All posts by Pat Webster

skating pond (1 of 1)

You are Invited! July 20, 2019

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.

 

china terrace

 

Enjoy the rich assortment of wild life that lives at the Skating Pond.

 

insect (1 of 1)

 

Walk alongside the Aqueduct and take in the fragrance of flowers that bloom in abundance.

 

aqueduct (1 of 1)

 

Admire the sculptures and art installations that enrich the landscape.

 

Bridge Ascending, 2011, by Doucet-Saito
Bridge Ascending, 2011, by Doucet-Saito

 

Explore trails that lead into the woods.

 

This is the Sundial Clearing. The shadow of a dead pine tree marks the hours of the day.

 

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 …

 

untitled (3 of 7)

 

… these tall corrugated tin columns and their surprising finale …

 

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

 

… this unusual directional sign …

 

2 roads (1 of 1)

 

… and the musical evocation of the past at Orin’s Sugarcamp.

 

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

 

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.

 

open day.001

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

April 1, 2016 (1 of 1)

Plus ça change…

This winter feels interminable. Surely in earlier years daffodils have been blooming by now, snowdrops long gone.

Well, no. It’s true that in some years snowdrops have appeared by this date.

 

April 1, 2016 (1 of 1)
These snowdrops were shivering in the cold on April 1, 2016.

 

Crocus have bloomed.

 

These crocus were lighting up the hillside on April 4, 2010.
These crocus were lighting up the hillside on April 4, 2010.

 

Pulmonaria have added their touch of colour.

 

April 4, 2010+ (1 of 1)
This pulmonaria or lungwort was blooming on April 4, 2010.

 

But it is also true that this April is better than some.  A lot better.

 

This photo from April 7 2013 shows a very wintery garden.
This photo from April 7, 2013 shows a very wintery garden.

 

Last year in early April, the crabapple allée was snow-free and the central path, still unseeded, a straight line of mud.

 

Snow lingered in the ditches alongside the allée and the path was straight mud... we seeded it last summer and this year it should be green.
Snow lingered in the ditches alongside the crabapple allée on April 2, 2018.

 

This year on exactly the same date, patchy snow still covered the field around the crabapple allée. But at least  this year the path will soon be green.

 

I took this photo a week ago, on April 2. It looks much the same now.
I took this photo a week ago, on April 2. It looks much the same now.

 

Comparing photos from different years gives me hope. The photo below from a few years ago shows magnolia in the Lower Garden in full bloom on April 23. And that’s only two weeks away.

 

Spring came early in 2012.
Spring came early in 2012.

 

Whatever the weather, though, these guys will still be hanging around, looking like they own the world.

 

Here's looking at you, kid.
Luckily deer don’t like barberry bushes. Otherwise those shrubs would be stubs.

 

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Jeffersonia diphylla grows in shady woodland conditions.

Jeffersonia Diphylla: My Favourite Plant

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.

 

Jeffersonia diphylla grows in shady woodland conditions.
Jeffersonia diphylla grows in shady woodland conditions.

 

___________________________________________________________________________

My Favorite Plant: Jeffersonia diphylla

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.

 

Fleshy white

 

Leaves begin to develop. At first they are the colour of bloody wine — a Merlot perhaps? Prominent veins make them look soft and vulnerable.

 

The leaves in early spring look soft and vulnerable.

 

Gradually, the short-lived flowers form. They open like cups held atop rigid stems. They are stately, elegant.

 

Jeffersonia
The Merlot tones remain at the edge of developing leaves.

 

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.

 

There is a purity about the flowers of Jeffersonia diphylla that wasn't always echoed in the man's life.
There is a purity about the flowers of Jeffersonia diphylla that wasn’t always echoed in the real man’s life.

 

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.)

 

Jeffersonia's white petals surround a sunny yellow centre.
Jeffersonia’s white petals surround a sunny yellow centre that develops into the seed head.

 

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.

 

The veins that were so prominent in the Merlot-toned leaves remain visible here, joined by tiny raindrops that spill down the twin leaves like tears.

 

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.

 

The two lobes that hold the seed echo the plant's twin leaves.
The twin lobes of the seed pod remind me of ET, the young alien in the movie from the 1980s.

 

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.

 

What a smile!
What a smile!

 

Then the plant spits the seeds out, one by one.

Caught in the act! I was lucky to get this photo.
Caught in the act! I was lucky to get this photo.

 

Approaching the finale, Jeffersonia turns yellow.

 

The hinged seed pod turns yellow once it is empty.
The hinged seed pod’s mouth is now toothless, suggesting what is next to come.

 

All good things end. Eventually, Jeffersonia goes spotty and starts to shrivel, like a wizened comedian who walks with a cane.

 

the
Do you see a cane or an inverted pipe? Or neither?

 

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.

 

A narrow road runs between these evergreens but you wouldn't know it from this photo.

This is spring?

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.

