The Way to Go, or Not to Go

May 15th, 2018 | 18 Comments »

 

One of the decisions I have to make when groups visit Glen Villa is which way to go. Shall I to lead the group around the garden this way or that?

In some gardens the choice is made for you. There is a set route that the garden maker or garden owner wants you to take. Or that the government authority in charge has dictated.

This is the case at Villa Lante, the Renaissance garden built for Cardinal Gamberaia and now owned by the government of Italy. The Cardinal’s garden used water to show how nature, untamed and chaotic, is ‘civilized’ by art and the power of man. To follow the story, visitors entered the garden at the top of a hill, where water poured  out over rough tufa walls.

 

The Grotto of the Deluge marks the division between primitive life and the beginning of civilization.
This area is called the Grotto of the Deluge. It is meant to mark the division between primitive life and the beginning of civilization.

 

As they moved down the hill, they witnessed a gradual transformation, with art increasingly dominating nature.

 

Each hand-carved scroll on the sides of the rill is slightly different, modifying the sound of the water as it descends.
Hand-carved, each scroll on the rill is slightly different, and that difference modifies the sound of the water as it descends.

 

The transformation reached its climax at the lowest level, where water rested, calmly contained within a large square basin surrounded by a formal broderie design.

 

The town of Viterbo lies just outside the garden walls.
The town of Viterbo lies just outside the garden walls.

 

Today the direction is reversed. Visitors enter at the bottom of the garden, distorting the Cardinal’s metaphor by presenting it backwards.

The same bottom to top problem exists at Villa d’Este in Tivoli. In the 1500s, visitors entering at the bottom of the garden spied the palace high above them. The sight was meant to overwhelm, and it did.

 

There is no straight path to the top of the hill. A visitor might follow one path on a first visit, another on a second.
No path leads straight to the top of the hill. A visitor might follow one path on a first visit, another on a second.

 

Today’s visitors enter at the top, looking down from the seat of power instead of up to it.

 

 

This terrace is one of many that visitors encounter as they make their way through the garden.
This terrace is one of many that visitors encounter as they make their way through the garden.

 

 

Few gardens today are designed to convey messages through topography. (I can’t think of any. Can you?) But the way visitors move through a garden still matters, because the route we take affects how we experience the space.

A few years ago I visited the Morikami Japanese Garden in southern Florida. My companion had been to the garden once before and, because she hadn’t found the experience particularly meaningful, wasn’t eager to return. The second visit changed her mind — and all because we went round the garden the ‘right’ way.

A pond lies at the centre of the garden, and visitors are meant to walk around it counterclockwise. This is also the case at Stourhead, an18th century English landscape garden in Wiltshire. Circling the lake the ‘right’ way presents views to their best advantage, the way the garden’s creator, Henry Hoare, intended.

 

Hoare created the lake by damming a stream. His classical buildings provide focal points as well as telling a story.
Hoare created the lake by damming a stream. His classical buildings provide focal points as well as telling a story.

 

 

Views aren’t the only reason why a visitor may be encouraged, or forced, to take one path rather than another. Consider Mt. Cuba, a garden located near Wilmington, Delaware, where native plants are the raison d’être. Showing wildflowers to their best advantage does not depend on the path you follow. But because Mt Cuba is open to the public, visitors’ steps are directed along clearly defined routes.

 

 

Visitors need to be directed around the garden to protect sensitive plants and sensitive areas.
Controlling where visitors walk protects sensitive plants and sensitive areas.

 

 

The lushly romantic garden of Ninfa was designed for wandering, and it’s easy to  imagine the original owners lingering here or there to smell a rose or listen to a murmuring stream. The experience is different for visitors today. Groups are frogmarched through the garden on a predetermined route and at a predetermined pace that dampens even a whisper of romance.

 

Ninfa has been described as the most romantic garden in the world.
Ninfa has been described as the most romantic garden in the world.

 

 

The experience at Prospect Cottage, Derek Jarman’s garden on the shingle beach in Kent, is different again. A private garden, it nonetheless feels public — it fronts onto a public road and no fences separate the garden from its surroundings. Visitors can wander as the please, circling the house one way or the other, exploring each vignette and finding whatever meaning they choose.

 

 

The setting is bleak, windy and inspirational.
The setting is bleak, windy and inspirational.

 

Where you enter the garden can make a difference to the experience. In the Walled Garden at Scampston Hall, visitors are encouraged to walk around three sides of the garden before entering the first of nine garden rooms, the Piet Oudolf designed Drifts of Grass.

 

Nine distinct garden 'rooms' divide 4.5 acres enclosed within 18th century bricks walls at this Yorkshire garden.
Nine distinct garden ‘rooms’ divide 4.5 acres enclosed within 18th century bricks walls at this Yorkshire garden.

