All posts by Pat Webster

The foliage of this tree (Nyssa sylvatica) is always colourful in autumn but this is the first time I've seen it with two distinct colours.  Can anyone explain why this happens?

Giving Thanks

 

Today is Thanksgiving day in Canada, and there is much to be thankful for. In the garden, colours are bright.

 

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' lives up to its name.
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ lives up to its name.

 

Even when the flowers have faded, I’m thankful for work that’s been done.  At the Aqueduct the catmint ( Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’) has been cut back, making the bed look more like a monk’s shaved head than the overgrown mop of foliage it was only days ago.

 

Those stubs of nepeta between the boxwood should grow exuberantly next summer.
Those stubs of nepeta between the boxwood should grow exuberantly next summer. I hope the iris I added will, too.

 

Also looking bare after its annual cut is the Big Meadow. With the hay bales still in place, it looks less like a lawn and more like the farm field it used to be.

 

The grass is baled like hay and moved to the bank of the lake where it stops children from going over the edge.
This year we baled four bales, three of which you can see here. This is one fewer bale than last year. I think a drier summer accounts for the change.

 

Thankfully uncut are the ornamental grasses by the Skating Pond. They are at their best in autumn, particularly on a breezy day.

 

Miscanthus sinensis is at its best in autumn, particularly on a breezy day.
You can see two ornamental grasses here, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ in the foreground and Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ in the shadows at the back.

 

Usually, fall colours hit their peak at Thanksgiving, but this year the colours are muted, less vibrant than normal. I think this is due to the hotter and dryer days we had throughout September  — many days felt like summer. These warm days have continued into October, making fall still seem a distant prospect.

Going through the woods with my granddaughter, fall was more evident. We spotted some bright colours, but they often appeared in isolated patches, surrounded by green.

 

White birch trunks are common in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.
White birch trees are common in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.

 

Poplar leaves glowed yellow or occasionally appeared a blanched out white.

 

I think these are yellow poplar leaves.
At first I was quite excited, thinking these were yellow or tulip poplar leaves (Liriodendron) that aren’t typically hardy in this part of Quebec. I knew I was wrong as soon as I check an identification chart.

 

Ferns were clear markers of the change of season. Many have turned from green to toasted gold…

 

Another typical fall scene in my woods.
A typical fall scene in my woods, with ferns, ash trees and young poplars making a come-back.

 

but others, like Christmas ferns (Polystichum) and maidenhair ferns (Adiantum pedatum) still wear their summer clothes.

 

Maidenhair ferns still retain their colouring.
My granddaughter can now identify maidenhair ferns by their black stems and tiara-like shape.

 

The woods at Glen Villa comprise different ecosystems. Some sections are full of tall straight trees with almost no undergrowth.

 

These trees near the edge of an old farm field are part of a major project I'm working on now.
These trees near the edge of an old farm field are part of a major project I’m working on now. I’ll write more on that when the project is a bit more advanced.

 

Others are deep and mysterious.

 

This forest of tall pines looks ghostly when photographed.
This forest of tall pines was planted about 25 years ago. It always looks ghostly when photographed. I hope someone can tell me why.

 

Some places in the woods hint at earlier times, when the land was cleared for farming.

 

An old rock pile near an even older stone wall suggests that this was once a farm field.
An old rock pile near an even older stone wall suggests that this was once a farm field.

 

In other places, the hints turn into shouts and the land tells its story loud and clear.

 

Once upon a time there was an apple orchard here.
Once upon a time there was an apple orchard here. The  low stone wall marked the boundary.

 

Garbage collection and municipal dumps are relatively new things in many rural areas, including this one. Before they existed, farmers used the woods.  This old dump close to a trail contained many things you might expect: tin cans, glass bottles, rusted metal and an old inner tube.

 

An old rubber boot has disintegrated almost entirely. I wonder how long it has taken?
I wonder how long it took for this rubber boot to disintegrate as much as it has. Years or decades?

 

It also contained some surprises.

 

This modern convenience isn't as convenient as it used to be.
Once upon a time someone gave thanks for this modern convenience. It isn’t as convenient as it used to be.

 

Even if they are less vibrant than usual, colours still abound in the woods, on branches and on the ground.

 

Fallen apples in the woods.
Fallen apples in the woods may not be the perfect specimens you buy in a grocery store but they still make very good apple crisp.

 

Without doubt, though, the most colourful part of Thanksgiving — and definitely the most delicious — was the turkey.

 

A 13 lb turkey will be plenty for 9 people, with left overs galore. Or so I hope!
A 13 lb. turkey was plenty for 9 people, with lots of left overs to share.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

I took this photo near the end of July. The mown path remained green all summer, thanks to the amount of rain we received.

The Big Meadow, 2017

Is it accurate to call The Big Lawn at Glen Villa The Big Meadow? If you use an American definition, the answer is yes.  If you consult an English dictionary, the answer is less clear.

Webster’s Dictionary defines a meadow as a tract of low or level land producing grass which is mown for hay,  and that definition fits precisely. Allowing the sweep of grass beside our house that was tended for decades to remain untouched produced six large bales of hay last year, the first year we didn’t mow regularly.  Those bales were so big and heavy that we left them in place all winter, using them as buffers to prevent grandchildren sliding down a snow-covered hill from sliding over the bank and into the lake.

 

Bales come in different sizes. These are 4.5 ft across.
Bales come in different sizes. These are 4.5 ft across.

