All posts by Pat Webster

Glacial erratics form part of the waterfall at Glen Villa. T

Making History Visible

Making history visible on the land is the concept that guides the projects I undertake at Glen Villa, my landscape and garden in Quebec. Recognizing and honouring what happened on the land before I came onto the scene is my way of hearing the voices of the past. It’s my way of listening to what the land has to say.

The land speaks in different voices from different times. Glacial erratics talk about the ice age.

Glacial erratics form part of the waterfall at Glen Villa. T
Glacial erratics form part of the waterfall at Glen Villa.

 

A wolf tree standing among younger oaks deliberately planted speaks of days when the old cherry tree was part of a different forest.

 

An ancient cherry tree now grows among an oak plantation.
The twists and turns of the cherry tree show that it had to fight for the light in its younger days.

 

Signs of the past like these litter the landscape at Glen Villa. There are stone walls that once divided fields, and foundation walls of cottages long gone.

 

The stone wall in the foreground formed part of a summer cottage built around 1910 and torn down in the 1960s.
The stone wall in the foreground formed part of a summer cottage built around 1910 and torn down in the 1960s.

 

Largest and most impressive of the stone walls is the foundation of Glen Villa Inn, the large resort hotel that once stood on the property.

 

The hotel operated between 1902-1909 and was said to have 365 rooms, one for every day of the year.
The hotel operated between 1902-1909 and was said to have 365 rooms, one for every day of the year.

 

Farming left its mark at the edge of fields that used to be fenced …

 

The barbed wire embedded in the maple tree was part of the fence around what is now the Upper Field.
How many years did it take for the tree to grow around this piece of wire fencing?

 

… and in farm equipment abandoned in the woods.

 

Someone more familiar with farm equipment than I am could probably name this piece. Is it a harrow?
Someone more familiar with farm equipment than I am could probably name this piece. Is it a harrow?

 

People left their mark as well. Walking through the woods, I saw a tree growing on a huge moss-covered rock. To my eyes the tree resembled a man walking, and the image made me think of the Abenaki, the first people who had lived on the land.  Every time I passed the tree, it seemed to speak, telling me to make the Abenaki’s presence visible again.

I followed its bidding. The Abenaki believe that humans were created from the ash tree so I searched for ash trees in the woods that forked in special ways. Inverted, the branches resembled people walking, as for millennia the Abenaki had done, moving between their summer and winter camps.

 

The Abenaki believe humans were created from the ash tree. Abenaki Walking uses inverted branches of ash trees to show their presence on the land.
These Abenaki walkers are moving through a recently cleared field.

 

People’s debris told another story. I discovered pieces of china partly buried underground, and a mark on one piece confirmed what I had hoped — the burnt and broken pieces came from Glen Villa Inn, the old resort hotel. Finding a way to tell the hotel’s story took several years but eventually the china shards became part of the China Terrace, a re-creation of the hotel as it might have been in 1909 when it burned to the ground.

 

A welcome mat that incorporates pieces of broken china from the old resort hotel marks the entry to the China Terrace.
A welcome mat that incorporates pieces of broken china from the old resort hotel marks the entry to the China Terrace.

 

The more I explored the land, the clearer its voice became. In the woods, I came across a low stone wall, the remains of a building from the 1950s where maple sap had been transformed into maple syrup. This became Orin’s Sugarcamp, named to honour the farmer who worked there.

 

Surrounding Orin's Sugarcamp are maple leaves made of tin, suspended from trees. They sway and tinkle in the wind, creating a magical environment.
Surrounding Orin’s Sugarcamp are maple leaves made of tin, suspended from trees. They sway and tinkle in the wind, creating a magical environment.

 

A stone wall that stood in front of the old hotel became the yin yang, an Asian symbol that marked the years our family lived in China, during the Cultural Revolution.

 

Over the years I've used different plants to show the oppositional elements of the Yin/Yang.
Over the years I’ve used different plants to show the oppositional elements of the Yin/Yang. The year I took this photo I used blue fescue (festuca glauca) and red brick mulch to contrast colour and material. 

 

Deeper voices spoke of connections with a more distant past, when the Idea cast shadows on the wall and the oracle breathed fumes from a cleft in the ground.

 

Columns of corrugated in mark a path through a field. The contemporary material connects today's world to ancient Greece.
Columns of corrugated tin mark a path through a field. The contemporary material connects today’s world to ancient Greece.

 

The land continues to speak. I know it has stories still to tell, secrets it may share if I am quiet enough to hear. Listening takes patience, not an easy virtue. But if I  continue to listen, who knows what I will learn.

Add something about building

Houghton Hall: A Garden Review

England has many fine gardens. Houghton Hall in Norfolk is one of the finest, offering a stimulating combination of horticulture, contemporary art and history that is far too much to absorb in a single visit.

The most popular part of the garden is the five acre Walled Garden. Divided into contrasting areas, the Walled Garden contains a double-sided herbaceous border, an Italian garden, a formal rose parterre, fruit and vegetable gardens, a glasshouse, a rustic temple, antique statues, fountains and contemporary sculptures. With so many aspects, the area could feel muddled or over-crowded, but a strong geometric structure holds the disparate elements together with ease.

 

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The long double herbaceous border wasn’t at its peak when I visited last September but it still held enough interest to elicit a wow or two.

 

The fading nepeta contrasts with the vibrant dahlias.
The fading nepeta contrasts with vibrant dahlias.  What do you think — are the wooden tutors a bit heavy or are their proportions a good balance for the space?

 

Dahlias of all types featured prominently, in this border and in another dedicated exclusively to the plant.

