All posts by Pat Webster

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?

Garden Plans: I’m Dreaming Again

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?

 

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Experimenting Landscapes: A Book Review

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.

 

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This cover photo shows Courtesy of Nature, by Johan Selbing and Anouk Vogel. It is one of my favourite installations in recent years.

 

Waugh’s categories ask us to consider how some gardens “Disaggregate and Re-present” or “Focus Within Frames” to help us see things we might otherwise miss; how “Altered Viewpoints” and “Unexpected Materials and Formats”  give new perspectives and how “Landscape as a Living Experience” brings richer awareness.

True to its title, the gardens selected stretch the definition of garden and test its limits. And all to the good, in my opinion.

“Disaggregate and Re-Present” examines gardens that help us see the details — the trees within the forest, as it were — by breaking a big picture into its component parts. One of the most successful is Tiny Taxonomies by Rosetta Elkins, where ordinary plants that form the floor of a boreal forest are re-presented in mirrored cylinders of different heights.

 

Tiny Taxonomies by Rosetta Elkins
Tiny Taxonomies by Rosetta Elkins. By removing plants from their original context, Elkins helps us see them as something special, non-commercial species with their own beauty.

 

“Focusing within Frames” is a familiar concept in garden design. Openings in hedges, tall trees at key locations, allées that lead our eyes to a special object or view — these tricks have been used by gardeners for centuries.  At the International Garden Festival, though, the idea is expanded beyond the familiar. A variety of types of frames draw our attention to our surroundings, to views or objects that are so familiar we no longer see them. One of the featured installations is the forest scene presented on the book’s cover, a project by Johan Selbing and Anouk Vogel with the beautifully appropriate name,  Courtesy of Nature. Ordinary trees and ferns become almost sacred by virtue of the building that surrounds them, and inside the pristine enclosure we engage with these familiar landscape elements in new ways.

 

This view of Courtesy of Nature shows the doorway to the gallery-like box tht encloses a section of the existing forest.
This view of Courtesy of Nature shows the doorway to the gallery-like box that encloses a section of the existing forest. Setting the trees apart from the forest emphasizes the significance and beauty of the familiar.

 

Two other gardens that I find particularly successful are included in this category.  One is the now permanent Réflexions colorées by Hal Ingberg, an installation that plays with perceptions in a way that engages everyone who sees it.

 

Hal Ingeberg's installation uses semi-reflective glass to mirror the surrounding forest and to see ourselves as part of it.
Semi-reflective glass mirrors the surrounding forest and allows us to see ourselves reflected, separate from yet also a part of the forest. I have many, many photos of this installation. Each time I see it, I have to take more because it looks different in every season and at every time of day. One of my favourite photos shows a tiny grandchild with her nose pressed against the glass, trying to figure out what is inside and what is outside the frame.

 

Diane Balmori’s Making Circles in the Water focuses our attention on the St. Lawrence River, a key feature of the landscape that had become almost hidden behind a curtain of trees and plants. Small circular cones we can peer through and a series of frames we can walk through limit our sight to a section of the larger scene. These two types of frames, combined with the title that recalls how throwing a rock into water makes rippling circles, connect us physically and emotionally to the surroundings and remind us of how we can affect it.

 

Making Circles in the Water, by Balmori Associates, playfully engages visitors. I saw many people, children in particular, running through the frames. in playfocuses attention on the
Making Circles in the Water, by Balmori Associates, engages visitors in multiple ways. I have seen children running through the frames, adults standing amid them and staring in both directions, people posing inside the frames to have their photos taken.  The subtle colour gradations draw the eye through the frames to the water beyond.

 

What I particularly appreciate about the experimental landscapes at the International Garden Festival is how they alter my views, both visually and mentally, of even the most familiar things. Tree Stands by relais Landschaftsarchitekten placed ladders in a grove of trees; anyone brave enough to climb a ladder would see the forest from a new vantage point. Camouflage View by Arenda/Lasch used angled mirrors to simultaneously hide and reveal the surroundings. While my photo may show the view onto the St Lawrence River quite clearly, walking through the space was a different experience. With each step, the angled view changed, confusing and distorting background and foreground in a way that made the surroundings impossible to ignore.

 

Camouflage View by Aranda/Lasch. I saw this installation early in June, 2006, while plants were still in their pots.
Camouflage View by Aranda/Lasch. I saw this installation early in June, 2006, while plants were still in their pots.

 

Ordinary materials used in unexpected ways can challenge our expectations.  Round Up by Legge Lewis Legge shifted a grass lawn from horizontal to vertical, by way of turf hills covered with sod held in place with packing straps.

 

Round Up by Legge Lewis Legge. When I saw them the hills were fairly uniform but as the season progressed, the changed shape, slumping, shifting and growing into individual characters.
Round Up by Legge Lewis Legge. When I saw them, the hills were fairly uniform but as the season progressed, they changed shape, slumping and shifting as the grass grew longer.

 

The last of Waugh’s five categories presents the landscape as a living experience. Two of the most powerful installations she covers in this section are Afterburn by Civilian Projects, and This Rocks! Get Lost! by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.

Afterburn shows the destructive and regenerative power of fire. Charred posts suggest a landscape destroyed by fire which, although initially barren, will become alive again as pioneer species take root and grow.

 

The smell of charred wood was strong on the day I visited. I loved the contrast of colours -- the orange surveyor's paint, the silvery shimmer of the scorched wood and the bright blue sky above.
The smell of charred wood was strong on the day I visited. I loved the aesthetics of this installations, in particular the contrast of colours — the orange surveyor’s paint and the silvery shimmer of the scorched wood set off against the bright blue sky above.

 

Each entry that Waugh presents includes quotes from the garden designer that speak to intent. Michael Van Valkenburgh wanted to do a project “where the power of landscape material was the whole idea.” This Rocks! Get Lost! positions five enormous chunks of Vermont marble in a woodland site. The raw power of the stone drew me and every other visitor I saw into close contact with the stones.

