All posts by Pat Webster

I want to add a tall spiky plant that pops up through the Nepeta at occasional spots and tones in with the barberry and rusty steel.  I'm trying several possibilities this year, including early summer blooming Eremurus 'Cleopatra.' I've ordered the bulbs for fall planting.

Garden Visitors

This week the first group of gardeners will be coming to tour Glen Villa. Forty plus members of the Ottawa Garden Club will spend the morning  here, on what I’m hoping will be a sunny day.

They are coming at a good time — the garden is looking fabulous. I rarely write a blog post that’s only about flowers, but this week the blooms are so spectacular that it’s worth showcasing their beauty.

The Aqueduct, where last year I added Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’, Ruby Carousel barberry and Porteranthus (formerly Gillenia trifoliata) to existing boxwood balls, is stunning, a symphony of blue and green.

 

I want to add a tall spiky plant that pops up through the Nepeta at occasional spots and tones in with the barberry and rusty steel. I'm trying several possibilities this year, including early summer blooming Eremurus 'Cleopatra.' I've ordered the bulbs for fall planting.
I want to add a tall spiky plant that pops up through the Nepeta at occasional spots and tones in with the barberry and rusty steel. I’m trying several possibilities this year and have ordered early summer blooming Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’ to try next year.

 

A close-up shows how the nepeta is almost overwhelming the boxwood.  I’m wondering how much I’ll have to cut back in the future. But for now, I’m happy with the balance.

 

flowers (13 of 13)
I plan to add another clump of Porteranthus (Gillenia trifoliata) at the far corner to echo the clump of white shown in the photo above.

 

The Cascade, which in previous years has proved problematic, is looking the best I’ve seen it for a long time. I’m particularly pleased with the two perennial geraniums that I planted last year. Geranium ‘Biokovo’ is a tiny delight…

 

I love the colour of these blossoms and the perky way they stand up above the foliage.
I love the colour of these blossoms and the perky way they stand up above the foliage.

 

,,, while Geranium ‘Hocus Pocus’ brings a touch of dark magic to the scene.

 

I wasn't sure these geraniums would survive the winter in this often damp location, but they have. And soon the plants should be covered with blossoms.
I wasn’t sure these geraniums would survive the winter in this often damp location, but they have. And soon the plants should be covered with blossoms.

 

Near them are plants I started from seed about a dozen years ago, Sanguisorba menziesii. I love the bottlebrush shape and the fabulous burgundy colour.

 

Hmm... maybe these burnets would work in the Aqueduct border. But would they carry enough weight to balance the explosion of Nepeta? What do you think?
Hmm… maybe these burnets would work in the Aqueduct border. But would they carry enough weight to balance the explosion of Nepeta? What do you think?

 

In the Lower Garden, the pink peonies are luscious.

 

Maybe Sarah Bernhardt?
Maybe Sarah Bernhardt?

 

So are the double white.

 

I like any colour of peony. I like the foliage, too.
I like any colour of peony. I like the foliage, too.

 

The Acquilegia canadensis are staying true to themselves, and offer a punch of colour in combination with ‘Bowles Golden’ carex.

 

This combination is growing close to a mustard-coloured Chinese vase. The colours work really well together.
This combination is growing close to a mustard-coloured Chinese vase. The colours work really well together.

 

I don’t have much bright red in the garden, but seeing this  honeysuckle in  bloom, that may change.

 

I planted this honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens 'Major Wheeler') in 2012. This is the first year it has bloomed well. Is a warmer climate the reason?
I planted this honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’) in 2012. This is the first year it has bloomed. Is a warmer climate the reason?

 

In the same bed a fingerleaf Rodgersia (Rodgersia aesculifolia) is a standout against a pink-flowered weigela (Weigela florida ‘French Lace’).

 

Rodgersia is pink around the edges... I haven't noticed that on the plants before this year.
This Rodgersia is pink around the edges… I haven’t noticed that on the plants before this year. And not all of the fingerleaf Rodgersias share this colouring, but over half of them do.

 

By the front door, the Anemone canadensis I added last year is doing exactly what I hoped it would do, shining a spot of light in the shade of a pine tree.

 

The white spots on an old-fashioned pulmonaria, variety unknown, are set off by the white blossoms on the anemone.
The white spots on an old-fashioned pulmonaria, variety unknown, are set off by the white blossoms on the Anemone canadensis. The anemone should self-seed and spread.

 

The display is wonderful now and should continue for weeks. Next to come, I think, will be the astilbe in the Lower Garden. Even now, tightly closed, the promise is unfolding.

 

The deep red of Astilbe Fanal is set against the citrus blooms of lady's mantle. Both are just beginning to bloom.
The deep red of Astilbe Fanal is set against the citrus blooms of lady’s mantle. Both are just beginning to bloom.

 

I plan to challenge the members of the Ottawa Garden Club by asking them a few questions. I didn’t think up the questions, I’ve pinched them from one source or another. They seem to be good questions for gardeners anywhere to ask, about their own garden and any garden they visit.

What one thing in the garden would you change? Is there something you’d add or delete? And would you like this garden to be yours?

I hope they send me their answers. Honest criticism is a good way to learn.

Topiary at Allt-y-bela was stunning.

An Exchange of Views

What happens when two opinionated garden makers visit the garden of a Chelsea award-winning garden designer?