 

I really like the shape and colour of this flower.
I like the shape and colour of this flower. It almost tempts me to grow dahlias — but then I’d have to dig the tubers annually and overwinter them. Is the work worth it?

 

The double border stretches across the entire width of the walled acreage, with a well-proportioned rondel at the mid-point to mark the intersection of the two main paths.

The temple by Isabel and Julian Bannerman is at the far end of this long double border.
The rondel, defined by curved hedges, is halfway along the path. Barely visible in the distance is a temple designed by Isabel and Julian Bannerman.

 

Drawing you down the path is the structure at the far end.  A garden folly, typical of the work done by Isabel and Julian Bannerman, links the contemporary garden with the history of the property and with 18th century English garden design, when allusions to Greece and Rome connected the growing British empire with those of ancient times.

 

Two chairs offer a place to sit and enjoy the view.
Massive tree trunks form columns and antlers from the estate’s herd of white deer provide texture and detail in the pediment. Two chairs offer a place to sit and enjoy the view back into the garden.

 

A formal rose garden, well past its best before date when I visited, anchors one quadrant of the garden.

 

Classical statues towered above roses in the Formal Rose Garden.
Classical statues towered above what must be a splendid display in season. The curving yew hedges offered a nice contrast to the formality of the enclosed beds.

 

A Mediterranean garden tucked into a smaller space provided a quiet resting spot on a warm day.

 

Well-trimmed boxwood edged the gravel paths. There were no signs of box blight.
Well-trimmed boxwood edged the gravel paths. There were no signs of box blight.

 

Its central water feature also offered an interesting contrast to Jeppe Hein’s contemporary sculpture located nearby.

 

Waterflame is an intriguing work that combines contrasting elements, water and fire.
“Waterflame” is an intriguing work that combines the contrasting elements of water and fire.

 

The Marquess of Cholmondelay, owner of Houghton Hall, has installed many fine pieces of contemporary sculpture since he succeeded to the title in 1990. I saw four works by Sir Richard Long, including “Houghton Cross” which was laid out in the Walled Garden on a former croquet lawn.

 

The 'ancient worthies' touches were repeated with busts partly hidden in niches in the hedge surrounding the croquet lawn.
The ‘ancient worthies’ references found in the Bannerman temple were repeated with busts partly hidden in niches in the hedges surrounding this former croquet lawn.

 

The Walled Garden was impressive in its scale and variety but the high point of the garden for me was the contemporary sculpture by James Turrell. It’s hard — perhaps impossible — to capture the nature of this work in photos, because of what it is in itself, and because of how it is situated.

 

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This map of the property gives a sense of scale. The 5-acre Walled Garden is on the right, the wilderness area on the left. Separating them is the Hall itself and the spectacular open area that sweeps out in front of it.

 

First, imagine leaving the Walled Garden, walking through the Stable Block and along a memorial pathway to reach the Hall itself, a Palladian masterwork built in the early 1700s for Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole.

 

The Palladian
Sculptures by Damien Hirst were an irritating distraction, interfering with the classicism of the Palladian facade

 

Imagine turning your back to the Hall and looking out onto a long allée, a broad, grassy tree-lined walk simple in concept but enormous in scale, that dips and rises and stretches out to a distant tomorrow.

 

The grass strip echoes the width of the Hall. and is bordered on each side by a double line
The grass ‘path’ runs the width of the Hall and its colonnades before narrowing to a central  allée  flanked by a double line of  trees, trimmed to perfection.

 

Then walk beyond formality into a forested area, seemingly wild. There, open a gate and walk along a path lined with cloud-pruned boxwood.

 

The insignificant building in the background is the work by Turrell.
A winding path leads through amorphously-shaped boxwood to what seems an insignificant building in the background.

 

Follow the path to enter a simple wooden structure, cube-like, with benches along the sides. Sit down and begin to breathe. Take in the calm.

 

Skyspace: Seldom Seem
‘Skyspace: Seldom Seen’ is a work of art by the American artist James Turrell.

 

Look up.

 

An opening in the roof focuses the view on the sky.
An opening in the roof focuses the view on the sky.

 

Above is the sky, nothing more. Yet so much more.

I visited Turrell’s Skyspace: Seldom Seen on a cloudy day. There was little contrast in colour as there must be in sunnier times, when the sky is blue and clouds pure white. But this did not interfere with an  experience that was overwhelming in its intensity. As I sat and watched, the sky changed. I was a child, stretched out on the grass, mesmerized, watching the world shift and change, imagining whatever I wanted to see and whatever I wanted to be.

 

Shifting shadows on the wall brought the experience closer to the ground.
Shifting shadows on the wall brought the experience closer to the ground.

 

I spent a long time at Skyspace, and would have spent more, had time permitted. But there was more to see, including sculptures by Richard Long and others.

 

Another sculpture by Richard Long, titled "
This sculpture by Richard Long, titled “Full Moon Circle” is located partway down the long walk in front of the Hall.

 

Tucked into the woods was “Scholar Rock” by the Chinese artist Zhan Wang.

 

This
Many of Zhan Wang’s sculptures are similar to this one, large highly textured rock-like pieces coated in chrome. In Chinese culture, Scholar’s rocks are said to possess the purest form of vital energy and are often found in traditional Chinese gardens.

 

I’m not a fan of Damien Hirst, probably Britain’s best paid and best-known artist, who was chosen as this year’s featured artist in Lord Cholmondeley’s program “Artlandish.” Michael Glover, art critic for the Independent,  described the sculptures as “fairground-freaky, upscaled giants.” I agree.  Their size, however, did work in the expansive grounds.