 

When I saw This Rocks! Get Lost! by Michael Van Valkenburg Associates, I wanted to touch each piece.
When I saw This Rocks! Get Lost! by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, I had to rub my hand against each piece, to sit and be quiet, to give myself time to feel the weight of the marble, a material more often seen in small polished pieces.

 

Essays by international garden writers and designers add heft to Experimenting Landscapes, making it much more than a picture book reviewing festival gardens from previous years. Both the author Emily Waugh and the Garden and Festival Director Alexander Reford connect the festival to the garden’s beginnings, when Elsie Reford began what she called ‘adventuring’ with soils, planters and hybrid species. She tested the limits of her garden in a climate where she was on her own. As her great-grandson writes, “with nobody to compare herself to, she could only be constrained by her own lack of imagination.”

For me, that encapsulates the value of seeing and engaging with experimental gardens. They help me ‘adventure.’ They push me to fight against the limits of my imagination, to  look, to see,, to comprehend. Even to imitate.

Several years before I saw Round Up, I used grass vertically to create the Grass Snake at Glen Villa. The idea didn’t come all at once, it developed in a back and forth dialogue with my friend, the landscape architect Myke Hodgins. The initial impulse, though, came from an experimental garden I saw pictured in a book.

 

Snow hides the eyes of the grass snake but emphasizes the curves of the snake's shaggy 'skin.' The apple remains out of reach.
Snow hides the head of the grass snake but emphasizes the curves of its shaggy grass ‘skin.’ The apple remains out of reach, regardless of season.

 

Currently I  am working on two projects that fall within Emily Waugh’s categories. In one I’m using unexpected materials and formats in a new way; in another I’m altering the viewpoint. Both, I hope, will not be constrained by a lack of imagination. Rather, in the process of creating them I hope they will open my eyes to new possibilities and new ways of seeing and understanding the environment I am a part of.

What will my experiments do for others? Will they open eyes or close them? I know that many people find experimental gardens off-putting. They are Irritated by what they see, or dismissive. Or worst of all, they are left indifferent. While I regret these reactions, I understand them. Like many pieces of contemporary art, experimental and conceptual gardens aren’t always easy to get your head around. They run counter to everyday ideas about what gardens are. But I hope that instead of shutting their minds to these gardens, people will give them a second look. Perhaps even a third.  Waugh’s excellent book is a good place to begin.

 

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North

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.

 

All photos courtesy of Suresh Perara.
Photo courtesy of Suresh Perara.

 

North is one of eight installations that make up Winter Stations, an exhibition on the shores of Lake Ontario. Now in its third year, the project challenges designers to use Toronto’s lifeguard stations as the basis for winter art. This year’s theme, Catalyst, asks them to “disassemble and re-shape our notions of Toronto’s waterfront, with particular attention to the sand and materials strewn across the beach…[to be] a catalyst for change.”

North does this, in spades.

When I saw a photo of North in The Globe and Mail, I immediately thought of an inverted map of the world. Instead of an arrow pointing upwards to the north, the arrow formed by the top of the tree was pointing downwards. North flipped to point south? On a closer view, other reversals and tensions became apparent, between the stark setting and the lush growth of the trees, between the soft, dripping branches and the chopped off trunks. Dead carcasses hanging from hooks in a butcher’s shop came to mind, discarded Christmas trees transformed to sides of beef, swaying slightly as the butcher’s fan rotated.

 

All photos courtesy of Suresh Perara.
Photo courtesy of Suresh Perara. The ladder of the lifeguard station is clearly visible in this photo.

 

When I met Perara and Charbonneau at their studio in Montreal late last week, they described the thinking that led to their design: the idea of a northern forest, a quintessentially Canadian landscape, set against the image of an empty, frozen beach that was, at the same time, a place of nostalgia, tinted playfully with childhood memories.

Putting these images together produced a work that speaks to change and alters our perceptions of a familiar landscape.

 

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Photo courtesy of Suresh Perara.

 

The fir trees they’ve used are re-purposed Christmas trees, two months later still surprisingly green. Other elements are equally surprising. The trees are dead yet they seem alive. As you stand on the beach, they sway gently overhead, mimicking the movement of the water at ground level. As you walk through them, pushing them aside, they rustle gently like a bead curtain. But perceptions really flip when you climb the lifeguard station ladder. Moving through the fairytale forest, you reach a clearing at the top. But instead of seeing out over tree tops, you look out across chopped off trunks. Brutality at one end, fragility at the other.

Suresh and Charbonneau were in Toronto for the opening of Winter Stations. On an unseasonably warm day, the deserted beach they had pictured was full of people. They saw a young girl, 5 or 6 years old, stop and stare. It’s so weird, she said, I love it! They heard a father ask his young son what he thought the installation meant. The boy didn’t answer, or if he did, they didn’t hear.

Neither child was interested in analyzing or assigning meaning to the installation — it isn’t necessary to do that in order to enjoy its surreal quality. And while seeing photos of North makes me smile, the images also raise questions, about the commodification of nature, the brutal disregard we too often have towards our surroundings and the effect our actions have on our environment.

 

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Photo courtesy of Suresh Perara.

 

PER.CH is founded on the notion that architecture can allow us to experience the everyday world in richer and deeper ways. Art installations like North or Forest SQUARE Sky, a 2009-2010 installation at the International Garden Festival at Métis, Quebec, reinforce this notion. They give the creative team room to experiment and even to fail. For Perara and Charbonneau, part of doing these projects is discovering what will happen. They are interested in the interaction with the public in public spaces. And they wonder, will the canopy of trees provide a gathering spot? Will the space be a catalyst for public debate? Will it provoke changes, in attitudes or behaviour?

Finding the title for the installation gave Perara and Charbonneau the focus necessary to create a project on a very tight budget. For me the title gave entry to a gathering place of ideas. I hope I’m fortunate enough to be in Toronto before March 27 when Winter Stations ends. If I am, I expect that North will once again make me think about what I’m seeing. On the spot I expect it will oblige me to feel what’s going on around me. And that, I believe, is a hallmark of a good work of art.