Last month, Anne Wareham, Charles Hawes and I visited Allt-y-bela, the home of Arne Maynard, an author and prominent UK garden designer.  We spent several hours wandering around the impressive garden, located in Monmouthshire, Wales; Anne and I spent even more time several weeks later exchanging ideas and responses to what we had seen.

Along with running her own garden, Veddw,  (in case you missed my review of Veddw, you can read it here), Anne edits the internationally read on-line garden magazine ThinkinGardens. This week she has published our correspondence about Allt-y-bela.

 

Topiary at Allt-y-bela was stunning.
Topiary at Allt-y-bela was stunning in concept and design. The quality of the maintenance made it even more impressive.

 

As Anne mentions in her introduction to the piece, our responses to the garden raised a number of interesting questions. What is the affect of visiting a garden along with the person who has made it? Does it add to or subtract from the experience? What about history? Is it important to bring that into the design of the garden?  And what are the pros and cons of stage managed gardens?

You can read our exchange here.

And after you read it, I hope you will take a moment to reflect on the issues… and then to let us know what you think.

I welcome your views on the questions we raise and on any others that our exchange of views may prompt. You can respond here or on ThinkinGardens, or in any way that suits your fancy.

The Upper Field at Glen Villa is a what dieticians argue against, butter spread thick on the ground.

Garden Envy

Coming home from a tour of English gardens I felt a short, sharp shock. Everything in my garden looked inadequate, not up to the standard I had come to expect. I moped. I complained. Why can’t I grow the hundreds of plants I saw and admired?  Some of them must surely suit my climate. So why don’t the garden centres around Glen Villa stock them?

Then I faced the facts. My garden will never match the perfection of an English estate that employs six or seven full time gardeners.  The garden centres will never stock the rarities — with such a small market, it’s not a paying proposition. Plants I grow will never match the size they reach in England, not as long as I live where I do, where winter temperatures drop regularly to -25 or -30C.

And since I have no desire to live anywhere else, I had to quit complaining. I gave myself a good talking to. Instead of accepting your limitations, I told myself, embrace them. And I have. I do. My garden no longer looks inadequate, it looks splendid. I am enthusiastic about what I can grow, and even more enthusiastic about what grows here naturally.

I mean, just look at it. Can any English country scene be more beautiful than our old farm field bursting with buttercups?

 

The Upper Field at Glen Villa is a what dieticians argue against, butter spread thick on the ground.
The Upper Field at Glen Villa is a what dieticians argue against, butter spread thick on the ground.

 

And what about the lupins that are dancing their way across the meadow? I’m happy to see them, and to see this year for the first time a brighter-than-average pink that I hope will spread and become even brighter.

 

This year we have a brighter than normal pink lupin. Natural hybridization, I guess.
One source says that lupins are meant to take nourishment from soil, to wolf it down, as it were, thus explaining their name.

 

My heart sings when I  see the lupins blooming amid buttercups and ragged robin, especially when set off by the citrus green of Aralia ‘Sun King’ behind them.

 

The white posts mark the entry to the China Terrace. To their right are white window frames and a cascade of spirea.
The white posts mark the entry to the China Terrace. To their right are white window frames and a cascade of spirea.

 

I take no credit for these wildflowers.  Each year they appear on their own, this year more floriferous than last. The shrub border in the Upper Field is a different matter, and it gives me pleasure of a different sort. I chose the shrubs and thanks to the fence I designed to protect them from the deer, they are blooming like they’ve never bloomed before.

 

Viburnum sargemtii 'Onondaga' is standing tall. Physocarpus opulifolius 'Golden Dart' is in the foreground.
Viburnum sargemtii ‘Onondaga’ is standing tall. The citrus-coloured shrub is Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) ‘Golden Nugget.’

 

The shrub border is doing all I hoped it would, and more. I wanted some privacy in the Upper Field, and the shrubs are big enough now to shield our view of cars driving past. I wanted the privacy screen to be truly appealing, so I’d walk up the hill to see it. And that has worked. The vibrant blossoms and foliage add colour and excitement, and draw me like a magnet to see how each plant changes, day to day.

 

Another view shows a different ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius 'Coppertina.' I like how the hint of green in its leaves picks up the citrus of the 'Golden Nugget' beside it.
Another view shows a different ninebark in the foreground, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Coppertina.’ I like how the hint of green in its leaves picks up the citrus of the ‘Golden Nugget’ beside it.

 

The blossoms on the Ninebark ‘Coppertina’ for instance. They start as tight pin pricks, then open to resemble tiny berries, then become as fluffy as dandelion heads, all in a matter of a week or two.

 

The same shrubs
The blossoms here are at the berry stage. They are more open now than when I took this photo.

 

All around the garden, blooms are bursting. At the Skating Pond the  yellow flag iris are shining in the distance …

 

This year the yellow flag iris are blooming riotously.
The bare patch of ground to the left of the iris needs attention. Next week, perhaps.

 

… elsewhere, single white peonies gleam …

 

Blowsy peonies... I love them!
Blowsy peonies… I love them!

 

… and camassias growing more abundant year by year.

 

I'm not sure which variety of camassia these are. Can anyone identify them?
I’m not sure which variety of camassia these are. Can anyone identify them? According to my planting notes, they should be either Blue Melody or C. caerulea. I’d like to order more and want the same variety.

