Terracing the China Terrace

May 29th, 2018 | 15 Comments »

One of the first projects I undertook at Glen Villa was the China Terrace, a contemporary folly that honours an old resort hotel that once stood on the property.

I first wrote about it as a conceptual garden. Following that, I wrote about it sporadically, focusing on the changes I made —  the bed that shook off its annuals in favour of a moss quilt,


Moss forms a quilt on an old iron frame bed.
Moss forms a quilt on an old iron frame bed.


and the staircase leading to the imaginary second and third story that changed, from this …


This version of the staircase uses banister posts from a hardware store and dates from 2009.
This version of the staircase dates from 2009. It’s hard to tell from the photo but the posts curved slightly, to suggest a circular staircase.


to this …


Copper tubing outlines a 'staircase' that leads to an upper floor of this re-creation of Glen Villa Inn, destroyed by fire in 1909.
Copper tubing outlining the ‘staircase’ that led to an upper floor didn’t have enough weight visually.


to this …


The painted wood outlines the form of the 'staircase' and connects to other painted wooden elements on the China Terrace.
Combining wood and copper tubing linked the staircase to the window frames on the China Terrace. While it may look ok in the photo, I found this version too heavy visually.


… and, finally, to this.


I combined wood and copper tubing on the window frames at the China Terrace so using both creates continuity. Cutting the side boards in half made them appear much lighter.
Using two narrow strips along the sides rather than a single wide one lightens the appearance of the staircase while outlining its form.


These tweaks were necessary but relatively minor, and didn’t get at the main problem — the plants. There were two areas that bothered me, one on the bank (shown behind the staircase in the photo above) and the other beside the entry. I identified the problem at the end of 2013.

“This area and the entry bed it is part of simply don’t work as they should, which is to announce the presence of a ghostly recreation of a Victorian era hotel. Plus the deer like too many of the plants …. Plus [I need] more terracing and a re-shaping of the edges. “

Over the last five years I’ve tried to correct the problems in various ways. I thought about fencing the whole terrace but discarded the idea — to do it the way I wanted to would have cost a fortune. So I took smaller steps. I enriched the soil, added rocks to stabilize the bank and planted shrubs that were said to be deer proof. (Why do the deer never read the labels?) But nothing I did truly satisfied me.

So a few weeks ago, we attacked the problem head on.  We dug up the plants and heeled them in. We removed the rocks that were spotted on the hillside and we began to terrace the slope.


This is how the slope looked a few weeks ago.
This is how the slope looked a few weeks ago. The entry to the China Terrace is at the right.


The rocks we added several years ago had been large enough to stabilize the bank but I wanted real terraces with clearly defined edges that would suggest the three floors of the old resort hotel. I wanted flat planting beds, so that the plants wouldn’t look like they were sliding down the bank.

Making those changes seemed straightforward. It meant using bigger rocks than we’d used before, and those rocks would be too heavy to be placed by hand. To complete the project, we’d have to rent heavy equipment, but only for a few days.


Heavy equipment was necessary.
On an old farm property, there are rock piles everywhere so we didn’t have to buy any.


Funny how things take longer than you think they will…  Finding and hauling the rocks, building the terraces and getting the beds ready to plant took ten days of steady work.


Mid-way through the project, I realized the walls had to be higher. That meant more rocks, and more time.
Early on in the project, I realized the walls had to be higher. That meant more rocks, and more time.


But the result is all I could hope for: three terraces, each three feet higher than the one below and each slightly shorter and each about six feet wide.

We started planting last week. We are re-using the shrubs that were there before: Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ on the lowest terrace, a few Aralia ‘Sun King’ on the second, and Persicaria polymorpha, or giant foamflower, on the third. At the very top where it is almost full shade, we planted ferns dug from the woods and spotted some indigenous thalictrum around the rocks. Finally we rescued some rooted bits of Stephanandra from the Lower Garden and planted them along the side slopes where they should tumble nicely.


terraces (1 of 1)
The weigela look pathetic but they are beginning to leaf out.


So far I haven’t bought any new plants but since the area is larger than before, I will have to. New plants will include some low growing ground covers under the Weigela, one of which should spill over the rocks in front. I may spot some perennials here and there — epimediums are growing well in one section so I’ll probably add more. I want to keep the plantings simple, though, so I don’t intend to use too many different types of plants.

The question that remains is what to plant on the second, or middle, terrace. I could plant more Aralia but that seems boring, as does spirea. The wispy plumes of Filipendula would be nice but the deer like them, and choosing a shrub that is deer-resistent is a must.  I want the shrub to have light-coloured leaves so that the dark-leafed weigela stands out against it. The plant needs to be tall — around 5-7 feet would be fine. Ideally it would be a ‘country’ shrub that people used in the 1900s, but this is less important than finding one that will grow well in an area with soil that tends to be dry and that gets just under six hours of sunlight.

Suggestions, anyone?





The Big Meadow, Year 3

May 24th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
In 2016, in order to discourage Canada geese from 'littering' the  lawn, we began to transform it into a meadow. We didn't follow the advice given by experts on how to create a meadow -- their process involved too much work and too much expense. Instead we simply stopped cutting the grass. We let it grow throughout the season and cut it only once in the fall, to mulch the leaves and to cut down any trees that were taking root. Now, entering the third year of this experiment, it is fascinating to see what is appearing. From a


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


Pining Away

May 4th, 2018 | 16 Comments »
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