All posts by Pat Webster

Chinook Sunrise is from the  Canadian-developed 49th Parallel series of roses.

Goals and Resolutions

In January last year, I laid out six garden goals for the year ahead, never believing I’d be able to achieve them all. I put them on paper nonetheless to give myself something to aim for and, to my surprise, I find that over the last twelve months I completed five of the six. This may be due to Covid-related restrictions that kept me closer to home, or it may be because I was intent on using the time well, but regardless of why, I’m pleased with what I managed to do.

So, what did I accomplish, and what did I leave out?

I finished renovating the dining room table on China Terrace. I replaced the plates and goblets  …

 

The new plates and goblets were put in place in late summer.
The new plates and goblets were put in place in late summer.

 

and added new napkins that I made with help from Lucy Doheny, our very talented local potter.

 

The incised design and imprecise folds make these napkins more casual than the previous ones.
The incised design and imprecise folds make these napkins more casual than the previous ones.

 

In the year ahead, I will work on the iron-frame bed, re-shaping the pillow and re-doing the moss quilt.

 

The original quilt pattern on the bed has disappeared entirely and the moss itself doesn't look great anymore.
The original quilt pattern on the bed has disappeared entirely and the moss itself doesn’t look great anymore.

 

A big project in 2020 was to design and plant the area in front of the foundation wall of the old Glen Villa Inn.  I tried a number of variations and settled finally — thanks to my friend Myke Hodgins, the Montreal landscape architect — on a simple design, a long, straight bed shaped at both ends like an arrow. This design reflects the travel patterns of guests who came from the south to stay at the Inn in the early 20th century and continues to make the historic connections that are so important at Glen Villa visible today. Shown here at the end of September, the North South Arrow is still missing some of the plants I intend to use. Filling the gaps is an obvious ‘to do’ in 2021.

 

The North South Arrow was only partially planted in 2020 but should be finished this year.
The north south orientation provides the greatest exposure for the sun-loving plants I selected.

 

The re-built circular wall in front of the hotel will become the Compass Rose. After a lot of research and with advice from Bob Osborne of Cornhill Nursery in New Brunswick, I chose Chinook Sunrise to fill the currently empty circle.

 

Chinook Sunrise is from the Canadian-developed 49th Parallel series of roses.
Chinook Sunrise is from the Canadian-developed 49th Parallel series of roses.

 

Goal #3 involved the Sundial Clearing that is the destination point for In Transit/En Route, one section of Timelines. The clearing needed serious attention after the dead pine that had served as the gnomen bit the dust in an autumn storm in 2019. In a nice bit of serendipity, a big rock that had to be moved to make way for the North South Arrow turned out to be much larger than it appeared and, when placed upright in the center of the Sundial Clearing, became exactly what was needed to replace the pine.

 

The stone stands in the middle of the clearing and its shadow marks the hour on the painted posts.
The stone stands in the middle of the clearing and its shadow marks the hour on the painted posts.

 

We made a new bench to replace the old one that was rotting and added a steel band, laser cut with the words ‘now maintenant’ to replace the black plastic tubing that previously enclosed the circle.

 

The steel band is rusting nicely.
The steel band is rusting nicely.

 

The fifth project involved extending Timelines to include the big outcropping of rock that was an original inspiration for the trail itself. In another bit of serendipity, we discovered water when we made an exploratory hole beside the rock. Soon we had a pool with mysteriously dark water.

 

The water level rises and falls over the seasons. I have yet to see the frozen version.
The water level rises and falls over the seasons. I have yet to see the frozen version.

 

This pool became part of Continuum, an extension to Timelines that wanders through a field, alongside a stream, into the woods and past the pond, looking at the interconnections between trees, stone and water. In the late fall we arranged rocks on a slope by the pond in the shape of a maple seed, or samara, and over the last month or so, I’ve been drilling rocks in the same pattern, the negative version of the positive outline on the slope.

 

I haven't finished drilling this rock yet but the pattern of a maple seed, or samara, is almost complete.
I haven’t finished drilling this rock yet but the pattern of a maple seed, or samara, is almost complete.

