On Saturday, July 20, you are invited to visit Glen Villa — to explore the gardens, fields and forests and to help support an important community cause.
Visit the China Terrace, where an old resort hotel has been delightfully re-imagined.
Enjoy the rich assortment of wild life that lives at the Skating Pond.
Walk alongside the Aqueduct and take in the fragrance of flowers that bloom in abundance.
Admire the sculptures and art installations that enrich the landscape.
Explore trails that lead into the woods.
AND, for the first time, walk the Timelines Trail. This extension to the garden takes you into fields and forests where intriguing elements add a special touch to the landscape.
To whet your interest, here are a few of the things you will see along the way.
The Crabapple Allée …
… these tall corrugated tin columns and their surprising finale …
… this unusual directional sign …
… and the musical evocation of the past at Orin’s Sugarcamp.
This Open Garden Day, the first since 2017, is a fundraiser for Fondation Massawippi Foundation and the Massawippi Conservation Trust, so not only will you have the chance to visit the garden, you will be helping to protect sensitive, undeveloped woodlands and support community activities in and around Lake Massawippi.
Every dollar raised at this year’s Open Garden Day will go towards continuing this important work.
In the eight years since they were established, the twin sister organizations have protected 1000 acres of pristine forest in perpetuity and are now working to preserve more. They have built trails giving safe access to these biologically significant properties and have supported community activities in the communities, large and small, that surround the lake.
In the weeks ahead, I’ll post more information about the Open Garden Day and how you can book tickets for this special event. So keep in touch, at http://www.siteandinsight.com
March is not leaving like a lamb. Lake Massawippi is still frozen solid, snow still covers the ground and today the wind is blowing fiercely. These unusually late winter conditions are discouraging, to say the least. But on the up side, they are giving me time to review some of the blogs I’ve written since I posted for the first time in January 2013.
Over six years, in hundreds of blogs, I’ve reviewed books and gardens, considered issues in garden design, looked at how art is used in gardens and chronicled the development of the garden at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec. I’ve also profiled plants.
Those plant profiles are the ones I’ve been reading most happily — they remind me of the pleasures soon to come. One of the flowers I look for most eagerly in the spring is Jeffersonia diphylla. I wrote about the plant six years ago and my love for the plant hasn’t changed since. So, with some new photos and some revisions in the text, here is that blog post again.
Gardeners in temperate climes may wonder why I love Jeffersonia diphylla. For them it grows easily, spreads nicely and offers a touch of light in a shaded border. A nice plant, but nothing special.
Jeffersonia doesn’t grow easily for me. I have to coddle it, and it is one of the few plants at Glen Villa that gets this care. As for spreading nicely, no such luck. My one plant grew for quite a few years before it produced a baby. I’m still waiting for more.
Nonetheless, Jeffersonia is my favourite plant. Not because it is carefree, but because it speaks of childhood and of Virginia, where I grew up. Jeffersonia is a true Virginia plant, named by the American botanist Benjamin Smith Barton after the many-talented Thomas Jefferson. It is a spring ephemeral, as fleeting as childhood itself, blooming so briefly that some years I miss the white flowers altogether.
It is also a plant whose character and appearance shift delightfully throughout the growing season.
Shortly after the ground thaws, which in Quebec can be as late as mid to late April, tiny tips of reddish-purple begin to peek up from the bed outside the kitchen door. These small tips are hard to see at first — they are almost the colour of the mulch that surrounds them. But soon pale vampire-like spears appear, desperately searching for sunlight instead of avoiding it, as any sensible vampire would do.
Leaves begin to develop. At first they are the colour of bloody wine — a Merlot perhaps? Prominent veins make them look soft and vulnerable.
Gradually, the short-lived flowers form. They open like cups held atop rigid stems. They are stately, elegant.
Jeffersonia is a typical spring ephemeral. In a good year, when the weather is cool, the flowers may last a week. More typically, they last three or four days.
If it rains, the petals drop quickly. Ditto if the wind blows. And heaven forbid it gets warm too quickly — the flowers simply disappear, as if they never were there. (I think you get the point: this ephemeral is really ephemeral.)