This sign seen at the wonderful Italian garden Bosco della Ragnaia, created by Sheppard Craige, says it all: If not here, where?

Thinking about Gardens

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?

 

The angle of this photo tells you how hard I was working at leaning back and doing nothing.
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.)

 

It is cold here. And it keeps on snowing, making thoughts of winter gardens a mockery. Not that cold is bad. In some ways of thinking, cold temperatures build character. They generate activity where warm climates generate sloth.

Don’t believe it. Cozying up by the fireplace is my favourite winter activity. It’s where I can focus on plans for the year ahead, considering plants I want to add or subtract, or simply dreaming of projects I’ll never even start.

 

Sunrise at Glen Villa... a good time for dreaming.
Sunrise at Glen Villa… a good time for dreaming.

 

Recently I’ve been doing more than dreaming, though. I’ve been focusing on a topic that engages my brain, my heart and my (metaphoric) pen.

Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I care about words and use them carefully. I try to avoid clichés and code phrases that hide what is really being said. (Hmmm… interesting.)  So when Anne Wareham, the editor of the challenging and entertaining English website ThinkinGardens, asked me to write about using words in the garden, I jumped at the chance.

 

This sign seen at the wonderful Italian garden Bosco della Ragnaia, created by Sheppard Craige, says it all: If not here, where?
Bosco della Ragnaia, a wonderful garden in Italy created by Sheppard Craige, uses words extensively. This sign in the garden says it all: If not here, where?

 

A Matter of Words is a lament. It is also a call to action. Words are rarely used in gardens today, and to my way of thinking this is a great loss. I’ve written about how I’m using words in the garden at Glen Villa (you can read that piece here) but the article in ThinkinGardens takes a longer, broader view.

I’m delighted that this provocative English blog has given me the chance to share my thoughts with a geographically wider audience. I’m pleased, too, at the reception the article is getting, and I say thank you to the many people who, having read my ideas on the subject, have subscribed to this blog.

ThinkinGardens is a garden website that I recommend whole-heartedly. It provides a matchless forum for exchanging ideas with people around the world who care about gardens and believe they are, or can be, about more than plants. As the website’s manifesto states,

“… today most people enthusiastically take gardens for granted, regarding them as an anodyne balm for the pressures of modern life and certainly not as a source of mental or artistic provocation. It is the object of the thinkingGardens group to reinstate gardens as a stimulus to pleasurable and productive debate and to foster gardens that offer deeper artistic expression.”

If you aren’t a subscriber to ThinkinGardens, I encourage you to subscribe. I think you’ll be pleased with the breadth and depth of the commentary. And if you disagree with what I’ve written in A Matter of Words, say so, on the ThinkinGardens site or here, on Site and Insight.

I welcome your reactions and your ideas. Do you believe that gardens ‘mean’ something and that words can enrich that meaning? Or do words in the garden distract?

 

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 Care about Garden Trends?

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.

 

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.
I lifted this photo from an on-line article that ran in the English newspaper, The Daily Telegraph.

 

The cut-line on the photo reads, “This year, look out for cacti, price wars and carrot yoghurt.” What? I only look out for cacti to avoid being pricked. As for carrot yoghurt…

So are journalists telling us something significant in their annual trends reports or are these pieces just lazy fallbacks?

In the U.S., Garden Design magazine says that natural materials are in, which seems less like a trend than a necessity in a garden. Natural dye gardens, where  plants are used to make dyes for colouring textiles, yarn, and clothing, are also touted. But who has the time (or inclination) to revive what sounds like a 60s throw-back, and not a very interesting one at that?

In England, the Daily Telegraph doesn’t stop at the standard top ten trends but doubles up (doubles down?) to 20. New plants are there (natch) along with back to the basics. Add blander brassicas and I scratch my head. Which is it to be, novelty or the fundamentals, the exciting or the unobjectionable? Or am I being picky to think there’s a disconnect?

 

Little Sparta (1 of 1)
Order, Disorder, Future: is this a disconnect? And can you arrange the words at Little Sparta to say whatever you want them to say?

 

What constitutes a trend, and whose views determine what is or isn’t? Garden Design consults landscape architects and designers. The English magazine Gardens Illustrated adds a horticulturalist, a critic and several garden educators. Together they bring many years of experience gathered from different contexts. Should I expect consistency in the trends they report?

(Last year’s Brexit vote is making a mark. Last year Gardens Illustrated consulted garden professionals from the U.K., Germany, Sweden and Chile. This year all were from England.)

Londoners needn’t be good indicators for what is happening in Scotland; the same holds true for gardeners from the east coast to the west. Add national variations to the mix and significant differences should surely occur. To a certain extent they do. Minimalism and simplicity are said to be the trend in Australian gardens, urban jungles in the U.K., and mixing the old with the new in the U.S.

 

Recycled wine bottles provide a shiny backdrop to a bust of Queen Victoria at the Gibberd Garden. Does this constitute using the old with the new?
Recycled wine bottles provide a shiny backdrop to a bust of Queen Victoria at the Gibberd Garden. Does this constitute using the old with the new?

 

But when overlaps occur, we can begin to pay attention. Whatever the source, and whatever words are used to describe the phenomenon, there is a generalized concern with plantings that accommodate climate change.  There is — and has been for some years — an interest in greater biodiversity and sustainability. Attracting butterflies and pollinators, using wildflowers and native plants, turning lawns into meadows, being mindful of the impact of our actions: these are trends that aren’t trendy fashions but essential actions.


Trends or Movements?

You may want to take part in a recent discussion about trends and movements in garden design. The debate focuses on New Perennialism and, specifically, the use of ornamental grasses and the designs of the Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf as seen on the High Line, Oudolf’s iconic design for the abandoned railway line in New York City.

Tony Spencer started the conversation with a post he titled Tempest in a Flower Pot. The discussion widened with a critical piece written by Bridget Rosewell for the English website ThinkinGardens, The High Line Revisited. 

Multiple points of view are expressed with style and passion, and  the comments that follow make for provocative reading. Why not chip in?


Happy Birthday to Site and Insight!

