggestions? I welcome individual words or combinations of words — even crazy thoughts. Because who knows where a thought will lead?

 

Experimenting Landscapes: A Book Review

March 13th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
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Experimenting Landscapes: Testing the Limits of the Garden is the newest book about the International Garden Festival at Métis, Québec. Full of helpful insights from  the author Emily Waugh, the book presents photos and essays analyzing some of the Festival's experimental gardens. Focusing on a selection of gardens from the last ten years, the book suggests five categories or methods of investigation that help readers position the gardens within a larger context.   [caption id="attachment_4966" align="aligncenter" width="300"] This cover photo shows Courtesy of Nature, by Johan Selbing and Anouk Vogel. It is one of

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North

February 27th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
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North is a direction, an idea, an experience. North as designed by the architects Suresh Perara and Julie Charbonneau of the Montreal firm PER.CH is a triumph. Using familiar materials, PER.CH turns the idea of north on its head. Literally. Thirty-nine fir trees hang upside down from a metal framework, their soft green triangles pointing down to a bare Toronto beach.   [caption id="attachment_4945" align="aligncenter" width="2000"] Photo courtesy of Suresh Perara.[/caption]   North is one of eight installations that make up Winter Stations, an exhibition on the shores of Lake Ontario. Now

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Thinking about Gardens

February 13th, 2017 | 17 Comments »
This sign seen at the wonderful Italian garden Bosco della Ragnaia, created by Sheppard Craige, says it all: If not here, where?
After a short but enjoyable holiday in Florida, I'm back in Quebec. Moving from one weather system to another that is radically different strains the body and provokes obvious questions. Why leave ocean breezes for frozen lakes, or blue skies and green palm trees for white snow and grey skies?   [caption id="attachment_4918" align="aligncenter" width="600"] The angle of this photo tells you how hard I was working in Florida. Don't laugh: leaning back and doing nothing takes some doing. (Ok, not much.)[/caption]   It is cold here. And it keeps on snowing,

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Do You Care about Garden Trends?

January 30th, 2017 | 23 Comments »
I lifted from this photo from an on-line article in the English newspaper, The Telegraph. The cut-line that ran with the photo reads "This year, look out for cacti, price wars and carrot yoghrt," says Matthew Appleby.
Do you pay attention to garden trends or do you think they are a pile of baloney? Every year about this time, I read an article telling me what's in and what's out. Hot new plants are described. I read that there's a colour I can't live without, or that shrubs are making a comeback. (When did they ever go away?) These articles appear in magazines, newspapers and on-line sites in countries around the world.  Sometimes they are based on surveys, sometimes on opinions, sometimes on catchy phrases. Alliteration abounds. As do odd conclusions.

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Reading the Garden

January 17th, 2017 | 15 Comments »
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Those who can't garden, read. On grey winter days, nothing beats sitting by a fire and reading garden books. For the last few days, I've been devouring Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change. This 2016 publication by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher was top of my Christmas wish list; I'm only partway through but I'm enjoying every page. The book lays out sensible ways to garden ecologically, and, as it turns out, I was already applying its principles of natural evolution to guide the transformation of  the Big Lawn

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Garden Goals for 2017

January 9th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
The tin maple leaves hung in November 2016 are now coated with snow, making the scene even more evocative.
Setting annual goals for the garden keeps me on track and helps me avoid jumping from one thing to another, something I'm all too prone to do. Last year I set 10 goals for myself and discovered, looking back in last week's post, that ten was too many. So in 2017 I'm cutting my ambitions in half and setting five goals for the year ahead. 1. Finish The Upper Room The bare bones of The Upper Room, the new area in the garden that honours my mother and her beliefs, have

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