 

Based on an English dictionary that adds the presence of wildflowers to the mix, our Big Meadow is falling short.

Regardless of definitions, I consider wildflowers an essential element of a successful meadow. There are a few that have appeared on what used to be our lawn but not as many as I want. Far from it.

Trying to remedy this, I seeded selected areas of the Big Meadow last fall. The results were not impressive. A few seeds produced flowers but there were few, if any, signs of the long-lived perennials I’d been hoping for.

 

These flowers are part of most wildflower seed mixes. They may bloom again next year but in year 3? I doubt it.
Flowers like these are part of most commercial wildflower seed mixes. They may bloom again next year but in year 3? I doubt it.

 

The impact of long-lived perennials continues year after year. And perhaps next year, the seeds I sowed will begin to show up. Perhaps, as well, the Agastache I planted will begin to spread. I hope so.

But in the meantime, slowly but surely, the patches of red dock, or sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) are spreading.

 

I measured the patch of red this year and will measure it again next year to see if it is actually getting larger, as I think it is.
The patch of red dock near the linden tree is larger this year than last — or so I think. This year I actually measured it so that next year I can make a genuine comparison.

 

Unfortunately, so is the ragweed. Some hours were spent this year, removing each clump to ensure it didn’t go to seed. Mowing once a year in late September or early October will prevent the regrowth of a forest, the natural condition of land in this part of the world, but it won’t stop the ragweed. It is all around us and will continue to show up. This is discouraging and I don’t know whether I’ll have to accept it or continue to fight what I think will be a losing battle.  (Advice, anyone?)

Last summer I chronicled the development of the lawn each month, delighted to see how the grass grew and changed colour, almost from week to week. This year, I’ve been less delighted, perhaps because I’ve been less surprised. But one thing has delighted me enormously  — we’ve seen almost no Canada geese.

Getting rid of the geese was the first and perhaps the most important reason for making the change from lawn to meadow, and letting the grass grow seems to be doing the trick. Occasionally this summer a few geese stopped by, but there weren’t many, and they didn’t come often. What we saw instead were deer — lots of them, and almost daily.

 

This photo from late April shows a herd of deer. Four or five deer have appeared throughout the summer, including three fawns. Seeing them play on the grass in the late afternoon was a treat.
In late April a whole herd of deer appeared, only some of whom are shown in this photo. Throughout the summer a smaller group including three fawns appeared regularly.  Seeing them play on the grass in the late afternoon was almost enough to make me like them.

 

The deer nibbled away at tender grass along the path and at anything (everything?) else that tickled their taste buds. I doubt it was the aesthetics that attracted them, but that was what appealed to me. The mown line, a curving strip of green, was a striking contrast throughout the summer months, whether seen from the house looking out…

 

I took this photo near the end of July. The mown path remained green all summer, thanks to the amount of rain we received.
I took this photo near the end of July. The mown path remained green all summer, thanks to the amount of rain we received.

 

or from the linden tree looking back.

 

The curve of green still delights me.
The house is almost hidden in the darkness at the end of the path.

 

Even now, as we near the end of September, the path is green and inviting.

 

Late afternoon light casts shadows across the Big Meadow.
Late afternoon light casts shadows across the Big Meadow.

 

This second year of the transformation of lawn to meadow has gone well. Longer grass has discouraged the geese and attracted the deer, and this is a trade-off I’m happy to live with. So whether more wildflowers appear or not, I’m pleased. For now, at least.

 

The added height offers a different perspective on the Skating Pond.

Little Things Mean a Lot

Little things mean a lot, in the garden as well as in song. It’s the little things that explain why we gardeners are always looking and re-looking. Shall I move this plant, modify this combination, add or subtract?

This past week I’ve been changing some little things at the Skating Pond. After 12 years, a few boards on the boardwalk needed to be replaced. And changing some boards gave me the chance (the excuse?) to change a few more. Quite a few, as it turned out. Because what started as a tweak ended up changing the shape of the boardwalk, not entirely but significantly, at one end.

It’s instructive to look back. Here’s a photo of the Skating Pond in 2011. The boardwalk started abruptly, without feeling connected to its surroundings; it ended with a modest curve that led directly into the field and to a view, in the distance, of telephone poles, electric lines and a house.

 

It's hard to remember how bare the entry to the Skating Pond looked like before I planted the Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster.'
It’s hard to remember how bare the entry to the Skating Pond looked like before I planted the Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster.’

 

(I’d love to show you what that view looked like, but I can’t. Over the years I’ve taken more than 1600 photos of the Skating Pond; not one of them shows it. You’d almost think I didn’t like what I saw.)

That abrupt ending was hidden once the bank above the boardwalk was planted with ornamental grass, but problems with the view remained. And in the back of my mind, there was always a little itch of dissatisfaction.

 

We planted the bank above the boardwalk over several years, starting about ten years ago.
We planted the ornamental grasses on the bank above the boardwalk over several years, starting about ten years ago.

 

Now I’ve scratched it.

The boardwalk now starts (or ends, depending on which way you are walking) with a strong curve that leads up the bank.

 

I like having to duck slightly to walk under the willow tree.
I like having to duck slightly to walk under the willow tree.

 

The curve and the steps are pleasing from every angle.

 

The rocks were already on site and needed only to be shifted a bit. The field will regrow next year to cover the dirt.
The rocks were already on site and needed only to be shifted a bit. The bare ground at the bottom shows where the old path went.

 

Best of all, the view from the top of the steps is good in every direction.