 

Seeds I gathered from an acquilegia in Australia are blooming quietly on a rocky outcrop, retaining their original colour and refusing, I’m glad to say, to affect the colour of the wild Canadian ones that grow nearby.

 

Nostalgia speaks. Whenever they bloom, these acquilegia remind me of another place, and another time.
I feel nostalgic whenever these acquilegia bloom. They remind me of another place, and another time.

 

But the wildflowers capture my heart most of all. The yellow flower that is blooming in a field next to a tall grass…

 

Is this yellow hawkweed?
II haven’t tried to identify this yellow wildflower. Can you?

 

… the delicate pink daisy-like flowers that appear everywhere….

 

My granddaughter Vivienne took this photo. Thanks, Viv!
My granddaughter Vivienne took this photo. Thanks, Viv!

 

Why should I be envious of an English garden when I am surrounded by such natural beauty? Even the grass is glorious.

 

Can any manicured garden hold a candle to this?
Can any manicured garden hold a candle to this?

 

Do you have garden envy? And are you doing anything about it?

This garden by James Alexander Sinclair showed the relationship between sound and motion. Water gurgled and spouted in response to sound waves. Very ingenious.

Gardeners (and Gardens) to Remember

I’m home again at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, after touring gardens in England. In ten days, the small group I was hosting visited 17 gardens, each special in its own way. Add in the Chelsea Flower Show and pre-tour visits to three other gardens and you can imagine the result: more photos and memories than a dozen blog posts can handle.

Let me mention a few highlights. (More blog posts will come once I catch my breath and begin to assimilate all I saw.)

The Chelsea Flower Show was its normal madhouse of flowers, garden-related goods and people — even on a members only day, it is crowded. Like many others, I found this year’s show gardens a disappointment. Unlike many, I admired the garden chosen as Best in Show, a quarry garden designed by James Basson that highlighted Malta’s horticulturally rich yet threatened environment. My favourite gardens, though, were the smaller, fresher ones.

 

This garden by James Alexander Sinclair showed the relationship between sound and motion. Water gurgled and spouted in response to sound waves. Very ingenious.
This garden by James Alexander-Sinclair showed the relationship between sound and motion. Water gurgled and spouted in response to sound waves. Very ingenious.

 

Perhaps the strongest overall impression of the garden tour itself was the generosity shown by so many of the garden owners.  Our group of Canadian and American women was welcomed as if we were members of the family. We were treated to personal stories and gardening anecdotes as well as to tea and cakes — all delicious in their way. And instructive.

Spending time with Penelope Hobhouse at her newest garden, the Dairy Barn, provided a lesson in how many plants can be crammed successfully into a tiny space. Being asked by this expert for advice on how to treat an ailing plant was a lesson in humility: how could I possibly tell her anything she didn’t already know? Yet she listened, considered and even agreed.

 

This photo doesn't do justice to the rich plantings at the Dairy Barn. And while I could have used a photo of Penelope Hobhouse herself, this photo of her garden, mediocre as it is, shows her generosity of spirit.
This photo doesn’t do justice to the rich plantings at the Dairy Barn. And while I could have used a photo of Penelope Hobhouse herself, this photo of her garden, mediocre as it is, shows her generosity of spirit.

 

Alasdair Forbes at Plaz Metaxu was warm hospitality mixed with a degree of erudition that would be intimidating in a less open-hearted man. Over some 25 years he has created a landscape to capture the mind and the spirit. A landscape garden superficially in the 18th century tradition, this ‘place between,’ as the name translates, presented much more than beautiful views. It is a garden after my own spirit, a garden of significance, and one I could happily live in. At the same time its underpinnings are so complex that I would need multiple visits and hours of reading and research even to begin to understand what I saw.

 

A glimpse through an open door onto a mysterious landscape beyond: this was Plaz Metaxu.
A glimpse through an open door onto a mysterious landscape beyond: this was Plaz Metaxu.

 

Visiting Wildside and getting a glimpse into the extraordinary passion that drives owner Keith Wiley offered a balance to what I sometimes see as my own over the top obsessions. However much I do, I can’t hold a candle to this man who has, literally, reshaped his garden world. Nor can I ever match his knowledge of plants or provide the range of habitats that they need.

 

On a hot sunny day, the colours in the garden were even more vibrant than they appear here. Keith's passion for his work coloured every word.
On a hot sunny day, the colours in the garden were even more vibrant than they appear here. Keith’s passion for his work coloured every word.

 

John and Jennie Makepeace at their village garden Farrs not only led our group through the garden, they led us through their working lives. John is a distinguished furniture designer whose work takes furniture to a level rarely seen. Sitting at the dining room table in one of his chairs combined art and comfort; moving from one beautifully designed chair to the next, and the next, and the next, demonstrated how a change in the tiniest detail can alter the experience and the pleasure — a lesson that applies equally well to gardens.

 

What could be more appropriate for a furniture maker than topiary of a table and chair? John and Jennie Makepeace are only the second family to live in this gracious late 18th century house behind the hedge.
What could be more appropriate for a furniture maker than topiary of a table and chair? John and Jennie Makepeace are only the second family to live in the gracious late 18th century house seen behind the hedge.