 

These pieces by Damien Hirst were near the ha-ha that separates the wider grounds from those close to the Hall.
These pieces by Damien Hirst made me think of medical models with interior body parts exposed.

 

There was much I didn’t have time to see or appreciate at Houghton Hall — sculptures by Rachel Whiteread, Stephen Cox, Phillip King and Anya Gallaccio. (I was particularly disappointed to miss Gallaccio’s Sybil Hedge, purple beech hedges laid out in the signature of Sybil Sassoon, grandmother of the current Marquess and the woman responsible for rejuvenating the garden early in the 20th century. ) Toy soldiers aren’t my thing, but Houghton’s collection is fascinating, I’m told. And the interior of the house contains fine works of art and magnificent state rooms decorated by William Kent.

Often I want to visit a garden for a second or a third time. The range of things to see at Houghton Hall is so grand that I’d need a third, fourth or fifth visit to see and appreciate all it has to offer. I hope the opportunity arises.

Autumn colours is spectacular1

A Year in the Garden: Part 3

This final post of 2018, written on the last day of the year, brings the garden at Glen Villa to a close — for now, at least.

August is high summer in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.

The trail through the Joe Pye weed is luscious in August.
The trail through the Joe Pye weed is luscious in August, for bees and for pedestrians.

 

Insects make their presence known.

I'm not sure what flying creature this is, but I love the translucency of the wings.
I’m not sure what flying creature this is, but I love the translucency of the wings.

NOTE: Thanks to Mark A. for identifying this as a damselfly.

 

 

Roses bloom.
Roses re-bloom.

 

Chanterelles gleam in the woodland darkness.
Chanterelles gleam in the woodland darkness.

 

Near the house, a path leads up the hill and into the woods.

Petasites japnonica variegatus thrives in the shady woods.
Petasites japonicus variegatus thrives in the shady woods.

 

Canadian thistle blooms in sunny spots.
Canadian thistle blooms in sunny spots. Even though it is a pest of a plant, I like its form.

 

Autumn announces itself late in August.

Leaves in the Lower Garden are just beginning to change colour.
Leaves in the Lower Garden are just beginning to change colour.

 

It becomes more and more prominent as September progresses.

This tree is one of the first to change colour every year.
This little horse chestnut tree is one of the first to change colour every year.

 

Trees begin to change colour along the driveway.
Trees begin to change colour along the driveway.

 

Autumn colours is spectacular1
Autumn colours is spectacular.

 

I spent most of September in England, leading my final garden tour. But home again, October made its own strong statement.

Hydrangea's colour isn't spectacular but the dying form has its own appeal.
Hydrangea’s colour isn’t spectacular but the dying form has a delicate appeal.

 

The young buck is becoming a stag.
The young buck is becoming a stag.

 

Wild turkeys graze along the crabapple allée.

 

November is normally a boring month. This year, though, snow came early, giving the month an unexpected charm.

Snow caps the hawthorn trees by the road.
Snow caps the hawthorn trees by the road.

 

We spent lots of time constructing the temple façade, part of Timelines.

We started builing the façade in late October; work ended in early November with the first snowfall.
We started building the façade in late October; work ended in early November with the first snowfall.

 

A frosty morning coated all the trees with a gleam of ice.
A frosty morning coated all the trees with a gleam of ice.

 

Turkeys crossed the road -- who knows why!
Turkeys crossed the road — who knows why!

 

A wet heavy snow weighed down all the tree branches along the driveway.
A wet heavy snow weighed down all the tree branches along the driveway.

 

Finally, a look at what 2019 may bring -- sunbeams and glorious light.
Finally, a look at what 2019 may bring — sunbeams and glorious light.

 

May 2019 bring you happiness at home and in the garden.

My son and grandson spotted this fawn very shortly after the baby was born.

A Year in the Garden, Part 2

The meadows and fields at Glen Villa are white with snow in December, but in June and July, they are alive with colour.

Lupins brighten the meadow and the edge of a field in late June and early July.
Lupins brighten meadows and fields in late June and early July.

 

Buttercups and dandelions colour a field yellow.
Buttercups and dandelions colour a field yellow.

 

Ragged robin turns this field rosy pink.
Ragged robin turns this field rosy pink.

 

Closer to the house, colours appear in smaller doses.

Hawthorn trees are a froth of white.
Hawthorn trees are a froth of white.

 

Old-fashioned day lilies brighten a dark path.
Old-fashioned day lilies brighten a dark path.

 

Siberian iris add colour to the Lower Garden.
In the Lower Garden, irises add a touch of purple among the shades of green.

 

Clematis 'Inspiration' blooms faithfully each summer.
Clematis ‘Inspiration’ blooms faithfully each summer.

 

I wish I could remember the name of this Iris. The colour is stunning.
I wish I could remember the name of this Iris. The colour is stunning.

 

I started this Sanguisorba from seed many years ago.
I started this Sanguisorba from seed many years ago. It makes me think of the brushes I used to use to clean baby bottles.

 

The Aqueduct is satisfyingly colourful throughout the summer.

Nepeta takes centre stage at the Aqueduct.
Nepeta blooms continuously for a solid six weeks.

 

Gillenia trifoliata, or Bowman's root, contrasts nicely with Nepeta 'Walker's Low.'
A close-up of the scene above shows Gillenia trifoliata, or Bowman’s root, combined with Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low.’

 

Perhaps my favourite combination this year was the Eremurus 'Cleopatra' rising up from the Nepeta at the Aqueduct.
Perhaps my favourite combination this year was the Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’ rising up from the Nepeta at the Aqueduct, with Gillenia in the foreground and boxwood peeping out here and there.