Inverted branches stride across a field, recalling the first inhabitants of this land.
This photo appeared in my first blog post, Introducing Glen villa. It shows part of Abenaki Walking, my tribute to the original inhabitants of the land where I live, the Abenaki Indians.

 

This week I’m celebrating an anniversary. Four years ago I wrote my first blog post and since then I’ve written  well over 200 pieces, averaging slightly more than one post per week.

I’ve written about Glen Villa and other gardens in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Italy and France. I’ve written about people, plants and plans, about art and garden design.. I’ve shared my ideas and I’ve asked about yours.

To the many who have responded to blog posts through comments on this site or less publicly, I send a big thank you. I value your comments and appreciate the time we have spent on line together.

 

 

 

 

 

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Reading the Garden

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 into the Big Meadow. It’s nice to know that what made sense to me is supported by research and years of practical experience.

 

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John Dixon Hunt is a landscape historian, the author of many books that provide insights into garden history and how that past influences present-day gardens. A few years ago I received the six volume Cultural History of Gardens which he edited along with Michael Leslie and I have slowly read my way up to Volume 6, Modern Gardens. I’ve benefited from many of his other books, most notably Nature Over Again about Little Sparta and Gardens and Groves about the impact of Italian gardens on those in EnglandThis year’s gift was Hunt’s most recent collection of essays, titled Site, Sight, Insight. Considering that the title of my website is Site and Insight, is it any wonder that I enjoyed this book? His scholarship is impressive and his analyses of complex ideas are clearly expressed. I gobbled up this book and will return to it many times.

 

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Next on the stack of Christmas presents is a book published originally in 1958, one that looks to be a good, solid read. Garden Design by Dame Sylvia Crowe examines various principles of design, using as examples such famous gardens as the Alhambra in Spain, Villa Lante in Italy, Vaux-le-Vicomte in France and Stowe in England, all of which I have visited. The author then moves on to works of Roberto Burle Marx, Lawrence Halprin and Sven Hermelin which are less familiar to me. I asked for this book and am confident that I will learn a lot from Dame Sylvia’s comments. How could I fail to? Amazon calls it ‘compulsive reading’ and compulsive is a trait I identify with quite readily.

 

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As well as new books, I’m dipping back into some old favourites. Top of the favourites list is Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England by Tom Wessels. This is a ‘must read’ for anyone who wants to understand the evolution of forests in the northeastern part of North America. The book is eminently readable and packed with so much information that it repays multiple looks.

 

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Also on the favourites list is Roses, A Celebration by Wayne Winterrowd. This book contains essays by 33 eminent gardeners, each writing about his or her favourite rose. Rosarian Peter Beales chooses the “temperamental, once-flowering, wet-weather hating, but stunningly beautiful” ‘Maiden’s Blush’, a rose he fell in love with as a child. Jamaica Kincaid picks ‘Alchymist,’ a rose that entered her gardening life when she was at the “most feeble and ignorant stage.” Christopher Lloyd, having ripped out his parents’ rose garden at Great Dixter, still manages to write favourably of the single apricot-coloured ‘Mrs Oakley Fisher’ that came from Vita Sackville-West. Ken Druse, Dan Hinkley, Fergus Garrett,  Graham Stuart Thomas and, of course, David Austin: all share their favourites. What makes the book so special, though, are the extraordinary watercolours illustrating each essay. These are by the very talented Pamela Stagg, winner of the Royal Horticultural Society Gold Medal, the world’s top prize for botanical paintings. Each portrait is so luscious that I stop and sniff. With only a bit of imagination, I can smell each one.

 

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Along with these books, I’m reading my own garden journals. In the late 1990s I started taking notes about plans for the garden and I’ve been keeping the journals ever since. Over the years I’ve written regularly, noting when the lake freezes and thaws, listing plants I order, marking the date when they bloom, tracing progress on projects underway and sketching ideas for new ones. Reading early entries reminds of things I’ve almost forgotten: the summer we spent sorting out drainage problems with The Aqueduct, the misguided planting I attempted, called TheFold in the Field. More fun was reading and remembering the 99 hours I spent with my friend John Hay, cutting and glueing pieces of glass to make a mosaic map of the garden. (Yes, the total is accurate: I added up the hours as we went along.) mosaic-map-1200x740

The garden journals remind me of how much I’ve learned and reading them now is like re-living almost twenty years of head-aches and triumphs.  The form and detail of a sculpture like Webster’s Column seem obvious now, but the journals remind me that I considered many options along the way. And that, in turn, reminds me that the obvious is obvious only in retrospect.

What garden books are you reading? Are they old friends or new acquaintances?

 

The tin maple leaves hung in November 2016 are now coated with snow, making the scene even more evocative.

Garden Goals for 2017

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 been in place for several months. The plantings are yet to come. I know I will use boxwood to edge the brickwork since I have about a dozen plants left over from this area’s previous incarnation as The Egg, and the combination of brick and boxwood is typical of traditional Virginia gardens. I won’t use many other plants — The Upper Room is in the midst of a forest that provides its own beauty — but I do want to use columnar trees that will rise like pillars from the corners of the symmetrical space. I need to choose trees that will thrive in the woodland conditions, that the deer won’t destroy. Since the deer now seem to enjoy everything they can lay their teeth on, I may need to fence them, either temporarily or permanently. I’m considering using Skyrocket junipers but they prefer sunnier locations. Suggestions are most welcome.

The most important addition to The Upper Room, though, is the artwork. Five sandblasted glass panels will stand at the uppermost section of the area, serving as a backdrop to set the area off from the surrounding woods. The drawing for the panels was made by my friend Mary Martha Guy; it shows the beautifully bare outline of a dogwood tree (Cornus florida), with five over-sized flowers positioned in a gentle curve. Choosing a dogwood for the design was obvious — it is the Virginia state flower and since that state was a huge part of what my mother valued, I felt it was an essential element in the overall concept.