 

I’ve also been working on another extension to Timelines that looks at Greek mythology through feminist eyes. This project is in its early stages but I hope to finish work on this section called Mythos before summer.

Looking back, I can see how much I accomplished. The one goal I didn’t accomplish was fencing in the Lower Garden to keep the deer away. I’ve been thinking about doing this for several years, but finding a design that works in the space isn’t easy.

 

lower garden
With a fence I’d be able to use plants that deer love… and wouldn’t that be nice!

 

Nor did I keep the one resolution I set, to photograph a particular area in the garden once a month, as close as possible to the same day. I started well, with photographs of the Cascade in January and February, but in March, my resolution began to go south, as resolutions are wont to do.

 

This photo shows the Cascade in January 2020. It looks about the same now.
This photo shows the Cascade in January 2020. It looks about the same now.

 

Despite my inability to stick to a resolution, and even more significantly, despite the extraordinary happenings in other parts of the world, the year 2020 was a good one in the garden. I hope 2021 will be even better. In the garden and beyond.

 

A triumphal arch, Roman style, was part of the landscape at Painshill, an early 18th century garden in England.

Ruins and Recoveries

What can we say about 2020? Queen Elizabeth’s Annus Horribilis comes to mind. So does the subject of ruin — personal and business ruin, political ruin and the final ruin, death, which came this year for hundreds of thousands of people, more than we imagined possible when the pandemic began.

But, Janus-like, ruins have a positive as well as a negative face. It may seem contradictory but history and the evidence of my own eyes tell me that to contemplate ruins is to contemplate the future as well as the past.

At Painshill, an early 18th century English garden, the eccentric owner Charles Hamilton constructed a Mausoleum in the form of a ruined Roman triumphal arch. Passing through this ‘arch of death,’  as he called it, contemporary visitors would emerge on the sunny banks of the River Mole, where they would see Hamilton’s newly constructed waterwheel, a revolutionary device that generated electric power and offered a forecast of what the future would bring.

 

A triumphal arch, Roman style, was part of the landscape at Painshill, an early 18th century garden in England.
The Mausoleum has lost the top of its triumphal arch but the side columns remain.

 

In the late 1970s, the American cultural geographer J.B. Jackson wrote a thought-provoking  essay called “The Necessity for Ruins.” He argued that ruins provide the incentive for restoration, and in words with strong religious connotations wrote that “the old order has to die before there can be a born-again landscape.”

 

A ruined building, part of Alcatraz, stands as a reminder of the prison that used to be.
Now a tourist attraction, the island prison Alcatraz fits Jackson’s definition of a born-again landscape. Or at least one that has been re-purposed.

 

Ruins appeal to us like haunted houses do, attracting us almost against our wills. Their empty spaces, once filled with doors or windows, are  magnets for the imagination, and we fill those spaces with our own fantasies, with dreams of what was, or what might have been, or what one day may be.

 

The empty windows in this wall at La Torrecchia in southern Italy offer glimpses onto a countryside that is in the process of change.
The empty windows in this wall at the private garden La Torrecchia in southern Italy offer glimpses onto a verdant countryside in the process of becoming less verdant.

 

Romantic fantasies are part of the appeal. The Italian garden Ninfa, so redolent of the glories of bygone days, mixes the sour air of moldering walls with the powerfully sweet scent of lilacs and roses.

 

The arched bridge at Ninfa is probably the most photographed spot in the whole garden.
Ninfa has been called the most romantic garden in the world. The arched bridge is probably the most photographed spot in the whole garden, and the green tint in the water is part of its appeal.

 

But too much sweetness spoils the broth. To exert their full impact, ruins need a whiff of decay.

 

A temple at Siem Reap in Cambodia casts its spell when approached in silence.
A temple at Siem Reap in Cambodia casts a spell which is particularly strong when approached in silence.

 

As Sir George Sitwell noted in his book, On the Making of Gardens, ruins where the patina of moss and age have been removed lose their appeal. The stillness of old Italian gardens, with their air of “neglect, desolation and solitude,” makes breathing almost too great an effort. We become unmoored, drifting in and out of time.

“Sleep and forgetfulness brood over the garden, and everywhere from sombre alley and moss-grown stair there rises a faint sweet fragrance of decay.”