 

Animals played their part in the garden.

My son and grandson spotted this fawn very shortly after the baby was born.
My son and grandson spotted this fawn very shortly after the baby was born.

 

I spotted the same fawn with its mother, grazing in the field a few weeks later.
I spotted the same fawn with its mother, grazing in the field a few weeks later.

 

A robin sings away, its red breast blending nicely with the rusted steel container.
A robin sings away, its red breast blending nicely with the rusted steel container.

 

Tadpoles galore!
Tadpoles galore!

 

A turtle suns itself at the Skating Pond.
A turtle suns itself at the Skating Pond.

 

Butterflies love Joe Pye weed.
Butterflies love Joe Pye weed.

 

Sculpture and art installations appear throughout the property.

Bridge Ascending, by Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito, is one of my favourite pieces of sculpture.
Bridge Ascending, by Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito, is in the Upper Field.

 

This section of Abenaki Walking chronicles the story of the original inhabitants after the arrival of Europeans.
This section of Abenaki Walking chronicles the story of the original inhabitants after the arrival of Europeans.

 

The Sundial Clearing is the destination for In Transit/En Route, part of the Timelines trail.
The Sundial Clearing is the destination for In Transit/En Route, part of the Timelines trail.

 

The Past Looms Large is another section of Timelines.
The Past Looms Large is another section of Timelines.

 

The barn at Lilac Cottage
The barn at Lilac Cottage is typical of this part of Quebec.

 

June and July — memories of warmer days.

 

A stream coming down the hill marks an S-curve at the entry to Glen Villa.

A Year in the Garden, Part 1

On a surprisingly mild winter’s day — not at all typical for Quebec in December — I’m remembering the garden at Glen Villa as it looked earlier this year.

January brought lots of snow.

 

A stream coming down the hill marks an S-curve at the entry to Glen Villa.
A stream coming down the hill marks an S-curve at the entry to Glen Villa.

 

The Crabapple Allée marches across the open field.
The Crabapple Allée marches across the open field.

 

February brought snow and gloomy skies.

My sculpture Tree Rings honours the life of a maple tree that died in 2014.
My sculpture Tree Rings honours the life of a maple tree that died in 2014.

 

Tin leaves sway in a light wind at Orin's Sugarcamp, one part of the Timelines trail.
Tin leaves sway in a light wind at Orin’s Sugarcamp, an art installation that makes up one part of the Timelines trail.

 

In March, skies began to brighten.

Bridge Ascending, a sculpture by Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito, incorporates twisted girders from an old covered bridge.
Bridge Ascending, a sculpture by Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito, incorporates twisted girders from an old covered bridge.

 

Abenaki Walking, one of my art installations, references the life story of the original inhabitants of this section of Quebec.
Abenaki Walking, one of my art installations, references the life story of the original inhabitants of this section of Quebec.

 

In the Upper Room, sun shines through the glass panels. Mary Martha Guy designed the dogwood tree that suggests Virginia and my mother, honoured and remembered in this part of the garden.
In the Upper Room, sun shines through the glass panels. Mary Martha Guy designed the dogwood tree whose outline suggests both Virginia and my mother who is honoured and remembered in this part of the garden.

 

April conformed to its usual trickster habits, offering the promise of spring before reneging.

 

Crocus and snow -- not the ideal spring combo.
Crocus and snow — not the ideal spring combo.

 

May is the month when the garden changes rapidly, day to day.

Finally, leaves begin to emerge and the garden comes back to life.
Finally, leaves begin to emerge and the garden comes back to life.

 

Ferns unroll their heads to the warm sun.
Ferns unroll their heads to the warm sun.

 

Daffodils crowd the hillside.
Daffodils cluster under the birch trees near the house.

 

More daffodils crowd the hill above the Skating Pond.
More daffodils crowd the hill above the Skating Pond.

 

Wild garlic carpets the woodland floor.
Wild garlic carpets the woodland floor.

 

Trout lilies are shy flowers, hanging their heads demurely.
Trout lilies are shy flowers, hanging their heads demurely.

 

Maple leaves begin to open.
Maple leaves begin to open.

 

Mayflowers flower.
Mayflowers flower.

 

In the more formally tended parts of the garden,  the changes that warmer weather brings were wonderful to behold.

Magnolia trees bloom in the Lower Garden.
Magnolia trees bloom in the Lower Garden.

 

Two magnolias bloom in the Lower Garden, Magnolia 'Susan' (darker pink, in rear) and Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel' (pale pink in foreground.)
There are two types of Magnolia in the Lower Garden, Magnolia ‘Susan’ (darker pink, in background) and Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ (pale pink in foreground.)

 

Jeffersonia diphylla, or twinleaf, takes centre stage for its brief moment of glory.
Jeffersonia diphylla, or twinleaf, takes centre stage for its brief moment of glory.

 

Bleeding heart adds a touch of poignant colour.
Bleeding heart adds a touch of poignant colour.

 

The spirea at the Cascade begins to open.
The spirea at the Cascade begins to open.

 

A crabapple tree in the Asian Meadow seems to be lit from within.
A crabapple tree in the Asian Meadow seems to be lit from within.

 

One of many epimediums I grow makes its quietly beautiful statement.
One of many epimediums I grow makes its quietly beautiful statement.

 

Columbine, or acquilegia canadensis, blooms prolifically wherever it self-seeds.
Columbine, or Aquilegia canadensis, blooms prolifically wherever it self-seeds.

 

Marsh marigolds brighten damp spots along the edges of streams.
Marsh marigolds brighten damp spots along the edges of streams.