 

 

Mary Martha Guy's preliminary sketch for the glass panels at The Upper Room show the stark outline of a Cornus florida.
Mary Martha Guy’s preliminary sketch for the glass panels at The Upper Room shows the stark outline of a Cornus florida, the type of dogwood that blooms in climates warmer than mine. The branches in the drawing don’t line up in some places but that’s done deliberately to allow for the spacing between panels.

 

2. Finish Orin’s Sugarcamp
This project is so close to finished that it almost feels like cheating to include it. The final touches — and there are only a few — can’t happen until the snow melts. But who know what the winter will bring? Dreaming by the fire I may decide that something more needs to be done.

 

The tin maple leaves hung in November 2016 are now coated with snow, making the scene even more evocative.
The tin maple leaves hung in November 2016 are now coated with snow, making the scene even more evocative than it was. The pale circles on the tree trunk mark where we removed dead branches. The colour will change and the circles disappear within a year or two.

 

3. Improve the plantings at The Skating Pond
I’ve been working on this project for the last few years and hope that this summer the plantings will be completed to my satisfaction. Near the end of the summer last year we uncovered more of the rock that lies just under the surface. This section, near the end of the boardwalk, remains damp throughout the summer, too wet for the Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ that was there. We moved the ornamental grasses out and moved some damp-loving plants in. We also scattered seeds of wildflowers that like the conditions.

The best things that have happened at The Skating Pond, though, are those that occurred naturally. I’m hoping the site itself will choose what grows. (see goal 5, below)

 

This photo from early October shows the newly exposed rock.
This photo from early October shows the newly exposed rock before it was washed clean and before any plants were added.

 

4. Hold another Open Garden Day
The first Open Garden Day last summer was a tremendous amount of work but a repeat performance should be much easier. Since this is a fund-raiser for our local land conservation trust, I’m hoping the number of attendees will increase, from about 325 to 500 or 600. This may be overly ambitious. Certainly it means getting the news out earlier, to more sources.

 

This photo was taken before the slate edging was installed. But I chose it because I like the yucca. My father called these flowers rock lilies. They bloomed at my grandparents' farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
With luck, the yucca in the Gravel Garden will be blooming on the Open Garden Day in 2017.

 

5. Let the garden express itself.
How often do I simply enjoy my surroundings, leaving well enough alone? By doing less to shape and control the landscape, I plan to give it time to find its own rhythms. The more I avoid interfering, the more it will express itself. This will be particularly important as The Big Lawn transitions into The Big Meadow. I know I’ll be tempted to fiddle. Setting this goal may help me resist.

 

This combination in the Upper Field is entirely natural. While I might want to add another colour to the mix, I promise myself to leave it alone.
This combination in the Upper Field is entirely natural and quietly appealing. While I might want to add another colour to the mix — more clover perhaps? — I promise myself to leave it alone.

 

Five goals: not unrealistic. Perhaps even achievable.

What goals have you set for your garden in 2017?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since I didn't do anything about new pots, I shouldn't have a photo to illustrate this goal. But I did use Mandeville vines on the living room deck. I've had these same plants for ten years or so, and they continue to provide abundant blooms and colour.

Looking Back and Forth

Last December I took the risky step of setting goals for 2016. So as that year ends and 2017 begins, it’s time to assess. How much of what I wanted to do did I actually accomplish?

1. The Cascade: As intended, I modified the plantings around The Cascade. I reduced the number of different types of plants, improved the drainage and the soil in the beds themselves. As a result, the plants flourished and I was content.

But of course there are always reservations. The Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ needs another year or so to grow to full height, and until it does, its dark foliage doesn’t adequately off-set the various shades of green. I also want more colour for longer periods of time, and that means adding a lushly flowering plant — perhaps some Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ to continue a theme set at The Aqueduct nearby.

My big reservation about The Cascade, though, was the Persicaria microcephylla ‘Purple Fantasy.’ I really like the colouring on the foliage but by late August the plant was out of control. It had spread so vigorously that it was threatening everything around it. In September we dug out over half of what I had planted; nonetheless, in 2017, I need to keep it pruned back. Really pruned back!

 

The dark-leafed Weigela 'Wine and Roses' will add more colour contrast as they grow.
Is it possible for soil to be too rich? The Cascade was over-stuffed by the end of the summer, in part because of the Persicaria but also because everything except the shrubs grew more quickly than is normal for our climate. Weigela ‘Wine and Roses, the dark-leafed shrubs that barely show up here, will add more colour contrast in future years, when they are larger.

Score: 75

 

2. The Egg: This area, one of the first I designed at Glen Villa, was a tribute to my origins in Virginia. An oval space located midway up a wooded hillside was covered with small trees that were dead or dying, so in 2000 I cleared the area and filled it with tiarella that bloomed in late spring like beaten egg whites. Around the perimeter I planted boxwood, the quintessential Virginia plant, and enclosed the space with a wooden fence, like a wicker basket.

 

This photo is from June 2009, when The Egg was frothy and fine.
This photo is from June 2009, when The Egg was frothy and fine. The boxwood are just visible above the white tiarella blossoms.

 

For years The Egg did well but by 2012 it was looking tired. In 2013, 2014 and 2015 I planned to re-vamp the area; in 2016 work finally began.

The Egg is now The Upper Room, or Le Cénacle in French. It remains a tribute to Virginia but more specifically it is now a memorial to my Mother, to her faith and love of family.  The hardscaping was complete by mid July but the most important feature, five sandblasted glass panels, will not be installed until spring.

 

A sneak peak at the hardscaping of The Upper Room. The name of this area relates to more than its setting, midway up a hill. Does anyone catch the reference?
A sneak peak at the hardscaping of The Upper Room. The name of this area relates to more than its setting midway up a hill. Does anyone catch the reference?

Score: 75

 

3. The Gravel Garden: My goal for 2016 was to evaluate the plants I had chosen for this area, to add some brown-toned gravel to blend more compatibly with the stone walls of the house and to define the edge more precisely.

I didn’t add any brown-toned gravel — I looked for some but didn’t find any. Since half of the plants I used failed to make it through their first winter, evaluation turned into replacement. I added a poodle pine that I like very much and three gorgeous yuccas that were spectacular in bloom. Blue slate now edges and defines the space.