 

A narrow road runs between these evergreens but you wouldn't know it from this photo.
A narrow road runs between these evergreens but you wouldn’t know it from this photo.

 

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.

 

I think the branches will recover once the snow melts. But more fragile branches would break from the weight of the snow.
I think the branches will spring back once the snow melts. But more fragile branches will break from this much weight.

 

Hillsides turned white as the wet snow clung to the branches of trees.

 

It's difficult to show how white everything looks after a heavy snowfall like this one.
It’s difficult to show how white everything looks after a heavy snowfall like this one.

 

Bare branches that normally are black turned white, coated with wet snow.

 

Branches are white against a brilliant blue sky.
Branches outlined against a brilliant blue sky sparkle as the snow begins to melt.

 

The straight lines of the crabapple allée stood out starkly against the snow-covered field.

 

The crabapple allée, part of Timelines, a 3 km trail at Glen Villa that explores ideas about time, identity and our relationship to the land.
Someone was snowshoeing along the crabapple allée. This area is part of Timelines, a 3 km trail at Glen Villa that explores ideas about time, identity and our relationship to the land.

 

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.

 

The old cherry tree is named in honour of the Quebec artist Melvin Charney whose photographs perfectly captured the contrast between naturally straight and artificially distorted trees.
The old cherry tree is named in honour of the Quebec artist Melvin Charney whose works of art perfectly capture the contrast between naturally straight and artificially distorted trees.

 

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.

 

Here's looking at you!

Oh, Deer!

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.

 

Here's looking at you!
Here’s looking at you!

 

As I went to get my camera, another deer appeared.  Then another, and another, and another.

 

Is it party time?
Is it party time?

 

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.

 

Left, right, left, right.
I count eight deer here. I think there were several more in the rear.

 

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,

 

Leaping
The deer are leaping across what used to be The Big Lawn and is now The Big Meadow.

 

… then four …

 

Four
I think the deer in the lead looks more like a kangaroo than a deer. Do you agree?

 

… then five.

 

five
Noting how much of the deers’ legs are under snow gives you an idea of how deep the snow is.

 

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.

 

This photo from 2008 shows the yurt on the ice.

Fishing in Winter

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.

 

This photo from 2008 shows the yurt on the ice.
Ice fishing doesn’t change. What happened in 2008 — and probably a century before then — still happens today.

 

For those who didn’t want to warm up inside the yurt there was a fire burning on the frozen lake.

 

There must have been something under the fire to prevent it from melting into the ice.
The fire was slightly raised above the ice. Even directly on the surface it would have taken a long time and a lot to heat to melt through the ice — in most winters the ice is at least a foot thick.

 

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.

 

Ice fishing is most often a solitary activity. And a cold one -- this fisherman is well bundled up.
Ice fishing is usually a solitary activity. And a cold one — see how well this fisherman is bundled up.

 

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.

 

Sometimes a fish will take the bait quickly but more often Ice fishing takes patience.
Ice fishing takes patience as well as a desire to be outdoors, alone, on a bright winter day.

 

Some fishermen rough it, some bring refreshments — a can or two of beer is standard.

 

No cold seat for this fisherman -- he brought a lounge chair.
No cold seat for this fisherman — he brought a lounge chair.

 

Earlier this week, on a grey winter day, I saw the two people below fishing near the village of North Hatley where I live.

 

Fishermen near the village -- and near the open water.
Two people brave the ice near the village on a grey winter day.

 

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?

The Abenaki were the original inhabitants of the Eastern Townships of Quebec. This part of my installation, Abenaki Walking, shows the period after the arrival of Europeans, when barbed wire impeded the movement of Abenaki across the land.

Listening to Winter

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.

 

The Abenaki were the original inhabitants of the Eastern Townships of Quebec. This part of my installation, Abenaki Walking, shows the period after the arrival of Europeans, when barbed wire impeded the movement of Abenaki across the land.
This part of my installation, Abenaki Walking, shows the period after the arrival of Europeans, when barbed wire impeded the movement of Abenaki across the land.

 

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.

 

 

The topiary chess set at Haseley Court was one of many things I admired there.

Haseley Court and Making History Visible

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 poplar tree that grew at my grandparents' farm in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia shaped my view of the world when I was a child.
As a child, I wanted to climb the hill at my grandparents’ farm to reach the lone poplar tree that family members discussed and painted. The tree was a magnet, pulling me into the world.

 

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.

 

The topiary chess set at Haseley Court was one of many things I admired there.
The topiary chess set at Haseley Court was one of many things I admired there.

 

I hope you’ll take the time to read my review and to subscribe to ThinkinGardens, if you don’t subscribe already.  As a garden website, it lives up to its billing as

“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?

 

Looking up at the sky through this gazebo took me back to my childhood.
Looking up at the sky through this gazebo took me back to my childhood in Richmond.

 

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?

What do you think?

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.

 

untitled (23 of 24)

 

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.

 

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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.