 

The added height offers a different perspective on the Skating Pond.
The added height offers a different perspective on the Skating Pond.

 

Over the past month or so we’ve made two other changes, each of which has, or will, make a big difference. The opposite end of the boardwalk has presented problems for years. The ground was wet and regardless of what I planted, nothing grew well.

A year ago we dug out the dirt to expose more rock. The result wasn’t pretty. More problematic than aesthetics, though, were the practical issues. I knew the slope would shift and slide over the winter. Something more had to be done.

 

This photo is from October 2016.
This photo is from October 2016.

 

In early July we dug out more of the hillside to change the angle of the slope. We added rocks, good dirt and a few trial plants, including divisions of Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ that are now doing well. We’ll use more Calamagrostis to fill in the space, dividing some of the existing clumps to continue the line, and possibly adding another type of plant as well. So while there is more to be done, I feel that finally the area is coming together.

 

The Aralia will have to go -- the bright green that was so appealing in July looks out of place in September.
The Aralia will have to go — the bright green that was so appealing in July looks out of place in September.

 

Another section, closer to the new steps, is coming together as well. An underground spring runs alongside a section of the rocks here, creating a constant problem with slippage on the hillside. A few years ago we added a few large rocks to stabilize the ground but they have never felt completely natural.

 

A combination of rocks, ornamental grass and dirt.
Despite the fact that the two large rocks near the top of the slope are well grounded, they look as if they are perched on top of the rock rather than coming up out of it.

 

Adding a few more rocks seems to have solved the problem.

 

A diagonal view makes the rocks look as if they are part of a rock seam.
A diagonal view makes the rocks look as if they are part of a natural rock seam.

 

Still to come is the final ‘little thing’, a weeping willow that will go beside the new steps. The tree should create the impression of a gateway at the entry that will focus the view and make the Skating Pond feel even more secluded than it feels now.

Next year I may need to tweak other things at the Skating Pond. But for the moment at least, I’m satisfied. No, more than that, I’m happy.

 

Striations in the rock suggest ripples in a stream.

Michiko’s Garden

Last week I visited a very special garden, where rock outcroppings enhanced with shade-loving plants create an atmosphere of deep serenity.

 

Polystichum, or Christmas fern, is found in shady woodlands throughout the Eastern Townships.
Polystichum, or Christmas fern, is found in shady woodlands throughout Quebec. Note the small patch of tiarella cordifolia, another indigenous plant, at the top of the photo.

 

Developed over the last fifteen years by designer Michiko Gagnon, the garden is at the end of a cul-de-sac in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, not far from the U.S. border. It’s an idyllic setting, with an old farmhouse that she and her husband, the artist Charles Gagnon, renovated some 40 years ago. Now, near the house at the edge of a sunny lawn, Michiko has placed two wooden chairs.

 

Who wouldn't want to linger in the shade here on a hot day, or in the sunshine when it is cool?
Who wouldn’t want to linger here in the shade on a hot day, or in the sunshine when it is cool?

 

The chairs face a typical Township’s view.  It isn’t grand or spectacular, rather it is gentle and comfortable, the sort of landscape you can relax into. But the view seems to stretch out forever, through farm fields to a dark green forest that merges seamlessly into rolling hills and shades of blue.

 

From Michiko's house the view extends for many miles.
From Michiko’s house the view extends for miles.

 

It’s hard for a garden to compete with that kind of pull, but Michiko’s garden succeeds. An intriguingly constructed fence is the first clue as to how it does this. Marking the division between domestic and wilder spaces and stopping the eye, the fence begs for closer inspection.

 

fence (1 of 1)
An irregular pattern of straight wooden sticks establishes a satisfying rhythm to this fence bult by local craftsman William Lucy.

 

And close inspection is key to the garden’s success. A fern placed in exactly the right spot draws the eye and enhances the beauty of a rippled rock.

 

Striations in the rock suggest ripples in a stream.
Striations in the rock suggest ripples in a stream. Who can explain what causes the different colours of rock, or why they are shaped as they are?

 

A sturdy tree growing on top of another rock appears even sturdier with a frothy green skirt of corydalis lutea at its feet.

 

Tall trees set off rocky outcroppings.
I was so intrigued by the plantings that I failed to note what kind of trees were growing.

 

Colour and texture provide subtle contrasts throughout. Set against the olive tones of a moss-covered rock is the fresher green of pennywort, or Cymbalaria muralis, one of many creeping plants that Michiko has used.

 

Who can supply the name of this lovely little plant?
Pennywort goes by many different names. It isn’t indigenous but has naturalized throughout most of North America.

 

The subtle coloration of Diervilla and its tiny yellow blossom add a point of light in the deep shade.

 

The tiny blossom of Diervilla, another indigenous plant, gives a point of light in the shade.
This is the straight variety of Diervilla, not one of the newer cultivars. It was planted by the invaluable Marie-Josée Laurin, Michiko’s knowledgeable assistant.

 

Dark mulch on planted areas allow subtle differences in shades of green to emerge.

 

Trees, rocks, carefully chosen plants: these make Michiko's garden special.
Geranium robertianum is one of many indigenous plants that make Michiko’s garden special.

 

Not all the plants are indigenous but all are chosen for their particular colour, texture or shape.

 

Saruma henryii feels right at home in Michiko’s garden. And don’t you love the heart-shaped leaves?

 

Tree stumps gathered from surrounding woods add a timeless quality to the garden. Were the stumps below once trees growing in place, or were they brought in from somewhere else? It’s hard to know. But whichever, their presence makes the garden feel as if it has always been here.