 

This photo was taken before the slate edging was installed. But I chose it because I like the yucca. My father called these flowers rock lilies. They bloomed at my grandparents' farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
This photo was taken before the slate edging was installed but I chose it rather than a phone from later in the season because I wanted to show the yucca in bloom. My father called these flowers rock lilies. They grew at my grandparents’ farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia so all the associations I have with these plants are good ones.

Score: 65

 

4. New Pots for the Deck:  After simplifying the plants on the living room and dining room decks, I intended to replace the hodgepodge of pots for a more unified look. I thought about this, made some sketches but did nothing more. Will I do this in 2017? Somehow it seems less important now, but time will tell.

 

Since I didn't do anything about new pots, I shouldn't have a photo to illustrate this goal. But I did use Mandeville vines on the living room deck. I've had these same plants for ten years or so, and they continue to provide abundant blooms and colour.
Since I didn’t do anything about new pots, I shouldn’t have a photo to illustrate this goal. But I did use Mandeville vines on the living room deck, as I have for ten years or so. I over-winter the plants and they provide abundant blooms and colour, year after year.

Score: 0

 

5. A Fence for The China Terrace: The deer continued to wreck havoc on the shrubs at the entry to The China Terrace, which means that I didn’t manage to install a fence. I did investigate putting a fence around the whole property but the cost was prohibitive, and fencing only part of the property creates a different set of problems.

In 2017 I’ll be looking for a new solution. Suggestions, anyone?

 

I may use white posts to fence this area. Or I may not. I really don't have any idea what I'll do!
I may use white posts to fence this area. Or I may not. I really don’t have any idea what I’ll do!

Score: 10 (for effort)

 

6. The Lower Garden: As planned, I spruced up the planting in the beds along the lake, replacing some old hydrangeas with newer varieties that provide earlier and longer bloom. Unfortunately the deer found these new shrubs quite tasty so the results were not as good as I anticipated.

 

The hydrangeas were babies when I took this photo. The deer had yet to discover them.
The hydrangeas were babies when I took this photo, as were the Astilbe ‘Fanal’ just starting to bloom. The deer discovered the hydrangeas about a week later.

Score: 80

 

7. The Upper Field: The plan to enlarge the variety of wildflowers in the Upper Field went nowhere. I did focus on converting the Big Lawn to the Big Meadow (see below), but since this was a separate goal, I can’t award myself any marks for this goal.

 

This illustrates quite nicely how easily the addition of some other colours could improve the Upper Field.
This photo illustrates quite nicely how effective a single colour can be. It also shows how easily the effect could be extended throughout the summer with the addition of other wildflowers, regardless of their colour.

Score: 0

 

8. Art projects: Last year I intended to complete one art project and work on a second. I finished the first one in January, as expected. I’m very pleased with The Writing is on the Wall; it is the first of several projects involving neon that I’m working on. (More on that in the months to come…)

 

To get the full story on this quotation and why it seemed like a perfect gift for my husband on our 50th wedding anniversary, you can read this post.
To get the full story on this quotation and why it seemed like a perfect gift for my husband on our 50th wedding anniversary, you can read this post.

 

Continuing to work on Orin’s Sugarcamp was the second art-related goal I set for myself. This installation in the woods is progressing very well and is now almost complete.

 

The story of this project to date is here.
You can read the story of this project in two recent posts, here and here.

Score: 95

 

9. The Big Lawn: The process of transforming the Big Lawn into the Big Meadow that began in 2016 was a huge success.  The Canada geese stayed away.The grass grew and looked wonderfully shaggy. We seeded selected areas with a variety of wildflowers. Altogether, this first experimental year could not have been better.

 

A sea of grass -- the phrase may be a cliché but it aptly describes the Big Meadow in August.
A sea of grass — the phrase may be a cliché but it aptly describes the Big Meadow in August.

Score: 100

 

10Garden Visits: As planned, I hosted two garden tours in 2016, to the south of England in May and to Scotland and the north of England in September, and both were immensely enjoyable. When I add in the gardens I saw before or after the tours, I come up with a eye-popping number for the year — about 50 British gardens, all of which were inspirational in one way or another. And this doesn’t include the gardens seen at the Chelsea Flower Show!

 

This carpet of hand-made poppies marked the 100th anniversary of WWI. In the background is the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where the pensioners live. The tribute was one of the finest things I saw at the Chelsea Flower Show this year.
This carpet of hand-made poppies was a tribute to members of the Armed Forces, particularly those who served in WWI. In the background is the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where the pensioners, or veterans live. The idea for this project originated in Melbourne, Australia, to mark Anzac Day. The display was one of the finest things I saw at the Chelsea Flower Show this year. Certainly it was the most touching.

 

In March I twice visited Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina. In June I saw several private gardens in Vermont and in September I explored the Sun Yat-Sen Garden in Vancouver. I didn’t make it to the Reford Gardens in Métis, Québec as I hoped to do but perhaps I’ll get there in 2017.

 

What could be better than live oaks to illustrate a southern plantation?
What could be better than an avenue of live oaks to illustrate a southern plantation?

 

The big garden visit, though, was one that I hadn’t anticipated. Our Open Garden Day in August attracted over 300 people. I consider this a huge success since it was the first year we’ve done this. In addition, five groups came to visit Glen Villa. Since I’m charging admission now, all these visits resulted in a substantial donation to our local land conservation association, the Massawippi Conservation Trust.

 

If only I had set the date for the Open Garden Day in 2017! Sometime in July, I think...
If I had set the date for the Open Garden Day in 2017, I could announce it here. But I haven’t. It will be sometime in July, I think…

Score: 100

Reviewing the year in conjunction with the goals I set for myself makes me realize how useful goal setting can be — and how fruitless it is to give each goal a score. While I didn’t do everything I hoped to do, for the most part I focused on the areas I had identified and overall I believe that the year was a success. Yet my own scoring gave me a failing mark of 60%.