 

 

Natural features in the landscape or elements deliberately placed can shape a garden journey. Water rills, hedges, walls and gates: all can dictate the way a visitor must go. Simple flower beds can do the same. In a private garden in New York state, a winding path edged by plants gently directs visitors towards an open area.

 

 

Mown grass makes a comfortable path through this garen.
Mown grass makes a comfortable path through this garden.

 

 

People can move through the garden at Glen Villa in any number of ways. They can walk south towards the Lower Garden …

 

 

Magnolias are in full bloom now in the Lower Garden.
Magnolias are in full bloom now in the Lower Garden.

 

 

… or north, towards the Aqueduct.

 

 

This photo is from last summer. Plants here now are barely above ground.
This photo is from last summer. Plants here now are barely above ground.

 

If they enter by the pond they see one view.

 

This pond exists because of a dam built about 150 years ago.
This pond exists because of a dam built about 150 years ago.

 

If they enter through the fields they see another.

 

Buttercups cover the fields in June.
Buttercups cover the fields in June.

 

 

I like having a choice, in my own garden and in someone else’s. But having a choice can be confusing. I know my way around Glen Villa. I know I will see everything I want to see, with or without directions, or a map, or arrows pointing this way or that. But for others, a map or arrows may be essential.

What about you? Do you like to be directed around a garden or do you prefer to wander?

Pining Away

May 4th, 2018 | 16 Comments »
I'm guessing that the big pine was about 150 years old.
A few weeks ago I posted the photo below on Facebook and asked for ideas about what to do with the trunk of an enormous pine tree that had pined away.   [caption id="attachment_6219" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] The pine tree was about 150 years old.[/caption]   Many people responded: make it into a table, or benches, a totem, planters, bird houses or toothpicks (hard to imagine how many of those there would be!), an art display: Twenty Ways to Commemorate a Fallen Pine. (Thanks, Janet. I loved that idea.) But that's

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A cheery face looks up to the sun.
Today it is grey and rainy but yesterday felt like spring. And how wonderful that was! Despite the soggy ground, covered in many places with deer pellets and dead leaves, I spent an hour or so wandering around the garden, enjoying the sunshine and the new growth that was popping up in every warm corner. For readers who live in milder climates or in places where spring has truly sprung, the thrill of seeing new growth may have come and gone. But living in a cold climate, where snow is still lurking

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This garden in the Eastern Townships has a splendid view out over the countryside.
Does your garden turn its face to the world or does it veil it off?  The difference says a lot, about you and the style of your garden -- and about the spirit of the times. Recently I spoke to several groups about how to get the most out of garden visits.  Learning to Look: the Art of Garden Observation considers what it takes to really see a garden. A handout for the talk asks some key questions, starting with the garden's context.  How does it relate to the world around it? Is it open to its surroundings or closed off? Topography

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April 16th, 2018 | 14 Comments »
Poor little snowdrops, coated with ice from this morning's freezing rain.
Spring just won't make up its mind. One day it cracks open the door, the next day, slams it shut. And I'm fed up! Come on, Spring, get a move on. Some years, snowdrops have finished by now. This year, they have barely started.   [caption id="attachment_6147" align="aligncenter" width="2334"] These poor little snowdrops are coated with ice from this morning's freezing rain. And yes, that's a patch of snow in front of them.[/caption]   In a normal spring, by now water would be splashing gaily over the rocks at The Cascade. Instead

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It’s Maple Syrup Time!

April 9th, 2018 | 12 Comments »
Jacques ladles the syrup into the final boiling pan.
It's that super sweet time of the year, when sap is transformed into maple syrup. We've been making maple syrup at Glen Villa for many years now. My father-in-law tapped trees and the site of his old sugar camp is now an art installation in the woods.   [caption id="attachment_5000" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Orin's Sugarbush is a magical spot in winter, when snow outlines pieces of rusted tin, suspended from surrounding trees to suggest the roof that once was there.[/caption]   Making maple syrup takes time, particularly if you do it

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What's Easter without an egg or two?   With 18 family members around on the weekend, the eggs disappeared almost as quickly as they were found.   This most beautiful of eggs was a special treat... before,   during,     and after.     Thanks, Sandra!

The Upper Room in Winter

March 25th, 2018 | 16 Comments »
The Upper Room is pristine in the morning light.
The Upper Room is as glorious in winter as it is in spring, summer and fall. The highlight in every season is the beautiful screen outlining the bare branches of a dogwood tree.   [caption id="attachment_6101" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] The Upper Room stands tall in the morning light.[/caption]   Drawn by the Montreal artist Mary Martha Guy, the tree branches become more starkly striking with the late afternoon sun shining through.   [caption id="attachment_6092" align="aligncenter" width="2862"] The screen is a symphony of blacks, whites and shafts of light.[/caption]   A close-up of four

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Congratulations!

March 5th, 2018 | 25 Comments »
A desire to recreate the sounds of the stream beside our old summer cottage was the initial inspiration for The Aqueduct.
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