 

Were these stumps once trees growing in place or were they brought in from somewhere else? It's hard to tell.
By this time of year in Quebec, many plants have been cut back hard. But the maidenhair ferns in the background were still in their full glory.

 

Each season has its star performers — blue Siberian iris in early summer, Japanese anemones in late.

 

The light wasn't great when I took this photo -- but believe me, the anemones were a soft pink cloud rising above the hard grey stone.
The light wasn’t great when I took this photo — but believe me, the anemones were a soft pink cloud rising above the hard grey stone.

 

But the stars never throw the garden off balance. This is the second time I’ve visited Michiko’s garden, and on both visits I’ve been struck by its restraint. This isn’t an ‘in your face’ garden, it’s a garden of nuance, where subtleties have room to shine.

Both visits have been at the end of summer, when the garden isn’t at its best. Or so Michiko claims. I found it quite splendid both times, but next summer I vow to return earlier, to see if she is right. And to sit once again to enjoy the garden’s peace.

 

Michiko Gagnon relaxing in the garden.
Michiko Gagnon relaxing in the garden.

 

 

 

The Coleus is a variety called Indian Summer. I pinched it back regularly to keep it from getting too big.  (thanks for the warning, Nancy A.!)

A Colour-full Summer

Even while summer is coming to an end, the garden continues to make me happy.

I’m really pleased with the gravel garden.  Early in the summer we adjusted the slate border; now it steps rather than slopes down, giving a firmer definition to the edge. While the yucca didn’t bloom this year, it did produce dense clumps that should bloom next year. The sedum ‘Dazzleberry’ is growing well and the small islands of sandwort (Arenaria verna) that I added offer good colour contrast.

 

Although it doesn't show well in this photo, I added a top dressing of a honey-coloured gravel to make the grey gravel tone in more softly with the stone wall nearby.
Although it doesn’t show well in this photo, I added a top dressing of a honey-coloured gravel to make the grey gravel tone in more softly with the stone wall nearby.

 

And talk about bees! They are dazzled by the Dazzleberry.

This big fat guy stayed so long in one spot that I feared he was a goner.
This big fat guy stayed so long in one spot that I feared he was a goner. Nope, just getting all the dazzle that the sedum had to offer.

 

The shrub border in the Upper Field is full of strong colour contrasts, particularly striking on a sunny day.

 

Berries are weighing down the branches on the highbush cranberry.
Berries are weighing down the branches on the highbush cranberry.

 

We planted the shrub border in the Lower Field last fall, adding clumps of giant fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha) at the same time. The shrubs are still adjusting to their new location, the fleeceflower is thriving.  Next year the shrubs should be fuller and begin to grow. But in the meantime the astilbe (A. Veronica Klose) we added is blooming as never before, providing a powerful punch of bright pink that picks up on the fading tones of the fleeceflower.

 

Why a two-toned rock? The white section was buried until last September when we planted this border.
Why a two-toned rock? The white section was buried until last September when we planted this border.

 

Although the yellow Ligularia has finished blooming, the Cascade still looks good. I like the contrasts in form and texture. The Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ are starting to show their muscle… I’ll need to prune judiciously next year to keep everything in balance.

 

Take note: the fleeceflower (Persicaria microcephala 'Purple Fantasy') is a VERY vigorous grower.
Take note: the fleeceflower (Persicaria microcephala ‘Purple Fantasy’) is a VERY vigorous grower.

 

At the Yin Yang, the contrasts in colour, shape and texture couldn’t be more obvious — soft billowy grey-green, hard static brick red.

 

I should have given the Artemisia another hair cut. Oh, well, too late now.
I should have given the Artemisia a hair cut a few weeks ago. Oh, well, too late now.

 

Colours at Webster’s Column are less obvious. The Column, dwarfed by the tall trees that surround it, is filled with newspapers that recognize my husband’s 50 year career as a journalist. The colours on the papers have faded over the last seven years since the column was installed. That means the news isn’t fresh — but it isn’t fake, either.

 

I designed this piece of sculpture in 2009 and installed it in 2010. Seven years later the newspapers have faded. The news inside isn't fresh, but it isn't fake either.
I have a genuine sense of pride every time I pass this column, in part because it honours my husband and in part because it is one of the most successful sculptures I’ve designed.

 

On the deck where we frequently eat, the flowers are as colourful as they were at the beginning of the summer, and much more profuse. This is a combination I may repeat.

 

The Coleus is a variety called Indian Summer. I pinched it back regularly to keep it from getting too big. (thanks for the warning, Nancy A.!)
The Coleus is a variety called Indian Summer. I pinched it back regularly to keep it from getting too big. (Thanks for the warning, Nancy A.!)

 

The last touch of colour is one I’m not too happy to see… autumn will soon be here.

 

This horse chestnut tree is usually the first to turn colour in the fall. But you'd think it could wait until after Labour Day.
This horse chestnut tree is usually the first to turn colour in the fall. But you’d think it could wait until after Labour Day.

 

I hope your summer was as good as mine. If only it were longer!

The optical illusion never fails to delight.

Metis International Garden Festival

 

Recently I visited the International Garden Festival at Metis, Quebec. I’ve attended the Festival many times since it first opened in 2000, but in previous years I’ve gone with adults. This year was special — I went with two teenage granddaughters.