Am I being too hard on myself? I fell far short of 100% on most of my goals, but how do I score the things I did that weren’t on my list to start with? Some of 2016’s unplanned projects were the most successful. Certainly they please me enormously.  And in retrospect, the unplanned activities seem at least as important as the goals I set, possibly more. Does that mean that setting goals isn’t useful after all?

What do you think? Are garden goals as useful as New Year’s Resolutions, as quickly written and as quickly forgotten? Or do they guide us through the year?

This album will be arranged by project, not chronologically.

A Recklessly Record-less Year

For the last sixteen years I’ve kept a record of what happens each year in the garden. I’ve conscientiously photographed each project I’ve undertaken, each border as it changed from season to season, each modification I made or was thinking about making. I’ve stuck these photographs into albums and written comments —  about my intentions for a project, or the weather, what I was wanting to do next — in effect, about anything that seemed relevant at the time.

These albums are immensely helpful. They are a record of how the garden has developed. They both show and tell how my ideas and abilities have changed over time. They are a reminder of what I was wanting to accomplish at any particular point, and chronicle my successes and failures. They are a source of interest and amusement, a pleasure to read and re-read.

 

I have used the 23-ring binders made by Semikolon, a German company, ever since I discovered them. Unfortunately I can no longer get these binders in Canada.
As albums I have used the 23-ring binders made by Semikolon, a German company, ever since I discovered them. Unfortunately I can no longer get these binders in Canada.

 

Over the sixteen years I’ve filled 17 albums — it took a few years before I decided that one album per year was the way to go.  In the early years I sometimes added drawings or other decorations, or experimented with different coloured inks.

 

Judging from the text, this is the year I re-planted the Yin/Yang, rejecting annuals in favour of Panicum 'Heavy Metal' and a red-toned plant that i don't remember.
Judging from the text, this is the year I re-planted the Yin/Yang, rejecting annuals in favour of Panicum ‘Heavy Metal’ and a red-toned plant whose name I don’t remember.

 

I veered towards scrap-booking at one point, adding stars for winter glitz…

 

Only certain colours and certain gel inks show up on dark paper.
Only certain colours and certain gel inks show up on dark paper.

 

and watering cans for a bit of summer fun.

 

The display of containers is over the top as well.
It’s hard to remember why I wanted so many containers on the deck. I now prefer a much simpler, pared-down look.

 

In more recent years, these decorative touches vanished. But while some things have changed, others have remained the same. The first page of each album always gives the year and the volume number.

 

The first page of each binder gives the year and the volume number.
The photo on the first page usually shows a winter scene but in 2006 I chose one that emphasized shadows and late afternoon light. I don’t know why, maybe simply because I liked it.

 

The last page says something about the year as a whole.

 

This photo on the last page of 2007, volume 9, shows the memory post I made to honour my father.
This photo on the last page of 2007, volume 9, shows the memory post I made to honour my father and clearly acknowledges how much I loved him.

 

Along with the photo albums I’ve kept garden journals. These journals are where I record information about plants, how many I planted, and where, the where I sourced them, their growing conditions and how well they fared.

 

As you can see, I haven't been consistent in my choice of garden journals.
I’m now using the green book, aka garden journal number 5.

 

I also use the journals to keep track of things I need to do later in the year, or in the following year, marking the jobs To do so I don’t forget.

 

I was careful to take a photo of a page where I have done what I said I needed to do.
I was careful to take a photo of a page where I have done most of what I said I needed to do.

 

In the journals I sometimes sketch ideas for new projects, or make lists of plants to order, or keep track of who visits the garden and the comments they made.

 

These rough sketches show my ideas for In Transit/En Route, the trail through the woods that leads to the Sundial Clearing.
These rough sketches show my ideas for In Transit/En Route, the trail through the woods that leads to the Sundial Clearing.

 

Add to the albums and the journals the spreadsheets I keep on the computer. One spreadsheet is for plants I start from seed, the other for plants I buy. I list the botanical and common name, the year I bought the plants, where I bought them and how many I purchased, where they were planted and how well they performed. If I transplant them, I note that as well.

All this I’ve done faithfully for 16 years. Until this year, that is, when everything ground to a stop.

Not entirely, I must say. I did make random notes in the journal and sometimes I remembered to up-date the list on the computer. But the albums I ignored entirely.

I’m not really sure why. Writing this blog is another way of recording what happens in the garden, but I’ve been writing the blog for several years now, and this is the first year that I haven’t kept up with my garden album. It was a particularly busy summer, with many groups visiting the garden, not to mention our first Open Garden Day, an event that required a lot of time and effort to prepare for. But others years have been busy, too, so that can’t be the only reason.

Am I tired of keeping an album? Did I decide without realizing it that the albums were no longer of use? Or was I simply forgetful?

I can’t decide why, and figuring it out seems less important than deciding what to do about it. Once I focused on that question, the decision,  was obvious. I had to act. I wanted to act. So I sorted through the year’s worth of photos stored on my computer, printed more than I want to count and began to fill my album for 2016.

 

This album will be arranged by project, not chronologically.
This album, volume 18, will be arranged by project, not chronologically. The pink thing on the table holds the tabs that stick the photos to the page.

 

I’ve completed only part of the job and still have many piles of projects to put into the album and write about. Sorting the photos into categories has taken time but seeing the number of stacks that resulted showed clearly how many different projects we worked on this year.

Writing the comments underlined how much detail I’ve forgotten already. And if these albums are to remain helpful as memory prods, the details matter. To me, at least.

 

This page records what happened this year with the plantings at The Cascade.
This page records what happened this year with the plantings at The Cascade.

 

So I’m making a New Year’s Resolution and I’m making it now: in 2017 I resolve to fill the garden album month by month, project by project. Re-living an entire year in the garden has its pleasures, but filling the album, a job I normally enjoy, is tedious when it takes too long.

 

shadows, bench in snow
Did I mention that details slip through the cracks?

 

Am I the only obsessive record keeper? Or am I a slacker compared with other gardeners?