 

Cinnamon ferns poke their heads up.
Cinnamon ferns poke up their cinnamon-colured heads.

 

The shrub border in the Upper Field is
The shrub border in the Upper Field focuses on colour contrasts at this time of year.

 

When I started writing this post, I planned to cover all of 2018, but there are simply too many photos. So come back next week for Park 2!

In the meantime, enjoy whatever the weather is in your part of the world, and whatever holiday you celebrate.

 

 

Each bird is slightly different, and each has its own personality.

Topiary for the Holidays

Do Christmas trees qualify as topiary?

We never think of them as such but they fit the definition — the Oxford dictionary calls topiary the “art or practice of clipping shrubs or trees into ornamental shapes.” And surely Christmas trees don’t grow naturally into the perfect cones commonly seen but have been pruned and clipped to shape them.

 

This little spruce tree is attached to the chimney stack. Some years I put up this tree, other years a wreath. The tree takes less work.
This cone-shaped spruce tree is attached to the chimney stack at Glen Villa. It hangs right outside our front door.

 

As a young gardener, I disliked topiary, thinking that it was a distortion of nature and consequently something that should be looked down upon, if not outlawed completely. But with time I’ve come to realize that all gardening distorts nature in one way or another, confining plants to borders and beds and combining them in ways never found in the wild.

I’ve also come to realize that topiary can be fun. Reviewing photos from my most recent trip to England, I offer these examples. At Rockcliffe, Emmas and Simon Keswick’s garden in the Cotswolds, the path up to a dovecote is lined with over-sized doves.

 

Each bird is slightly different, and each has its own personality.
Each bird is slightly different, and each has its own personality. Note as well the corkscrew trees beside the gate.

 

At Haseley Court, a garden originally designed by Nancy Lancaster and now the home of Fiona and Desmond Heyward, a topiary chess board covers a flat piece of lawn.

 

This topiary was maintained during World War II by a local gardener who cycled over from the nearby village to prune his 'kings and queens.
This topiary was maintained during World War II by a local gardener who cycled over from the nearby village to prune his ‘kings and queens,’ as he called them.

 

At The Old Rectory at Castle Rising, a topiary couch offers a place to sit and watch a tennis game.

 

The sofa is not necessarily comfortable but it does invite you sit down.
The sofa is not necessarily comfortable but it does invite you sit down.

 

England isn’t the only place where topiary can be found. In Railton, a small town in Tasmania, topiary features in many gardens.

 

Lawns need to be mown but I doubt if this mower is very effective.
Talk about green men! Is this guy about to throw something for the dog to catch or is he waving to passers-by?

 

Not surprisingly, a train is featured along Railton’s main street.

 

Tracks are missing.
The wiggly tree rising up from the tree grate is topiary of another kind.

 

And since this is Australia, there is a kangaroo.

 

An odd looking beast but clearly meant to be a kangaroo.
An odd looking beast but clearly meant to be a kangaroo. The pouch may not be visible but the sunglasses are.

 

Animals often feature in topiary. The American garden which is tops for topiary is the Ladew Topiary Garden in Monkton, Maryland, where 100 topiary creations decorate the garden’s 22 acres.

 

This hunt scene appears in the U.S., at Ladew Gardens in Maryland.
Harvey Ladew, the man who created Ladew’s topiaries, was an anglophile who rode to hounds. When he saw a topiary of hounds chasing a fox atop an English hedge, he decided to go one better, adding two riders and their horses. The fox, not shown here, was looking a bit tired when I saw him a few years ago.

 

Also at Ladew is an enormous swan, swimming happily along the top of a wavy hedge.

Consider the time that went into shaping this fine piece of topiary, and the skill that was needed to do it. Quite impressive!
Consider the time that went into shaping this fine piece of topiary, and the skill that was needed to do it. Impressive!

 

And at Iford Manor, near Bath, hens and chicks parade across a lawn along with squirrels and other animals I don’t remember.

 

These hens and chicks are to be seen at Iford Manor, near Bath in England.
This area includes a sofa and table with tea pot. Very English and unaccountably amusing.

 

Topiary dates back to the first century or even earlier and became very fashionable in England in the late 17th century. Sir Francis Bacon, one of the influential writers and critics of the period, didn’t like it much.

“As for the making of knots or figures with divers coloured earths, they be but toys; you may see as good sights many times in tarts…I for my part do not like images cut in juniper or other garden stuff; they be for children.”

A few year later, Alexander Pope went further, ridiculing the figures that might be available at the local garden centres of the day:

 “Adam and Eve in yew, Adam a little shattered by the fall of the tree of knowledge in the great storm; Eve and the serpent very flourishing.”

The 17th century-style garden at Hampton Court Palace features cones, balls and other geometric shapes.
The 17th century-style garden at Hampton Court Palace features cones, balls and other geometric shapes.

 

As gardens became more ‘natural’ and less formal, topiary went out of fashion. But the Arts and Crafts gardens of the early 20th century brought it back into style.

 

Lawrence lJohnston used topiary to great effect in his garden, Hidcote, the first garden in England to be taken over by the National Trust.
Lawrence Johnston used topiary to great effect in his garden, Hidcote, the first garden in England to be taken over by the National Trust.

 

Contemporary topiary takes many forms. It is used extensively in American and European gardens to provide structure and a sense of formality.

A walkway lined with well-clipped cones forms a pathway at the Italian garden at Villa Cetinale.
Well-clipped cones line a pathway at the Italian garden, Villa Cetinale.

 

But it is used more imaginatively as well. The American gardener Pearl Fryer has created elaborate shapes in his South Carolina garden.