 

The festival installations are adjacent to the St. Lawrence River.
The festival gardens are adjacent to the St. Lawrence River in a part of Quebec that offers much to explore.

 

Playsages, the theme for this year’s Festival, was a good fit for the three of us. The word is a mash-up of languages, blending ‘play’ with the French word for landscape (paysage). While I’d happily attend the festival any year, this theme told me to make the trip this year, and to take along some younger eyes.

It was a great decision. Six of the 25 gardens on view are new this year, and of these our joint favourite was The Woodstock. This interactive installation is simple in concept and engaging in practice. Both girls climbed up and down the tree stumps, playing a teenage version of King Queen of the Castle. I admired the way the stacked stumps of varying heights defined the space, creating a playground that simultaneously provoked exploration and contemplation.

 

untitled (5 of 14)
Designed by Atelier Yok Yok, this installation was inspired by the stacks of wood gathered by loggers. Pushing the idea, the installation can be seen as an echo of the life cycle of a forest as it is affected by human beings.

 

Not surprisingly, the girls liked the interactive projects the best. They liked splashing around in a shallow pool, wearing the rubber boots provided (Se Mouiller (La Belle échappé) by Groupe A/Annexe U.)  They liked walking through the woods to the quiet spot where a swing hanging from a tree gave a nod to solitary enjoyment (Haiku, by Francisco A. Garcia Pérez & Alessandra Vignotto.) They liked making patterns in the gravel (Around-About, by Roy Talmon & Noa Biran) and loved lying flat on their backs, looking up at the trees and listening to the sound of bells ringing in the wind.

I was equally enchanted by Soundcloud, where the mixed music of the wind and the bells established a dialogue between natural and artificial sounds. The bell-shaped flowers planted around a white cloud-like pouf added a visual element that mirrored this mix.

 

Soundcloud, by , combined natural and created sounds. A round puffy white cloud offered a comfortable place to relax.
Soundcloud, by Johanna Balhaus and Helen Wyss, used ‘bell flowers’ planted in the ground and hung on branches. Each bell produced a different sound.

 

I was less enthralled by I Like to Move It. The girls had fun with this garden, pushing a full-sized tree back and forth along a trench. (The best part, they said, was leaving the tree smack in the middle of a path, forcing people either to walk around it or to move it back into its ‘proper’ place.) For me, though, this installation was a disappointment, despite the fact that the idea of moving trees around and forming different relationships is appealing.  Reasons for my reaction are easy to identify. This installation is in its third year and the wear and tear is showing. One of the original three trees is dead and what used to be a seemingly wild meadow is now a platform covered with wood chips, with the mechanics too obviously visible.

 

Pushing a full-sized tree along a track was fun. Leaving the full-grown tree in the middle of the path was the best bit, according to the girls.
Pushing a full-sized tree along a track was fun but you really need three trees to set up design relationships.

 

We all liked Making Circles in the Water, by Balmori Associates, now in its 7th year. This series of circles leading towards the St. Lawrence River is a successful experiment in seeing, focusing the view and visually connecting the forest to the water. The installation engages the body as well as the eyes and mind; almost no one can resist walking through the circles, skipping and laughing as they do.

 

The optical illusion never fails to delight.
Now an eye-popping black and white, the panels were originally painted in shades of grey, less dynamic but more subtle. I’m not sure which I prefer.

 

Courtesy of Nature was another garden we all liked, not for its playful qualities but for the direct simplicity of its concept and the sense of reverence it established. This garden by Johan Selbing and Anouk Vogel encloses three tall trees in a black box open to the sky. The effect is to focus attention on what could easily be overlooked, to set apart a tiny piece of nature and thereby to transform it into a jewel-like work of art.

 

The black exterior walls blend into the forest; the white interior walls present the trees like works of art.
The black exterior walls blend into the forest; the white interior walls present the trees like works of art in a museum. Not surprisingly, the small evergreen has grown a foot or so since I saw this installation in 2013.

 

A perennial favourite is Hal Ingeborg’s Reflexions colorées, where semi-reflective tinted plexiglass confuses inside and outside views that change seasonally and with the time of day.

 

Which birch tree is where?
Which birch tree is where?

 

For sheer delight, though, our joint favourite of all the gardens was Vertical Line Garden, by Julia Jamrozik and Cory Kempster. I’m told that in previous years the streamers were black and white. While that choice may have been striking, the multi-coloured streamers were pure joy. Sitting on one of the pink chairs beneath was like being in the midst of a gentle hurricane, exciting but non-threatening. It helped that the wind was blowing regularly on the day we were there, but even with the lightest breeze, the streamers would have blown and flown.

 

Some answer must be blowing in the wind.
Was an answer blowing in the wind?

 

Some people question whether installations like these can be called gardens. Perhaps instead they should be asking how these installations modify our ideas about what a garden is, or can be. After all, who would have thought that rubber boots could make you think of bouquets of flowers,

 

Boots of all colours and sizes encouraged people to wade in the pool of Se mouiller.
Boots of all colours and sizes encouraged people to wade in the pool of Se mouiller.

 

or that elastic ribbons could create cat’s cradles in the sky?

Le bon arbre au bon endroit is another long-time installation, by NIP Paysage.
Le bon arbre au bon endroit is another long-time installation, by NIP Paysage.

 


Getting to the International Garden Festival at les jardins de Métis takes time — it is a 6 hour drive from Montreal or a 90-minute flight to the nearby town of Mont Joli. But it is well worth the effort. And in addition to the Festival, there is an historic garden that provides a richly traditional garden experience. I highly recommend both.