 

At Iford Manor, our hosts were John Hignett, his son and daughter-in-law. This visit was my third to Iford Manor, a garden I like very much, and it was made more enjoyable by John’s warmth and knowledge. Hearing my sister sing an impromptu aria in the cloister where opera is performed was (literally and metaphorically) a high note.

 

John Hignett shows some of Harold Peto's original plant labels discovered in the garden during restoration work.
John Hignett shows some of Harold Peto’s original plant labels discovered in the garden during restoration work.

 

At Spilsbury Farm, Tania and Jamie Compton showed how informality combined with structure can make a country garden feel loved and lived in. These two know plants, and it shows. The plants looked as much at home as I felt.

 

Spilsbury Farm was another garden where I could live quite comfortably. The mown paths shaped the space without being rigidly symmetrical. I liked that.
Spilsbury Farm was another garden where I could live quite comfortably. The mown paths shaped the space without being rigidly symmetrical. I liked that.

 

At the more elaborate and intensively gardened estate Malverleys, Head of Horticulture Mat Reese shared his plant and design knowledge so generously that I felt I’d completed a course in design in a few short hours.

 

One of many lush plantings in the Jekyll style, updated for the 21st century.
One of many lush plantings in the Jekyll style, updated for the 21st century.

 

Philip White, founder and chief executive of the Hestercombe Gardens Trust, regaled our group over lunch with stories of the restoration of this important garden. Not all people can speak so fluently, informatively and entertainingly. Not all can hold the attention of a group of women as they pick away at their Sunday roast. But Philip White did this easily. Hestercombe’s garden covers three distinct periods of garden history — an 18th century landscape garden, a Victorian shrubbery and one of the first — and finest — gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens. Mr White has been responsible for bringing this garden to its present high level, and with the discovery of an Elizabethan water garden, the sweep of history will be even wider. We left not only well-fed but also shored up by his enthusiasm for a garden he so clearly loves.

 

Arriving at Hestercombe as it opened gave me the chance to sit alone in the Great Plat, the section of the garden designed by Jekyll and Lutyens.
Arriving at Hestercombe as it opened gave me the chance to sit alone in the Great Plat, the section of the garden designed by Jekyll and Lutyens.

 

Gardens are more than arrangements of plants. Even the most beautiful gardens can feel like lifeless, like well-dressed stage sets.  But not when they are full to bursting with the personality of the garden’s creator. My previous blog post was about Veddw, the garden of Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes. I was lucky enough to spend a full 24 hours there, and my welcome could not have been warmer. Few gardens are more personal, or show more clearly what matters to the couple who’ve created it.

I’ve been hosting garden tours for the last five years and this tour was one of the best. It helped that we were a congenial group of travellers, visiting great gardens at a good time of year. But the best part was the personality, warmth and generosity of the gardeners themselves.

These hedges were tiny when planted. Very tiny --
 about ankle high. Getting the proportions right must have been a nightmare.

Veddw House Garden

 

I’m in England now, about to start on a ten-day garden tour. With my co-host Julia Guest of Travel Concepts in Vancouver, I will take a small group of women to the southwest of England.  But before hitting the road, let me whet your appetite with a review of an extraordinary garden I visited pre-tour.

Veddw is the garden of Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes. Located in Wales, just across the border from England in an area of outstanding natural beauty, Veddw pays homage to its surroundings in ways that show respect for what came before. And significantly, that respectful attitude, felt throughout the garden, highlights the design talents of its creators.

English gardens that nod to the past are a commonplace but Veddw is no ordinary garden. A bench at the entry to the garden announces the difference, first in its shape and colour and then in the words that appear on the back, names used for the property over several centuries.

 

Veddw, Vedda, Fedw: from 1534 to 1947, the spelling has changed but the sound has remained much the same.
Vedow,, Veadow, Fedw, Vadda, Veddw. From 1569 to 1947, the spelling has changed but the sound remains much the same.

 

At the edge of  a wild garden, headstones give alternate names for people and areas nearby.

 

Barely visible is a wonderfully evocative name: Belchey Bernard. Not sure I'd want him as a neighbour.
Barely visible is a wonderfully evocative name: Bulchey Bernard. And why Hatter’s Patch? Were hats made there by Mr. Bernard?

 

Veddw and its designers do more, though, than show respect for the past. The garden they have created is very much of the present, yet it draws on ideas of time and change that are common to gardens everywhere. Attention to detail is evident throughout… not in the ordinary ‘garden variety’ way where all is neat and tidy, with no weeds apparent, but in the subtlety with which design creates meaning and significance.

Every garden design manual will advise repeating plants, colours and shapes, stressing that repetition holds a garden together, gives it coherence. And I agree. But too often, repetition of the sort advised hits you in the face, as if carbon paper had been pressed over a good idea and then imprinted mindlessly from one area to another.

Not so at Veddw. Here, the garden coheres through a more nuanced approach.  The curve of hedges is repeated in the roofline of what once was a tiny stone house.  The curve of the entry bench is echoed in the curves of a bench by a reflecting pool, but here the curve is modified with a dip that suggests what is about to come.

 

Black water reflects an overcast sky.
Black water reflects an overcast sky. Water features, each different in size and shape, repeatedly bring the sky onto the ground, another subtle repetition.