 

This wonderful Fryer creation sails across his lawn.
This wonderful Fryer ship sails across a dry lawn in the small town of Bishopville.

 

Fryer’s creations have inspired his neighbours to try their hands, and many have succeeded wonderfully.

 

Down the street from Fryer's garden is this driveway, lined with delightful shrubs.
Down the street from Fryer’s garden is this driveway, lined with delightful shrubs.

 

The plants used in topiary are evergreens, mostly woody ones with small leaves or needles. They have compact or columnar growth habits and dense foliage that allows them to be shaped into a variety of forms. Commonly used are boxwood (Buxus sempervirens),  arborvitae (Thuja species), bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), holly  (Ilex species), myrtle (Eugenia or Myrtus species), yew (Taxus species), and privet (Ligustrum species).

I could grow many of these in my cold, Quebec garden and have often thought about where and how I might use topiary. But without taking advantage of the wire cages that are now available (which seem to me somehow like cheating), I doubt I have the patience or the steady hand to create a successful form.

So for now, I’m content with the Christmas tree that hangs by the front door and another that stands outside on the deck, decorated with lights.

What about you? Do you like topiary? Does it feature in your garden or have you ever tried to create a geometric or representational form? Or like me in former days, do you think it is an abomination?

Each bird is slightly different, and each has its own personality.
Each bird is slightly different, and each has its own personality.
The columns are striking in every season.

The Past Looms Large

For the last eighteen months or more I’ve been working on an art installation that stretches along a 3-4 km trail at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec.  The trail moves in and out of fields and forests, and each environment has its own character.

When I started the project, the idea behind it wasn’t entirely clear. Gradually, working with the land and listening to its story, the project took shape. Time — how we think about it, experience it and represent it — was a thread connecting each installation. So several months ago the project acquired a name: Timelines.

The Past Looms Large is a section of Timelines that I hope will raise questions in the mind of anyone walking the trail.  It begins with a short corrugated tin column positioned near a tall dead pine and a stump whose shape makes me think of a person drowning, with neck stretched up to the sky and mouth wide open, gasping for breath.

 

The dead pine and the tree stump were part of the inspiration for this section.
The tall dead pine and the tree stump were part of the inspiration for this section of Timelines.

 

Applied to the base of the column are letters that not only give the name of this section but also prepare a walker for what is coming next.

 

The red letters contrast with the grey cement and continue a colour that appears throughout the project.
I’ve used red along the Timelines trail as a unifying element. I I like the contrast here between the red letters and the grey concrete.

 

Looking out from the top of a rise, walkers will see a field crossed by a mown path with tall columns on either side.

 

The columns are striking in every season.
The columns definitely loom large. I took this photo early one morning in late summer, as the grasses in the field were beginning to change colour.

 

As they approach the columns, walkers are able to read the words on the bases: first Doric, then Ionic.

 

Doric and Ionic name types of Greek columns.
The words Doric and Ionic name two of the orders of Greek columns. The style of the capitals, the tops of the columns, are what differentiates one order from another. These columns do not have capitals, and never will.

 

Anyone who studied art history will know what word to expect next: Corinthian, the name of the third type of Greek column. But we aren’t in ancient Greece, we are in today’s world, where the past is an unreliable guide to the future.

 

The first column breaks expectation.
I used corrugated tin because it suggested the fluting that often appeared on Greek columns. .

 

Not far in the distance, a fifth column rises above an over-sized Adirondack chair whose dimensions illustrate again how large the past still looms.

 

Adirondack chairs are iconic symbols of summer in the northeastern part of North America.
Adirondack chairs are iconic symbols of summer in the northeastern part of North America. Fifth columns suggest more subversive possibilities.

 

The chair, designed by the Quebec landscape architectural firm Nip Paysage, marks a turning point. The path has climbed gently across the open field; now it begins to descend towards a backdrop of tall dark trees.

 

The path leads through what appears to be a natural opening between pairs of trees.
The path leads through an opening between maple trees towards an ancient apple tree. Two wooden stakes mark the location of the element we are working on now.

 

The next section of Timelines is unfinished, thanks to snow that came much earlier than usual — in terms of climate, the past is increasingly unreliable as a guide to the future.  Many months ago I determined that the final element in this section would be the façade of a Greek temple.  The trail would go through an opening between columns, as if the walker were entering an actual temple, but the façade would stand alone. I sketched possibilities, talked to architects and designers.

Using the internet as a guide, my friend and collaborator John Hay found the image of a temple that suited our purposes. He superimposed the image onto a photo of the chosen site.

 

John searched the internet and found an image of a temple that suited our purposes.
Neither John nor I remember where this particular temple was located. Nor does it really matter. We liked the proportions and the fact that it was partially ruined.

 

The image served as our guide. Should we have four full columns or should we include a broken one? How tall should the columns be? And finally, how could we construct the thing in the simplest way?

John made a model to scale and late in October we set to work with the help of Jacques Gosselin and Ken Kelso, without whom almost nothing at Glen Villa could be done.

 

John held the model in place while I took the photo.
The fifth column, located beside the Adirondack chair and shown in the model at the far right, gives a sense of scale and perspective. John didn’t add the chair.

 

The temple façade is like a billboard, a false front with construction details fully revealed.

 

Upright posts form a framework for the temple façade.
We put up scaffolding and the upright posts that will form the framework of the façade on a cold and sunny day.

 

By early November things were beginning to take shape. First two columns appeared …

 

The horizontal bar is only temporary, holding the posts in place during construction.
The horizontal bar that runs behind the corrugated tin is a temporary but necessary element, holding the upright posts in place during construction.