The second show begins as the leaves grow bigger and broader. They change colour to a soft blue-green, and as they do, the second part of the plant’s name becomes self-explanatory. Di-phylla: two leaves. Those twin lobes also explain the plant’s common name, twinleaf.
Jeffersonia is a chameleon, constantly changing — but never blending in. The tender, vulnerability of early spring becomes comedic in mid-summer when the seedpod starts to form.
Then the plant begins to smile. Rather smugly, I have to say. The seedpod is hinged, and when it opens, Jeffersonia’s full smile displays a mouthful of cinnamon-coloured seeds.
Then the plant spits the seeds out, one by one.
Approaching the finale, Jeffersonia turns yellow.
All good things end. Eventually, Jeffersonia goes spotty and starts to shrivel, like a wizened comedian who walks with a cane.
On a practical note: Jeffersonia grows best in rich woodland conditions: moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil. It likes part shade and tolerates full shade. According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, it is native from New York to Wisconsin, south to Alabama and Virginia. It grows to about 8 inches when in flower and continues to grow through the summer, eventually reaching about 18 inches.
All this tells me that Jeffersonia shouldn’t thrive outside my kitchen door. But it does. And I thank it for providing such a good show, year after year.
According to the official calendar, spring arrived four days ago. Yet two days ago we received the largest dump of snow we’ve had all year — 40 centimeters, or almost 16 inches.
A late winter snowstorm is not unusual in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, where my garden Glen Villa is located. Snow tires are required in Quebec during winter; this year they could be removed legally after March 15. Pity anyone who did that — the big dump came a full week later. Driving during the storm was perilous, even for a population that is accustomed to dealing with, and well equipped to handle, the conditions.
When snow falls in the late winter or early spring it often melts quickly, but this time, with so much snow, the piles will hang around for a while. And while they do, the accumulated snow is beautiful to behold. Some snow is light and fluffy. This snow was heavy, weighing down the branches of the hawthorn trees beside our drive.
Hillsides turned white as the wet snow clung to the branches of trees.
Bare branches that normally are black turned white, coated with wet snow.
The straight lines of the crabapple allée stood out starkly against the snow-covered field.
In the plantation, where straight lines order you to follow a single path, an old cherry tree twisted and turned, almost as if it were shivering in the cold.
I can’t help but envy those whose gardens are now bright with colour — daffodils and tulips, muscari and anemones. But those of us who garden in cold climates know we just have to wait. The colours will arrive. Eventually.
Long winters like the one we are experiencing this year in Quebec’s Eastern Townships make life difficult for animals. Deep snow that persists for months makes it hard for deer to find food in the woods and as time passes they come closer and closer to barns and houses.
Yesterday I glanced out a window, disrupting two deer who were not far away, searching for something to eat.
As I went to get my camera, another deer appeared. Then another, and another, and another.
I couldn’t get a definite count — the deer kept coming and going, in and out of view — but there were at least eight of them. As I watched, they lined up single file, as if they had decided to go for a walk along the bank of the lake.
To get a closer look, I quietly opened the door and went out onto the deck. But of course, that startled the deer. They took off across the snow-covered ground. First three came into view,
… then four …
… then five.
Not all of the deer bounded away. One stood his ground, glaring at me, before going back to nuzzling his neighbour. The others just stared, as if asking me why I was still standing there, invading their space.
A friend once called deer rats with long legs. She may be right. In summer, they are a real pest, nibbling and sometimes destroying all my favourite plants. But seeing them run and leap through the snow, I couldn’t help but admire their agility and grace. And acknowledge that they live here, too.
Yesterday the temperature in Quebec’s Eastern Townships was hovering just above freezing. The sky was brilliant blue and the sun glinting off clean, fresh snow brought out dozens of people, walking and talking — and fishing through the ice.
We live next door to Manoir Hovey, an outstanding resort hotel and a member of the prestigious international group, Relais et Chateaux. I didn’t have my camera with me yesterday to photograph the fun, but luckily I have photos that I took at Manoir Hovey in 2008 that show a similar scene. Dozens came out that weekend to try their hand at ice fishing and to warm up in the yurt the hotel had erected for the occasion.
For those who didn’t want to warm up inside the yurt there was a fire burning on the frozen lake.