 

For me, the marvel at Veddw is the Hedge Garden. Designing interlocking hedges that appeal from every direction is a challenge that designer Anne Wareham has met, seemingly with ease. At the entry to the garden, a visitor encounters a genuine Wow! moment. Stretched across the valley below are scalloped-topped hedges set against flat-topped ones. Shades of green repeat and shift, balanced with touches of maroon and rust. Cones in the foreground are echoed by square columns in the distance. And all this energy is anchored by a calm backdrop of trees that promise a garden of a different sort.

 

Intricately interwoven of shapes, with flat and scalloped tops, cones and columns, are made even more intricate with different plants and colours.
Intricately interwoven shapes, with flat and scalloped tops, cones and columns, are made even more intricate with different plants and colours. While they are barely visible in this photo, the yew columns on the far hillside to the left were one of my favourite features.

 

To create a view this satisfying from one angle isn’t easy. To make it equally satisfying from the opposite direction adds another level of difficulty. Wareham has met the challenge and succeeded.

 

A view from the hillside opposite the entry shows a tiny entry into the Pool Garden.
A view from the hillside opposite shows the bench listing Veddw’s various names at the top of the photo. In the foreground you can see a tiny entry into the Pool Garden.

 

In the Pool Garden, the interwoven hedges become a complex play of curves. Do they rise and fall like waves on a distant sea or do they mimic the rising and falling hills that surround Veddw?  No matter. Their reflections in the dark water form an inverted goblet that spills out an invitation to enter the underwater world beyond.

 

These hedges were tiny when planted. Very tiny -- about ankle high. Getting the proportions right must have been a nightmare.
These hedges were tiny when planted. Very tiny — about ankle high. Getting the proportions right must have been a nightmare.

 

A path continues around the reflecting pool to enter the Hedge Garden. Turning a corner, waves appear again, this time in a contrasting colour — the fresh green of boxwood set against the darker tones of yew.

 

The curving waves appear again on a side hedge.
The curving waves appearing on a side hedge draw you into the garden world beyond.

 

The magic of Veddw continues in the adjacent woods …

 

A twisted tree watches over a peaceful fern-filled valley. The bluebells were past their peak but still gave off a hint of blue.
A twisted tree watches over a peaceful fern-filled valley. The bluebells were past their peak but still gave off a hint of blue.

 

… where the ruins of an old farm building, once in the middle of an open field, have become a mysterious shrine.

 

A utilitarian hut changes its character when softened and romanticized with moss. The columns hint at some grander past, now cloaked with mystery.
A utilitarian stone hut changed its character when softened and romanticized with moss. The columns hint at some grander past, now cloaked in mystery.

 

There is much more to Veddw than hedges and romantic woods. There are open sunny borders, a delightful garden stuffed with cardoon and shaped boxwood, a meadow walk and a white Clematis montana so tall it might almost be visible from outer space.

But for me, a highlight was the use of words throughout the garden. (Those of you who read this blog regularly, or who read ThinkinGardens, Anne Wareham’s internationally acclaimed blog, will be familiar with this quirk of mine. You can read A Matter of Words here.)

Hatter’s Patch and Bulchey Bernard are only two of many ways that words are used to link the garden to a wider world. A quotation from Wordsworth’s poem about nearby Tintern Abbey appears on a wooden bench, connecting the garden to the fields around. (“These hedgerows, hardly hedgerows, little lines of sportive wood run wild…”)  T.S. Eliot is quoted on an irregular stone, the words suggesting the progression that occurs when past and present, repeated, are brought together in new ways.

 

New timbers, new buildings, new ideas.
Old stone to new building: a repurposed stone provides a suitable place for a repurposed  quotation from “East Coker,” one of Eliot’s Four Quartets.

 

A small, weathered plaque attached to a tree speaks to what a garden is, or can be. At Veddw, the words articulate what the garden says: past is present, present, past. The future is still becoming.

 

This quotation from .S. Eliot encapsulates a crucial component of the garden at Veddw.
This quotation from Burnt Norton, the first of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, encapsulates a crucial component of the garden at Veddw. And of every garden worth its name.

 

Veddw is open on Sunday afternoons in June and July and from August 2-5. Groups of ten or more are welcome by prior arrangement from May to September.

If you have the chance, go. This is a garden worth the detour.

 

Glen Villa Open House 2017 eng 1200x800

Open Garden Day 2017

I’m happy to announce that once again this year, we are opening the garden at Glen Villa as a fundraiser for the Massawippi Foundation.

Here are the details.

 

Glen Villa Open House 2017 eng 1200x800

 

As you can see, the admission goes directly to our local community foundation, Fondation Massawippi Foundation. The Foundation supports community projects — school playgrounds, a community health centre, meals to shut-ins and seniors and much more. It also supports land conservation through the Massawippi Conservation Trust. In the few short years since the Trust was established, almost 800 acres of ecologically valuable land have been conserved; by the end of this year, the Trust hopes to add an additional 400 acres. Most of the conserved land is undisturbed forest on the hillside above Lake Massawippi, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. The Foundation is now building trails on this land to make the natural beauty accessible to the general public in an ecologically sensitive way.

 

Wild garlic carpets a section of the forest floor at Glen Villa.
Wild garlic carpets a section of the forest floor at Glen Villa.