 

… then four.

 

The pediment is still to be added.
Scaffolding is still in the way, but the façade is getting closer to its final form.

 

It was very cold the day we added the broken pediment and the dentils underneath. We tied the pieces in place temporarily — the clamps that will hold them securely had not arrived.

 

The black I-beams will weather over the winter. In the spring we'll probably paint them silver.
This is not the final version of the façade but close to it.

 

And then the snow fell.

Over the winter the upright posts will begin to rust and the black I-beams will weather, softening the harshness of their lines. In the spring we’ll make whatever changes seem right.

But for now the work is done.

 

 

 

This statue on Richmond's Monument Avenue shows Robert E. Lee astride his horse Traveller.

Monuments and Memorials

Paintings on rock made by indigenous people many years ago give us insights into their daily life and the events and objects they valued. (I wrote about rock paintings here.) Monuments and memorials serve a similar purpose. So what do they show about what we value today?

Traditionally monuments were erected to great men and generals who led us in war, and to those who fought and died. I grew up surrounded by this type of memorial. The statues of Confederate leaders that lined Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia left no doubt about what I was to think and feel about them.  These were heroes, men to look up to, not only metaphorically but literally. Located in the middle of a street, often on a piece of ground so large that traffic had to circle around them, these statues appeared larger than life.

 

This statue on Richmond's Monument Avenue shows Robert E. Lee astride his horse Traveller.
This statue on Richmond’s Monument Avenue depicts Robert E. Lee astride his horse Traveller.

 

Some memorials constructed more recently send a similar message, and in this vein I include the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington D.C. I visited it some five years ago and wrote about it in a piece titled Washington, the Monumental City.  The centrepiece of the King Memorial is an full length statue of the man, carved by Chinese artisans from a block of blindingly white Chinese granite.  At the time I questioned whether the choice of material was appropriate — to present a man whose career was so intimately linked to his skin colour as glitteringly white seemed a monumental error. But one thing was consistent with the statues of Confederate generals — to see the hero, a spectator had to look up.

 

Is Martin Luther King emerging from the rock or is he held in place by it?
The monument to Martin Luther King is a whopping 30 foot tall.

 

The memorial to Princess Diana in London’s Hyde Park is quite different. It isn’t a representation of the woman but a fountain that embodies her public persona. Water doesn’t shoot up into the sky above spectators but follows the natural slope of the land. The stream is contained by a roughly circular wall, meant to express Diana’s inclusiveness and accessibility, and that wall is bridged at irregular intervals, allowing people to cross into the inner circle and interact with the water.

 

The fountain in Hyde Park has aroused much controversy.
The fountain in Hyde Park was designed by the American landscape artist Kathryn Guftafson and inaugurated in 2004.

 

Despite the controversy surrounding its design, cost and safety, the Princess Diana Fountain has proved to be very popular. Adults and children play in the water as it moves down the sloping ground , finally to come to rest in a pool that reflects the sky.

 

diana 2 (1 of 1)
A bridge allows people to cross onto the grassy circle at the centre of the fountain without getting their feet wet.

 

The allusive approach used in the Diana fountain reflects a shift in the design of memorials. The movement today is away from figurative sculptures and traditional symbolism to a minimalist approach that suggests instead of telling. The shift reflects the diversity of viewpoints that characterize western societies today: eternal flames, crosses and laurel wreaths no longer resonate with the entire population in the same way.

Maya Lin began the movement towards minimalism with her 1982 Vietnam War Memorial, a memorial that, in its non-didactic simplicity, is extraordinarily evocative of grief and loss. Memorials marking other tragedies have followed her lead.

I have not visited two of the best known contemporary memorials, the 9/11 Memorial in New York City and the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. I’m told by those who have that both successfully provide places for contemplation and remembrance. Both arouse emotions without dictating what those emotions should be.

But neither memorial was built without controversy.

Some claim that minimalist designs speak only of silence. Others say they speak of nothing at all. A common element remains, however: the inclusion of the names of those being remembered. How the names are arranged differs from place to place. Sometimes they are listed alphabetically, sometimes by rank, sometimes by date of birth, sometimes by where they were at the time of death.

Names make a memorial specific to a particular time and place. More generally, words, whether carved in stone or written on plaques, provide information that will be essential in the future. Because memorials can lose their meaning, or their meaning can change. They may become controversial or irrelevant — statues of Confederate generals aren’t the only memorials being re-assessed.

 

Do the people sitting on the curb in front of this statue know who the man on horseback was?
The statue commemorates both an individual and an event. Major Curt von François was the founder of Windhoek, capital of Namibia. The plaque on the plinth explains that the statue memorializes white Namibians who were killed fighting black Namibians around 1900.

 

Explanatory plaques don’t always remain. Statues of dictators and of men in former colonial cities once considered heroes are being taken down or looked at with new eyes.  What does a memorial become once its plaque has vanished?

The memorials that touch me most are those that are spontaneous — the flowers, cards and candles that individuals put in place to mark their personal grief.

 

These roadside shrines in South America almost certainly mark the place where a loved one died in a car accident.
These roadside shrines in South America almost certainly mark the place where loved ones died in car accidents.

 

The fact that most of these memorials are not permanent adds poignancy and reflects an inescapable reality: none of us lasts forever.

 

Australia Kimberley 2011-82

Rock Art

Cave paintings on the island of Borneo showing animals and human hands have recently been dated back some 40,000 years, making them the oldest known example of figurative rock art in the world. (Details of the story can be found in various articles, including one here from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.)

Think for a moment about how long ago that is. Forty thousand years. It takes my breath away.