I can't identify the plant exactly -- I gathered seeds from plants that were growing along a nearby road.

A Mid-Summer Check Up

In the middle of August, the garden feels different. It’s not as fresh or vibrant, not as satisfying. This makes it tempting to move into planning mode. But first, I need to review the goals I set for the year, to assess what still needs to be done.

One goal was to hold a second Open Garden Day. I checked that off in July. Another was to let the garden express itself. This is a goal that will never be finished. But I’m doing my best, letting nature take its course in the fields and in The Big Meadow, previously known as The Big Lawn.

My first major goal was to finish Orin’s Sugarcamp. Last week we cleaned up the area, removing some tin leaves and miscellaneous bits and pieces. We added slate steps to make it easier to walk up the incline that leads to the sugar camp and visually lowered the granite lintel by adding more earth in front and behind. Now, someone climbing the steps will easily see the quotation cut into the stone: “The Gods can be known to exist on account of the existence of their altars.”

 

The words come from Chrysippos, a Greek philosopher. I saw them at Little Sparta, a garden in Scotland, and knew immediately I would use them at Orin's Sugarcamp.
The words come from Chrysippos, a Greek philosopher. I saw them at Little Sparta, a garden in Scotland, and knew immediately I would use them at Orin’s Sugarcamp.

 

Before the clean up we added a short column of corrugated tin at one corner. The column ties in with a larger project I’m working on, which I’ll write about at some point. I like the contrast between the rusted tin roof and the un-rusted column — it underlines how things change over time, an important idea behind that larger project.

The final change was something minor that nonetheless has a big impact. Compare these two photos to see if you can spot the difference. The first photo is from July 1 …

 

This photo is from July 1, 2017.
Yes, the leaves stacked by the tree are gone, but that’s not the change I’m talking about.

 

… and the second from August 8.

 

The angle is different and the change is subtle.
The angle is different and the change is subtle, and so hard to notice.

 

Did you spot it? The change was lowering the boiling pan and turning it around so that a long bent piece is in front, almost touching the ground.

The weight of winter ice and snow brought down some of the tin maple leaves that hang around the sugar camp. Within the next few weeks we may re-hang some of them, but we could stop today and call it quits.  Except for one thing.

The installation is named after Orin Gardner, a real person who worked for my father-in-law. Recently I learned that Orin was a strong Christian. The person who told me this worried that combining his name with the quotation from Chrysippos could lead people to think otherwise. I respect this concern and am searching for a way to acknowledge it.

 

A close-up shows the twisted boiling pan, where maple sap was reduced to maple syrup.
A close-up shows the twisted boiling pan where maple sap was reduced to maple syrup.

 

 

The second major goal was to improve the plantings at The Skating Pond.

One area at the Skating Pond has never done well — it’s soggy, with soil that no plant seems to like. Last summer, hoping to uncover more of the rocky ledge that edges part of the pond, we started digging. We didn’t find rock; instead we created a mess — a steep slope with crumbly rock.

 

Talk about eyesores!
This is what the area looked like earlier this summer.

 

To correct the problem we added crushed rock for drainage, rocks for stability and good quality soil. We transplanted several clumps of the Calamagrostis that is growing nearby, even splitting some of the larger plants, and to my delight, they didn’t suffer.

 

I'm trying several other plants to see how they manage -- Aralia 'Sun King' and Agastache. Maybe I'll add some Rudbeckia.
I’m trying several other plants to see how they manage — Aralia ‘Sun King’ and Agastache. Maybe I’ll add some Rudbeckia.

 

In the fall we’ll divide more Calamagrostis. We’ll move out the Japanese blood grass that has never done well, repair some of the boardwalk and change the shape slightly, to provide a better entry point.

I’m confident that we’ll finish work on the Skating Pond this year. I’m equally confident that next year I’ll fiddle around with the plants. What I won’t do is disturb what is working well.

The Skating Pond is at its best where it is most natural.

 

If only all the rock was as gorgeous as what you see here.
Wildflowers fill the field around the Skating Pond, changing with the seasons.

 

A flower I seeded years ago has happily spread all around, as have many other wildflowers.

 

I can't identify the plant exactly -- I gathered seeds from plants that were growing along a nearby road.
I think this is knapweed, a type of scabious. I can’t identify it with certainty — I gathered seeds from plants that were growing along a nearby road.

 

Resident snapping turtles sun themselves on the rocks.

 

I can't tell the turtles apart but I know there are two of them -- I've seen both at the same time.
I can’t tell the turtles apart but I know there are two of them — I’ve seen both at the same time.

 

Water bugs, dragon and damsel flies add life and movement.

 

A Canada darner rests on a native day lily beside the Skating Pond.
A Canada darner rests on a native day lily beside the Skating Pond.

 

The constant movement makes the area an attraction for children and grandchildren. And for me — I can watch for hours at a time.

 

sp damsel fly (1 of 1)
I think this is a Whitetailed Skimmer. Please let me know if I’m wrong.

 

Work on both of these projects will probably continue next year but for now I’m satisfied with the progress made.

An overview, looking towards the dogwood panels.

The Upper Room Updated

 

Finishing The Upper Room, the area that honours my mother and her beliefs, was one of my goals for 2017.  I started work on the area last summer, hoping to finish then, but everything took longer than expected. This year, the sand-blasted panels that are the central feature were installed in the spring, the area was planted in early summer, and the final elements were added in July.