 

This is a cause our family enthusiastically supports. I’m on the Board of Directors of the Foundation and my husband is a Trustee of the Conservation Trust. In addition, we have put a servitude, or easement, on a portion of our land, preventing development of any kind in perpetuity. We decided to do this because the land itself deserves protection. It contains sections of old growth forest and is filled with native flora and fauna that could easily be destroyed. Opening our garden to be public gives us a chance to support the work of the Foundation and Trust. And it gives me the pleasure of sharing the garden we’ve created.

In order for visitors to experience the garden at its best, we’ve decided to limit numbers. Unlike last year when visitors simply showed up at the gate, this years we are asking people to reserve for either a morning or afternoon visit. Last year the morning was busier than the afternoon, so if you want to come in the morning, I suggest reserving soon. You can do that here (English) or here (French).

 

A volunteer sets up the registration table at last year's Open Garden Day.
A volunteer sets up the registration table at last year’s Open Garden Day.

 

As long as space is available, we will welcome visitors at the door. Payment is also at the door. Up to the Open Day itself you will be able to confirm if space is available by checking the website of the Massawippi Foundation.

***  Please note: reservations can be made only with the Massawippi Foundation and not with me.

Maps of the property in French and English will be available at the door and bilingual volunteers will be stationed throughout the garden to give directions and answer questions. I will be in and about all day, to chat or discuss issues related to gardens, art for gardens and garden design.

Last year, with very little publicity, we attracted hundreds of people. This year we are publicizing the event more widely, particularly through garden clubs and horticultural societies.  So I do urge you to reserve your spot as soon as you can.

And please, spread the word!

 

 

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The flowers that bloom in the spring, Tra-la

Gilbert and Sullivan got it right when they wrote about spring flowers.

The flowers that bloom in the spring, Tra la,
Breathe promise of merry sunshine —
As we merrily dance and we sing, Tra la,
We welcome the hope that they bring, Tra la,
Of a summer of roses and wine.

Right now, I’m dancing and singing. Because everywhere at Glen Villa, spring flowers are blooming. Daffodils galore brighten the path to the China Terrace ….

 

We planted these daffodils about fifteen years ago. The clumps get bigger every year.
We planted these daffodils about fifteen years ago. The clumps get bigger every year.

 

hugging the base of birch trees.

 

I like to mix colours and varieties in some area and to plant varieties of a single colour in others.
I like to mix colours and varieties in some areas and to plant varieties of a single colour in others.

 

More daffodils sparkle on the berm by the Skating Pond ….

 

We planted 1000 bulbs a year on the berm for four or five years in a row. Deadheading takes time.
We planted 1000 bulbs a year on the berm for four or five years in a row. Deadheading them all takes time.

 

and spring up from the grassy hillside like dots of  butter and cream.

 

Mixing varieties extends the blooming season from mid-April to the end of May, and sometimes beyond.
Mixing varieties extends the blooming season from mid-April to the end of May, and sometimes beyond.

 

In the Lower Garden, magnolia blooms take pride of place. Now blooming are the star magnolias (Magnolia stellata ‘Susan.’) When they begin to fade, the darker-toned Magnolia ‘Leonard Messel’ appears, as welcome as any flower that blooms in the spring.

 

Magnolia stellata grows well in the Lower Garden where it is sheltered from the wind.
Magnolia stellata grows well in the Lower Garden where it is sheltered from the wind.

 

In my photos, the colour of the star magnolia blossoms seems almost unnaturally vivid against a lawn still greening up after winter.

 

The star magnolia blooms stand out against a grassy lawn.

 

In close-up, the pink is softer and gentler.

 

untitled (4 of 20)
Continuing the Gilbert and Sullivan theme, this is no caricature of a face.

 

Joining the magnolias and daffodils throughout the garden are ferns of all sorts. They rise up from the leaf mold like sleepy monks shedding their winter robes.

 

A huddle of hairy heads.
I don’t know why this huddle of hairy heads makes me think of monks, but it does.

 

Whatever the variety —  and growing wild in our woods there are many — the newly emerging ferns always make me smile. They seem like sociable creatures, happy to be part of a group ….

 

I haven't tried to identify the different types of ferns, only to enjoy them.
I haven’t tried to identify the different types of ferns, only to enjoy them.

 

or, like giddy maids at school, to be sharing secrets with special friends.

 

Whatever the topic, ferny heads always seem to nod in agreement.
Whatever the topic, ferny heads nod in agreement.

 

Normally my favourite spring flower, the one I watch and wait for, is the twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) that grows by the kitchen door. I love watching the leaves and buds emerge, opening and shutting as the weather dictates.

 

Jeffersonia hold a special place in my heart. Named after Thomas Jefferson, they remind me of Virginia, where I grew up.
Jeffersonia hold a special place in my heart. Named after Thomas Jefferson, the flowers remind me of Virginia, where I grew up. For southerners, these flowers may be a commonplace. In my climate, they are a rarity.

 

But of all the flowers in bloom this year, the highlight for me are the daffodils that are whipping their way across the grass in the Dragon’s Tail.

 

The Dragon's Tail, 2017 model.
The Dragon’s Tail, 2017 version.