Not far from the festivities, a lone ice fisherman was using his long-handled augur to drill a hole through the ice. Beside him was a bucket for his catch — trout and perch are the most common, I believe — and for his fishing equipment and any food or drink he may have brought with him.
Regardless of the year, fishing in winter doesn’t change. After drilling through to open water, the fisherman drops a baited line and sits down to wait. Fish can feel the vibration of voices and movement on the ice so the fisherman sits quietly and hopes no one disturbs him. When the line jiggles, he knows he has caught something. Sometimes this happens quickly, sometimes it takes 30 minutes or more, and there is no way of knowing in advance.
Some fishermen rough it, some bring refreshments — a can or two of beer is standard.
Earlier this week, on a grey winter day, I saw the two people below fishing near the village of North Hatley where I live.
They seem to be dangerously close to open water day but they don’t seem worried. I’m pretty sure I would be — and even surer that I wouldn’t be out there fishing in the first place.
What about you? Have you ever gone ice fishing? Did you enjoy the experience and would you do it again?
On a winter day when temperatures throughout Mid and Eastern North America are plummetting, it is difficult not to project human emotions onto the landscape. How can winter be so cruel and miserable?
A poem by the American poet Wallace Stevens suggests we should think more objectively about what we see outside our door.
The Snow Man
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
To have “a mind of winter” requires an objectivity that escapes me. At one and the same time I see beauty in “junipers shagged with ice” and hear “misery in the sound of the wind.”
At Glen Villa, inverted tree branches walk across the land like the original inhabitants, the Abenaki. At the base of the hill, the walkers encounter a split rail fence and become entangled in barbed wire.
I can’t be the snow man. Listening in the snow, I see beauty in the barbed wire encrusted with ice, and that beauty makes more real the cruelty implicit in the scene. I see something that is not there, and the something that is.
My last blog post, about making history visible and listening to the land, struck a chord. Many readers responded via the Site and Insight web page or commented on Facebook and on the blog itself, saying they were touched by the piece. Several described how experiences in their pasts affected their responses today, both to their own garden and to gardens they visited.
I know that is true for me. I grew up in Virginia, in a house with a big back yard where I could hide under bushes and pretend to be an explorer or anything more adventurous than the little girl I was. At my grandparent’s farm I could enjoy the garden around the house, with its tall shade trees and enormous boxwood that lined the path to the front door, while always wondering when I would be big enough to go outside the fence.
A few months ago Anne Wareham, who runs the English website ThinkinGardens, challenged readers to send a review of the best garden they visited in 2018. This week, Anne ran the final review, the one I wrote about Haseley Court, a garden in Oxfordshire.
“a collection of challenging, entertaining and exciting garden writing, all contributed for free by some of our very best garden writers. Where else could you find garden writing as good (and honest) as this?”
You might consider subscribing as well to Anne Wareham’s website for her own garden, Veddw, a garden in Wales that showcases history in innovative ways. And visiting it, if your travels take you to Monmouthshire.
Why do I link my review of an English garden to my post about listening to the land and making history visible?
A hint: Haseley Court was created starting in the 1940s by Nancy Lancaster, a Virginian who became one of England’s grand interior designers. I grew up in Virginia. Could there be a connection?
The strength of my response to Haseley Court leads me to wonder: how important a role do our personal histories play in evaluating a garden? Does your personal history, in gardens and beyond, affect how you respond to the gardens you visit? Should it play a role at all?
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.
A wolf tree standing among younger oaks deliberately planted speaks of days when the old cherry tree was part of a different forest.
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.
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.
Farming left its mark at the edge of fields that used to be fenced …
… and in farm equipment abandoned in the woods.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dahlias of all types featured prominently, in this border and in another dedicated exclusively to the plant.
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.
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.
A formal rose garden, well past its best before date when I visited, anchors one quadrant of the garden.
A Mediterranean garden tucked into a smaller space provided a quiet resting spot on a warm day.
Its central water feature also offered an interesting contrast to Jeppe Hein’s contemporary sculpture located nearby.
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 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.
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.
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.
Then walk beyond formality into a forested area, seemingly wild. There, open a gate and walk along a path lined with cloud-pruned boxwood.
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.
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.
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.
Tucked into the woods was “Scholar Rock” by the Chinese artist Zhan Wang.
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.
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.