The dogwood screen remains the crowning glory. It stands at the uppermost of three levels, defining the space without closing it in. I’m particularly happy with the way the sand-blasted panels reflect what’s behind the viewer and simultaneously give a view through to the woodland beyond. Add the beauty of the dogwood tree and over-sized petals, drawn by Mary Martha Guy, and the skill of the sandblasting done by the Montreal company Vitrerie VM and you have something special indeed.

 

The spreading tree suggests Virginia and a mother's embrace.
The spreading limbs of a dogwood tree remind me of Virginia and my mother’s out-stretched arms.

 

I’m even happier with the way the different elements of The Upper Room work together to create a space that accomplishes everything I wanted.

 

An overview, looking towards the dogwood panels.
An overview, looking towards the dogwood screen, shows the benches I designed. Perspective distorts the relative size of the benches and the dogwood panels, making the benches look larger and the panels smaller than they actually are.

 

The plantings in and around the Upper Room are complete, for this year at least. In front of the dogwood panels is Gaultheria procumbens, a species indigenous to northeastern North America, also known as eastern teaberry, checkerberry, boxberry, or American wintergreen.  Boxwood is the primary plant, though, currently providing a backdrop to bleeding heart( Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’).

 

The boxwood came from the Egg, as this area used to be called. I will shape it into balls as it grows.
The boxwood came from the Egg, as this area used to be called. I will shape it into balls as it grows.

 

Surrounding the area I’ve used native ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) transplanted from the forest. These ferns, commonly called Christmas ferns because they remain green all year long, feel very comfortable in the space. I also like the evergreen symbolism — it seems appropriate for The Upper Room.

 

These native ferns are commonly called Christmas ferns because they remain green year round.
These native ferns grow abundantly throughout our woods. I plan to add more in the next few weeks.

 

About a month ago I added columnar yews (Taxus hicksii) to rise like pillars at the four corners of the ‘room’, and underplanted them with Waldsteinia fragaroides, or barren strawberry.  I didn’t plan to use yew since the deer like it, but no other plant offered as many of the qualities I was looking for. When I found four tall, handsome specimens, the choice was unavoidable.

 

Yews planted in boxes at the front and back of the central area will be pruned into columnar shapes.
Yews planted in boxes at the front and back of the central area will be pruned into columnar shapes. The barren strawberry plants will spread to cover the soil.

 

Choosing yews, though, meant we needed a fence.

We built the fence in June, following the style used at the shrub borders in the Upper and Lower Fields and in the Asian meadow. As they do elsewhere, these fences accomplish their purpose while almost disappearing. I wasn’t happy at first by the idea of a fence but I find I like it. It defines the space and sets it off from the surrounding woods, making the ‘room’ feel even more distinct and room-like.

 

Looking down on The Upper Room, the fence almost disappears.
This view from above The Upper Room shows how an almost invisible fence sets the area off from the forest around it.

 

As a final touch I designed two benches resembling church pews. They were beautifully made of white oak by a local craftsman, Mario Vaillancourt. Placed facing each other, the benches provide a comfortable place to sit. More significantly, their quiet dignity reinforces a sense of peace that permeates The Upper Room.

 

A friend suggested leaving the open space between the seat and the back rest of the bench, allowing a view of the woods behind. I happily used his suggestion.
We’ll probably bring the benches inside during the winter. If not, they will definitely be covered to protect them from snow and ice.

 

Depending how plants fare through the winter months, I may need to tweak the selection next year but for now this area is complete. I am very happy with the results, whether looking towards the dogwood screen or in the opposite direction.

 

A view towards the lake.
A view towards the lake shows how dense the forest around The Upper Room is — the lake itself can’t be seen.

 

Next week I plan to assess progress with the other goals I set for myself. But what about you? Are you achieving your garden goals or simply enjoying a summer break?

As the day began, I snapped one photo of cars parked in the field. It was the last photo I took for the day.

Now for a Rest!

The last few weeks have been busy. Preparing the garden for visiting groups and getting everything in place for Saturday’s Open Garden Day has been fun, but also a lot of work. And now that August is here, I’m ready to put my feet up — for a day or two, at least.

But first, I want to thank the 20 volunteers who worked at the Open Garden Day. They made the day a success, and I couldn’t have done it without them. The weather cooperated beautifully, and the day turned out to be exactly what I had hoped for, a Goldilocks day — not too hot, not too cold, just right.

 

The Skating Pond as photographed by one of the wonderful volunteers.
The Skating Pond as photographed by one of the wonderful volunteers.

 

I also want to thank the people who came, who seemed to love everything they saw. Many commented on the peaceful setting, and how calm they felt walking through the garden. I enjoyed spending the day on the Log Terrace, talking to people as they passed through. In fact, I was so busy talking that I forgot to take photos. So instead of a picture of the volunteers or the setting, here’s a photo of a group that visited the garden the day before!

 

This photo shows a group who visited the garden the day before the Open Day. They generously contributed to the cause -- so a big thank you goes to all of them.
That’s me, almost hidden behind the artemisia, and Larry Hodgson, the group leader with the hat, seen second from the right. When Larry mentioned that the Open Day was raising money for the Massawippi Foundation, the group opened their pockets and generously contributed. So a big thank you goes to all of them.

 

The Open Day went smoothly, thanks to a great organizing team. The registration desk was up and running well before the 10am opening, and a good thing, too — the first visitors arrived 45 minutes early!