If you keep records, you may want to share your methods with Jean Potuchek, a Maine gardener who is preparing a presentation on the subject.  In November she wrote

I’m still soliciting responses for my survey of garden record-keeping. (At this point, I’m almost halfway to my goal of 100 responses.) If you keep garden records but have not yet completed the survey, I’d appreciate your help. The survey is very short and takes very little time to complete. Please also share this survey link with other gardeners you know: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5792QH3..

Whatever type of records you keep, please record this: May 2017 be filled with joy and may your garden flourish!

Jacques and Ken are skilled workers who can operate almost any piece of equipment, even under difficult conditions.

A Doorstep for Orin’s Sugarcamp

On the weekend we installed the granite slab that marks the ‘front door’ of Orin’s Sugarcamp, my latest art installation at Glen Villa. (You can read about the project here.)

Doing this was tricky. It involved transporting an 800-pound slab of rock across a snowy field and a partially frozen stream on the back of an open wagon. That takes skill, particularly since the snow is very slippery right now. But Jacques Gosselin and Ken Kelso, the talented men who work for me at Glen Villa, managed the job with ease.

 

A small stream marks the boundary between the field and the woods beyond.
A small stream marks the boundary between the field and the woods beyond, where Orin’s Sugarcamp is located.

 

Orin’s Sugarcamp is a short distance into the woods, along a well-worn track. The tin maple leaves we hung several weeks ago to define the area are now partly covered with snow. Seeing them sway in the wind and hearing the bell-like sounds they make as they lightly touch one another transformed the job from a scary endeavour into a magical experience.

 

A cluster of leaves hangs from a large spruce tree in front of Orin's Sugarcamp.
The area now covered primarily with spruce and hemlock was once a maple forest. In the 1950s and 1960s, Orin Gardener produced maple syrup here.

 

The wagon with the granite slab was hooked to a tractor which Jacques drove slowly across the field. He drove even more slowly across the stream, then carefully continued along the forest track, avoiding potholes and icy patches.

 

The slab is ten feet long and well protected by boards and a wooden crate.
The slab is ten feet long. Even though the granite was well protected by boards and a wooden crate, I was nervous that it would slide out of the wagon and crack when it hit the ground. Thankfully that didn’t happen.

 

He and Ken attached chains from the crate to the tractor, then lifted the slab out of the wagon and lowered it into place.

 

Jacques and Ken are skilled workers who can operate almost any piece of equipment, even under difficult conditions.
Jacques and Ken are skilled workers who can operate almost any piece of equipment, even under difficult conditions.

 

The slab marks the threshold to a sugarhouse that used to exist, whose history the project honours. With snow covering the ground, it isn’t possible to position the slab precisely; that job will have to wait for spring, when the snow has melted.

 

In the spring, once the snow has melted, we will adjust the height of the doorstep and centre it properly.
The granite slab is a portal. Stepping onto it, symbolically you enter another time and place. The inscription underlines this movement from the everyday world into a place that resembles a shrine.

 

Come springtime, we’ll make some minor adjustments — lowering the central table where syrup was boiled, for one, and possibly adding some steps to lead up to the ‘front door’.  But for now, with the granite doorstep more or less in place, the work on Orin’s Sugarcamp is finished.

Last week, though, before the granite slab was delivered, we added one more element to the area, something simple that I think adds to the apparent reality.

Compare the before photo…

 

A photo from October this year shows the roof and elevated boiling pan.
This photo is from October when we first started hanging the tin maple leaves.

 

with the after. Can you spot the difference? And do you think the addition helps or distracts?

 

This photo is from the end of November, when we had only a light frosting of snow.
This photo is from the end of November, when we had only a light frosting of snow.

 

Finally, let me share with you the words I chose to be cut into the stone. They are a quotation from Chrysippus, a Greek Stoic philosopher who lived in the 3rd century BCE.

 

The first part of the quotation...
A single photo won’t show the whole quote, so here is the first part …

 

When I spotted this quotation at Little Sparta, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden near Edinburgh, I knew right away that I would use it at Orin’s Sugarcamp. It simply felt right.

 

I knew immediately when I spotted this quotation at Little Sparta that I would be using it at Orin's Sugarcamp. It simply felt right.
and here’s the second. The work was done beautifully by Rock of Ages, Stanstead , Quebec.

 

The Gods can be known to exist on account of the existence of their altars.

At Little Sparta, the quotation appears inside the temple of Baucis and Philemon. This small building celebrates a story told in Ovid’s Metamorphosis about an elderly couple who offered shelter on a cold night to Zeus and Hermes, not knowing who they were. It’s a familiar idea, told again and again in fairytales and with Christian equivalents.

 

The Gods rewarded Baucis and Philemon by transforming their cottage into gold. A few tiles on the roof show the beginning of the transformation.
The Gods rewarded Baucis and Philemon by transforming their cottage into a magnificent temple. A few gold tiles on the roof show the beginning of the transformation. As for Baucis and Philemon, they were first made priests of the temple; when they died they were transformed into trees marking the entrance. That transformation is also shown as being in progress.

 

I was tempted to shorten the quotation but decided not to.  While at first reading the words seemed redundant, the more I thought about them, the more they seemed to reflect the complexity of an idea. (I can’t judge the accuracy of the translation, nor do I know whose translation it is.) Chrysippus did not simply state that gods exist and that altars prove the fact, but rather that we are able to know about the existence of gods through the memorials we make to them.

No god is being worshipped at Orin’s Sugarcamp, not even the god of sweetness known as maple syrup. What I am celebrating, and recognizing through the quotation, is the work that was done in this place and the people who did it. A simple stone wall was all that remained of a sugarhouse where syrup was produced over many years, and always in a traditional way. Horses pulled wagons around the sugarbush, collecting sap from buckets nailed to the trees. The sap was boiled, canned and labelled, then sent out to be enjoyed by people I knew and people I didn’t.

 

Orin's sugarcamp, as it looks now.
Orin’s sugarcamp, as it looks now.

 

Orin’s Sugarcamp is my attempt to bring a bit of that past into the present, so that others may carry the memory of what happened there into the future. It’s my tribute. My altar, if you will.