I’ve been fascinated by rock art for many years and have been fortunate to see examples in South Africa, Namibia, Australia, Chile and Peru. While the particulars of the paintings differ from country to country, the underlying impulse seems to be the same: a need  to put a human mark on the world we live in.

 

For rock art to survive over the centuries, it needs to be located in caves of other sheltered places like this overhang in Australia.
For rock art to survive over the centuries, it needs to be located in caves or other sheltered places like this overhang.

 

In Australia, aboriginal art of all kinds is an expression of cultural identity and connection to country. The act of painting is generally more important than the painting itself, so older rock paintings are often covered by more recent ones.

 

Various
Various human or spirit-like figures overlap different types of fish in this painting from Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory. Kakadu is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

 

Scientists have established a chronology of paintings showing how they have changed over millennia. Stylistic differences in Kakadu reflect changes as the climate warmed after the Ice Age, gradually producing the shrubland typical of arid Australia today.

 

Animals and humans mix in this painting from Kakadu.
Animals that are now extinct are shown in some paintings and humans are often depicted as simple stick figures.

 

As the environment became more productive and more food resources were available, aboriginal populations and cultural diversity increased, resulting in a wider variety of painting styles.

 

This painting shows various human or spirit figures along with a female figure who seems to be giving birth to the others.

 

Paintings of animals and other food stuffs that populations depended on are found in rock art in every country where I’ve seen it. The paintings may document what existed at the time or may be a way to increase animal abundance, ensuring successful hunts.

 

This painting is from a remote site in Peru.
This painting from a remote site in Peru shows a man with a shield and the animal he may be hunting. To me it looks like  a llama.

 

Fish were an important source of food in Australia’s Northern Territory, and paintings that date back 20,000 years or more show the variety that existed.

 

Different types of fish are shown in this art from the Kimberley, in Austalia.
This painting was made with a reddish iron oxide called haematite. It lasts longer than other pigments used for Australian rock art, which is why the majority of old paintings seen today are red.

 

Paintings depicted important events as well as sources of nourishment. In South Africa, hidden in a crevice in the earth, a painting showed a procession of women along with one young girl. An initiation rite? Quite possibly.

 

This painting was in a sheltered crevice in a farmer's field north of Capetown.
This painting was in a farmer’s field near Clanwilliam, about three hours northwest of Capetown, South Africa.

 

More recent events are also shown.  Sailing ships, men dressed in European clothes, a simple Dutch-style pipe and a man on horseback attest  to the arrival of Europeans in Australia and elsewhere.  What could be a train is scratched into a stone wall in the Atacama desert in Chile.

 

From Atacama desert in Chile
Note the wheel at the bottom left of the train and the ladder-like tracks underneath. The animals may be running away.

 

Regardless of their artistic merit, these paintings draw me in emotionally in powerful ways. Whether depicting illness …

 

The bones of this person are swollen by Miyamiya, a sickness contracted by disturbing sacred rocks in a nearby river.
The bones of this person are swollen by Miyamiya, a sickness contracted by disturbing sacred rocks in a nearby river.

 

… or chronicling the dreams that underpin aboriginal relations with the land …

 

The Lightning Man
This skeleton figure is Namarrgon, the Lightning Man, a creation ancestor of the Bininj/Mungguy. They continue to tell their stories through painting done now mostly on bark, paper and canvas.

 

… the rock paintings are compelling. The images are both realistic and suggestive. They take into account the uneven surfaces of rocks and pay little or no attention to orientation based on western principles. Whether shown up or down, the power and the authenticity are the same.

 

 

A man is shown upside down in a cave in the Kimberley district of Australia.
This spirit figure is from an overhang in the Kimberley district of Australia. Through western eyes I see a horseshoe and a halo or arms held overhead.

 

One element is common to rock art in all the countries where I’ve seen it. Hand prints.

 

untitled (21 of 23)
A simple stick figure is surrounded by hand stencils. I don’t know if the spacing is significant but the hands seem to be holding the figure in place, almost embracing it.

 

However presented, hand marks attest to a human presence and to a need to make that presence visible.

 

Finger dots instead of hand stencils are found in some rock art sites in South Africa, including this one near Clanwilliam.
Finger dots instead of hand stencils are found in some rock art sites in South Africa, including this one near Clanwilliam.

 

Forty thousand years ago, humans around the world were marking their place in the world. Cave paintings in Europe, France and Spain in particular, date from roughly the same period as the recently dated paintings in Borneo, give or take several thousands of years. The fact that these paintings have existed in so many places for so long underlines how important it is, and has always been, for us to depict our surroundings and the way we live.

 

untitled (20 of 23)
The outline of hands was made by blowing pigment through a reed or similar instrument.

 

We continue to do this, too often in ways that are neither artistically nor environmentally positive. Perhaps we should pay attention to how our ancestors imprinted themselves on the world and follow their lead.

stonehead (1 of 1)

Strange Times

We are living in strange times. Walking through the woods yesterday, I came across an odd scene. A creature made of stone was rising up from the leaves. First came a head, shoulders and arms….

 

stonehead (1 of 1)

 

then a leg. First one leg …

 

stonehead 4 (1 of 1)

 

then another.

 

stonehead 2 (1 of 1)

 

The legs stretched out longer and longer.

 

 

stonehead 3 (1 of 1)

 

I admit it, I ran. And as I left, I heard a crash.

 

broken tree (1 of 1)

 

I ran faster and faster, only to find myself in the place I’d been before. And there was the creature, settling back underground, wearing a gleeful smile.

 

stonehead ferns (1 of 1)

 

Happy Hallowe’en!