 

Visitors check in at the registration desk.
When visitors checked in at the registration desk, they received a pamphlet in either French or English, with a map and information about each area of the garden. They also received information about the trails being built by the Foundation on land conserved in perpetuity.

 

Volunteers really are the key to the success of a day like this. Some helped park cars, others added to the information in the brochure or talked about the goals of the Massawippi Foundation. One of those goals is to support community projects in the area surrounding Lake Massawippi, and one of the biggest and most ambitious of these projects is the system of trails being constructed on conserved land.

 

As the day began, I snapped one photo of cars parked in the field. It was the last photo I took for the day.
As the day began, I snapped a photo of cars parked in the field. It was the last photo I took for the day.

 

The grand opening of a new 3 kilometre trail on Massawippi Mountain will take place on August 20th. It will include music, a blessing by an Abenaki Elder, a ribbon cutting and a chance to walk the trail and speak with guides about the flora and fauna that makes the land worth conserving. This will be followed by a wine and cheese reception at the Community Centre in Ste. Catherine de Hatley.  The event is free to all and the Foundation welcomes everyone of all ages to take a hike that day and attend the reception.  For more information, go to the Foundation’s website.

Raising money to support this valuable work is why we open the garden to the public once a year. So many, many thanks all of you for all your support.

And I hope to see you all at Open Garden Day 2018!


On the Open Day, several people asked me how I learned about gardens and gardening. My answer was the same as it always is: by reading, experimenting and reading again.

Books are great, and my shelves are drooping under their weight. But for quick, helpful, easy to assimilate information, magazines are hard to beat. I have files full of magazine articles — and I go back to them again and again, as reference and inspiration.

There are fewer garden magazines in North America than there used to be. In Canada, the only magazine that circulates widely is Garden Making. I subscribe and read it for its practical information, as relevant to my cold climate garden as it is to those who garden in much warmer zones. The magazine serves a wide audience, from beginning to expert gardeners — anyone, in fact, who really wants to know the what, when and how of gardening in Canada.

In the U.S., with its larger market, there are several gardening magazines. My favourite is Garden Design. It’s gorgeous, with interesting and wide-ranging articles and outstanding photography. Best of all, there are no ads. This makes the magazine more expensive, but for my money, it is worth the price.

If you aren’t yet a subscriber to Garden Making or Garden Design — or both — consider subscribing today. Or surely you have a birthday coming up soon???

 

Glen-Villa-Open-House-2017-eng-1200x800

You are Invited!

It’s less than a week until our second annual Open Garden Day. I’m ready for it, bilingual volunteers are prepped, and the garden is looking fine.

So I hope I’ll see you here, next Saturday between 10 and 4. There’s no need to reserve a spot, and all are welcome, with admission payable on site. (No dogs or picnics, please.)

Here are the details.

 

Glen-Villa-Open-House-2017-eng-1200x800

 

And here’s a preview of what you’ll see.

The Cascade by the house …

 

The ligularia add a nice vertical element to the horizontal planting at the Cascade.
The yellow Ligularia add a nice vertical element to the horizontal planting at the Cascade.

 

The astilbe and hostas by the front door …

The sculpture is by Quebec artists Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito.
The sculpture is by Quebec artists Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito.

 

And a swing to pretend you are still a child. (It works for real children, too.)

A swing makes for an idyllic summer day.
A swing makes for an idyllic summer day.

 

In the Lower Garden, you’ll see flowers and shrubs, and a sculpture by Doucet-Saito.

 

Late afternoon sunlight makes the Aralia 'Sun King' gleam.
Late afternoon sunlight makes the Aralia ‘Sun King’ gleam.

 

You’ll see more flowers twining up tree trunks …

 

Clematis Violacea Venosa matches well with Achemilla mollis, or Lady's Mantle.
Clematis Violacea Venosa matches well with Achemilla mollis, or Lady’s Mantle.

 

… shouting out sunshine …

 

The yellow flower is Inula. I started it from seed over a dozen years ago.
The yellow flower is Inula magnifica ‘Goliath’. I started it from seed over a dozen years ago.

 

… and offering the perfect landing spot for bees.

 

Echinacea now comes in a variety of colours and shapes. I still like the old coneflower the best.
Echinacea now comes in a variety of colours and shapes. I still like the old coneflower the best.

 

You may see deer — including two baby fawns who still have their spots — a fat lazy groundhog, turtles and frogs.

 

A frog in the hand is worth two in the pond.
A frog in the hand is worth two in the pond.

 

You can explore, woodland trails, ponds and meadows.

 

Snapping turtles like to laze on the rocks at the Skating Pond.
Snapping turtles like to laze on the rocks at the Skating Pond.

 

Or take a look back in time, at the China Terrace …

 

The dining room table is made of cement tinted red to suggest a velvet tablecloth.
The dining room table is made of cement tinted red to suggest a velvet tablecloth.

 

or the Sundial Clearing.

 

This is the Sundial Clearing. The shadow of a dead pine tree marks the hours of the day.
A trail through the woods leads to the Sundial Clearing. The shadow of a dead pine tree marks the hours of the day.

 

For a fun-filled day, rain or shine, Glen Villa offers a lot. Bilingual volunteers will be stationed around the garden and bilingual brochures make a self-guided tour easy. And remember, your admission fee of $25 helps to conserve pristine lands around Lake Massawippi — and to build ecologically sensitive trails that make that land accessible to all.

I’ll be around all day, happy to answer questions or just to sit and chat.

See you on the 29th!