 

For the last fifteen years, the Dragon’s Tail has been blue in the spring when the grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) bloomed and bright fuchsia in August with Astilbe ‘Veronica Klose.’ But lately the muscari hasn’t been doing well. Deer eat the foliage as it emerges, and this weakens the bulbs so gradually they’ve been fading away.  Last fall I dug them up, determined to try something new.

 

Seen from a different angle, the whip of the Dragon's Tail appears more gentle.
Seen from a different angle, the whip of the Dragon’s Tail appears more gentle.

 

A year or two from now I’ll be able to assess whether the change was an improvement. But for now, I’m loving it.


STAYED TUNED FOR AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT!

I’ll be posting in a day or two with news about this year’s Open Garden Day. For now, mark it down on your calendar: Saturday, July 29, from 10-4.

Hope to see you on the 29th.

The hardscaping for The Upper Room was completed last summer.

The Upper Room

After months of anticipation, yesterday we installed the glass panels at The Upper Room. The wait was long but it was worth it — I am thrilled with the results.

The Upper Room is a memorial designed to honour my mother and her beliefs. It’s a tribute to family and to the traditions I grew up with in Richmond, Virginia, when classically symmetrical architecture, brick, and boxwood shaped our streetscapes and our view of the world.

From inception, brick and boxwood were essential elements of the design. So was a sense of embrace. I wanted the area to include something that felt like a hug from the out-stretched arms that always welcomed me when I returned.

 

The hardscaping for The Upper Room was completed last summer.
The hardscaping for The Upper Room was completed last summer but I couldn’t go on to the next step until the glass panels were installed.

 

Genealogy was important to my mother so representing family was another key component. I played around with the idea of making a literal family tree but everything I sketched was too complicated and too busy. Yet the idea of a tree stuck. If not a family tree, what about an actual one? But what kind of tree, and would it have the necessary impact, situated as it was in the midst of a forest? I doubted it. So if not a real tree, what about the image of a tree?

Immediately the idea felt right. The tree would be a flowering dogwood. Two groves of stately white dogwood (Cornus florida) grew outside the first house I remember, and dogwood is the Virginia state flower. I asked my friend, the Montreal artist Mary Martha Guy, to draw the tree and her design captured my heart.

 

Mary Martha Guy's design shows the bare outline of the tree, with five over-sized dogwood flowers positioned in a gentle curve.
Mary Martha Guy’s beautifully spare design shows the outline of a dogwood tree, with five over-sized flowers positioned in a gentle curve.

 

Even before the drawing was done, I knew I wanted it to appear on glass — the transparent, translucent and reflective qualities of glass seemed to fit the idea behind the project. It was easy to imagine the outline of a tree etched or sandblasted into glass. But I quickly realized that I wanted to flip that around. Instead of picturing the tree on the glass, I wanted to picture its absence. I wanted the shape of the tree to be clear glass and the remaining space to be sandblasted. Clear glass would allow a view of the real trees in the forest behind, an idea I found appealing, and the empty tree-shaped space representing Virginia and so much more would add an air of poignancy.

Finding someone able to do the work as I wanted it done took time. But Deirdre and Holden Collins at Vitrerie VM and Peter Collins Design in Montreal were the ones. We worked together to find the right hardware. That took time and getting everything in place took more. When we were ready to go, the ground was deep in snow.

Yesterday, though, was perfect — warm and sunny. Work began early as the posts to hold the panels were installed.

 

Posts are anchored in the ground below frost level to prevent shifting over time.
Posts are anchored in the ground below frost level to prevent shifting over time. They form an arc like arms about to give a hug.

 

Each post had to be level and straight and getting this right took an hour or two. Then the first panel was carried down the hill.

 

Watching the panel being carried through the woods over rough, uneven ground was nerve-wracking.
Watching the panel being carried through the woods over rough, uneven ground was nerve-wracking. What if they dropped it?

 

This first panel was the middle of five. Positioning it perfectly was crucial — if it was off-centre, everything that followed would be wrong.

 

Mary Martha, her husband Jean-Eude and I chatted away while the experts did their job. Mentally I was biting my nails the whole time.
Mary Martha, her husband Jean-Eude and I chatted away while the experts did their job. Mentally I was biting my nails the whole time.

 

By lunchtime, three panels were in place and everyone was starting to relax. And to become excited. The drawing was coming to life.

 

Mary Martha is beginning to breathe more easily.
Mary Martha was beginning to smile. Even to laugh.

 

With all five panels in place, the idea I had in my head, that Mary Martha had translated to a drawing and that Didi and Holden had sand-blasted onto glass, was finally there in front of me.

 

Once the trees leaf out, our daughter's house at the top of the hill will be hidden.
How different things will look at different times of day and in different seasons. How different it will look once the trees leaf out. Our daughter’s house at the top of the hill will be hidden then.

 

The impact is more than I had hoped for. The details of Mary Martha’s beautiful drawing have been translated with enormous skill to show overlapping branches that end with a delicacy that reminds me of Chinese ink paintings. The shadow line that Peter Collins suggested adds another level of  nuance.

 

I love how the dead leaves twinkle through the clear glass and how the sand-blasted areas reflect the trees behind.
I love how the dead leaves twinkle through the clear glass, making the empty space look like the trunk of an actual tree, and how the sand-blasted areas show shadowy trees behind the glass and reflect the trees that were behind me when I took the photo.