 

An uneven staircase leads up the hillside at Villa Cetinale.
An overgrown staircase, the Scala Santa, leads up the hillside at the Italian Villa Cetinale to the hermitage at the top.

 

Vegetation that is out of control adds to the appeal of a ruin, its growth suggesting that even in the most inhospitable circumstances, life will assert itself.

 

Rampant growth characterizes almost every ruin in Cambodia. The fig trees threaten to swallow the roof of this temple.
Rampant growth characterizes almost every ruin in Cambodia. The fig trees here threaten to swallow the roof of this temple.

 

The combination of fecund nature and crumbling edifice conforms to the Christian doctrine that makes the death and decay of the individual a necessary prelude to resurrection.  The skull beneath the skin and other allusive momemto mori are often seen in European churches and churchyards. Rarely are they as explicit, though, as the inscription that accompanies the skeleton below.

 

All you that do this place pass bye

Remember death for you must dye.

As you are now even so was I

And as I am so shall you be

Thomas Gooding here do staye

Wayting for God’s judgement daye. 

 

This unusual tombstone is in the cathedral at Norwich, Dngland.
This unforgettable tombstone is in the cathedral at Norwich, England.

 

Where, in the ruins of bodies and buildings, do we find today’s equivalent of Charles Hamilton’s water wheel? Where do we look for a future that promises recovery rather than ruin? Not for me in the contemplation of death or in the re-purposing that transformed Alcatraz from prison to tourist attraction. Not in the romantic dreams that speak to young girls’ hearts or in the political forces that have caused so much unnecessary suffering and pain. Hope seems to lie only in the natural world and its relentless tenacity. It alone seems capable of overcoming the follies we humans perpetrate — and let’s acknowledge it, we committed plenty of those in 2020.

Shelley’s poem Ozymandias speaks to the futility of aspiration. If worldly power can crumble, leaving only trunkless legs and a shattered visage, what is the point? The poppies that sprout from stone walls, the trees that split boulders, the weeds that emerge from cracks in the sidewalk, even the bare and boundless sand that stretches far away: they promise that the world will continue, with us or without.

 

batch 2 (4 of 44)
Poppies are near indestructible flowers, a promise that life goes on, regardless of our stupidities.

 

I take heart from those poppies and from initials carved into tree trunks. Looking at the photo below, you may wonder why Andy felt the need to deface a tree in order to mark his presence. Was he the one who carved the hearts on the branch? Who knows, and who cares? His name, along with those hearts and the scrawls that were difficult to read when I saw them a decade ago, will be indecipherable soon, if they aren’t already.  The tree will grow around them, obliterating the past in favour of its future health.

 

Andy's name will slowly disappear from this tree trunk in West Australia.
Andy’s name will slowly disappear from this tree trunk in West Australia.

 

I ask myself if anything good will come from this ruin of a year. Perhaps we will become kinder to one another. Perhaps more of us will realize that to take care of ourselves, we must also take care of others. Perhaps we won’t. But I hope that we will.

Seen at the botanical garden in Sydney, Australia

Tree Hugging for Tree Huggers

Do you know when the phrase ‘tree hugger’ was coined?

I didn’t, so I looked it up. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the first known use of the term dates from 1965. Other words coined that year: jet lag, mini dress, pop art, teach-in, doo-wop and time traveller.

Reading these words, I felt like a time traveller myself. In part this is because those words are so familiar now but also because the connotations of ‘tree hugger’ have changed so much. In 1965,  tree hugger was a derogatory term. Not so today.

Today’s tree huggers are environmentalists. People who care about the world they are part of.  People willing to act to protect what they love. I happily put myself in that category.

Trees speak to me in the way that flowers speak to many other avid gardeners. Every day for the last month, I’ve posted a photo on Instagram of a tree I’ve seen somewhere in the world. (My Instagram posts can be found at glen_villa_garden.) Each tree had its own personality, its own voice — sometimes, even its own face.

 

Seen at the botanical garden in Sydney, Australia
I saw this face on a tree at the botanical garden in Sydney, Australia.