 

The area is far from finished but the biggest step is over. Today we pulled up the boxwood that were heeled in when we began work on this project in October 2015. We cleaned them up, gave them a preliminary trim and replanted them along the sides of the brick paving. Amazingly, after 18 months of neglect, they still look good — a bit scraggly, perhaps, but I’m confident that time and good growing conditions will remedy that. Or perhaps, as Mary Martha said, their sprawl suits the forest around.

 

Boxwood line the outside edge of the central brick area. Benches like church pews will offer a place to sit and admire the real trees and the sand-blasted one.
Boxwood line the outside edge of the central brick area. Benches like church pews will offer a place to sit and admire the real trees and the sand-blasted one.

 

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 plan to use columnar trees that will rise like pillars from the corners of the symmetrical space. I’ll add a low-growing ground cover around the trees, the boxwood and at the base of the dogwood panels — possibly heuchera or heucherella, possibly lamium or vinca, possibly partridge berry (Mitchella repens).

And I’ll design two benches that will provide a place to sit, to replace the ones shown in the photos above. Today I settled on their dimensions and the idea for the design became clear.

Finishing The Upper Room was one of my goals for 2017.  I’m confident now that it will be done. My mother would be pleased — she always finished what she started.

 

The job is done. For now at least.
Mary Martha Guy stands in front of her beautiful drawing on the stunning glass panels made by Vitrerie VM.

 

 

The book is a useful primer on how to use stone in the garden.

The Spirit of Stone: A Book Review

I share something with Jan Johnsen, author of The Spirit of Stone — a respect for stones and the qualities they bring to a landscape.

At Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, I’ve used stones in paths, steps and walls. I’ve used them more unusually in the gabion walls of The Aqueduct and in the parking area in front of the house.

Gabion walls can be practical and aesthetically pleasing.
Gabion walls can be practical and aesthetically pleasing. A low pool can be attractive to a tiny granddaughter.

 

Two stunning moss-covered rocks in the woods dictated the route of a path that we installed shortly after we acquired the property in 1996. A rock only partly exposed became the centrepiece of a new shrub border when we uncovered more of it. And at the Skating Pond, smooth blue-toned rocks are a highlight, setting a colour palette for the plantings that surround them.

 

Lime green ninebark (Physocarpus Gold Nugget) is a sharp contrast to the smooth blue stone beside The Skating Pond. We had no idea such a gorgeous stone was hiding underground.
Lime green ninebark (Physocarpus Golden Nugget) is a sharp contrast to the smooth blue stone beside The Skating Pond. We had no idea such gorgeously coloured stone was hiding underground.

 

The Spirit of Stone looks at uses like these and more. The subtitle of the book is an accurate description of the contents: 101 Practical & Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden. I didn’t count the ideas but the book is full of them. In effect it is a primer on the multitude of ways in which stone can be, and has been, used in gardens.

 

The book is a useful primer on how to use stone in the garden.
The book is a useful primer on how to use stone in the garden. It also feels good in the hand.

 

Short sections give practical advice about using these natural treasures in rock gardens, walks, steps, walls and as accents in the garden. A final section is about plants that work well in combination with stones large and small.

Johnsen’s advice is helpful but for me the ‘spiritual’ aspects of the book are more interesting. Stone is revered in cultures around the world and understandably so. Beautiful in its variety of colours, shapes and textures, it conveys a sense of permanence that anchors us in a way that changeable plants do not.  A quote from the English artist Andy Goldsworthy underlines this point.

“A lone resting stone is not merely an object in the landscape but a deeply ingrained witness to time.”

A rock at Crawick Multiverse in Scotland shows the marks of time.
A rock at Crawick Multiverse in Scotland shows how beautiful the marks of time can be.

 

A number of the ‘spiritual’ uses Johnsen reviews, such as standing stones and stone circles, are familiar. Others are less so. I for one have never seen a split rock like the ones she illustrates, which apparently were regarded by Native Americans as doors to the underworld. Nor did I know that the continent’s indigenous people believed quartz contained supernatural power.

 

A vein of quartz forms a natural A on this rock at Glen Villa. I placed memory posts to my father and brother-in-law in this location to be near the A Rock. Does that testify to its supernatural power?
A vein of quartz forms a natural A on this rock at Glen Villa. I placed memory posts to my father and brother-in-law in this location to be near the A Rock which pulled me like a magnet.

 

I do know that using rock successfully requires paying close attention. Building the cascade at Glen Villa, one of the first things we did in the garden, took genuine patience. We had to examine each rock, find not only its best face but the face that it wanted to show to the world. Because, odd as it may seem, rocks will speak if you give them, and yourself, time to hear.

Rock art is one of the few rock-related topics Johnsen does not address. Perhaps this is understandable since few of us are about to use rock walls as canvases to tell stories. But since I love rock art and have ventured far into the Australian outback and other places to view it, I found the omission regrettable.

 

A strangely fingered figure is painted on a wall inside a cave-like overhang in the Kimberley area of West Australia.
A strangely fingered figure is painted on a wall inside a cave-like overhang in the Kimberley area of West Australia.

 

The Spirit of Stone is not a big book. It isn’t a philosophical tome and it doesn’t take long to read. But if you are looking for good ideas and practical advice about using stone in your garden, this is a helpful book to read.

 

 

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?