 

Trees with sculptural qualities appeal to me enormously, particularly when they are silhouetted against the sky …

 

A dead tree is striking against an intensely blue sky. Seen at Tuba Tree Camp in Botswana.
I spotted this dead tree at Tuba Tree Camp in Botswana. It is particularly striking against the intensely blue sky .

 

… or against colourful leaves.

 

Seen at a park in Barcelona, Spain.
I saw this branch twisting towards the sky at the Montreal Botanical Garden.

 

Trees talk to us about many things. About youth and possibilities…

 

This seedling will eventually become a grand horse chestnut tree.
This seedling will eventually become a grand horse chestnut tree. We started it from seed a few years ago.

 

… and about aging with dignity.

 

These ancient olive trees are in a private garden in the south of Italy.
These ancient olive trees are in a private garden in the south of Italy.

 

They show us the beauty of every season, blossoming in spring,

 

These crabapple trees are in my daughter's garden in North Hatley, Quebec.
These crabapple trees are in my daughter’s garden in North Hatley, Quebec.

 

spreading shade in summer,

 

The linden, or basswood, tree at Glen Villa is the perfect image of what a tree can be, as round and shapely as a child's drawing.
The linden, or basswood, tree at Glen Villa is the perfect image of what a tree can be, round and shapely.

 

turning the world into a bag of gumdrops in autumn,

 

Trees at the edge of a field at Glen Villa are typical of autumn glory in Quebec's Eastern Townships.
No licorice gumdrops, please! Trees at the edge of a field at Glen Villa are typical of autumn’s glory in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.

 

and giving snow a place to rest in winter.

 

Snow outlines these old crabapple trees at Glen Villa.
Snow outlines these old crabapple trees at Glen Villa.

 

Trees speak, if we listen closely enough. Sometimes they make us laugh.

 

The semaphore tree at Glen Villa seems to be sending a message to someone, somewhere. Or is it an elderly dancer, still holding onto her pom poms?
The semaphore tree at Glen Villa seems to be sending a message to someone, somewhere. Or is it an elderly cheerleader, still clinging to her pom-poms?

 

Sometimes they share their anger or frustration, or shout out some news.

 

This tree is shouting about something. But what?
This tree is shouting about something. But what? I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore?

 

Sometimes they only stand and stare.

 

Birch eyes stare at passers by in the woods at Glen Villa.
They also serve who only stand and wait. Birch eyes look at passers-by in the woods at Glen Villa with steely eyes.

 

Sometimes they make us wince, to see what we have done to them.

 

These pollarded trees will grow again. But until they do, their stubs seem as painful as fingers amputated at the first joint.
These pollarded trees in a London suburb will grow again. But until they do, their stubs seem as painful as fingers amputated at the joint.

 

Trees make our world a better place.  They play a critical role in the on-going battle against the impacts of climate change. They absorb harmful pollutants, regulate water flows, and support the habitats of migratory plants and animals. Sometimes, they offer examples of determination and persistence, soundlessly urging us to keep on trying.

 

hotel wall (6 of 6)
This birch beside my daughter’s house is gradually splitting the boulder. I’ve watched the crack widen by fractions every year. What amazing strength!

 

Trees arranged in formal patterns become picture postcard views.

 

The curving line of trees at La Foce edges a road that winds up a hill in the distance. It has become an iconic Tuscan scene.
The curving line of trees at the Italian garden La Foce edges a road that winds up a hill in the distance. It has become an iconic Tuscan scene.

 

Standing alone, they become art.

 

tree rings
Tree Rings is my sculpture made to honour the life of an old maple tree. It stands near the house at Glen Villa.

 

Trees share their bounty as sap …

 

Buckets collect sap from maple trees at Glen Villa to be boiled down into maple syrup.
Buckets collect sap from maple trees at Glen Villa to be boiled down into maple syrup.

 

… and as fruit.

 

In late summer, children and grandchildren gathered apples from the many old apple trees at Glen Villa.
In late summer, children and grandchildren gathered apples from the many old apple trees at Glen Villa.

 

They add order when order is called for …

 

A Christmas tree plantation in the Eastern Townships, not far from where we live.
A Christmas tree plantation in the Eastern Townships, not far from where we live.

 

or when order makes the ordinary special.

 

Trees and mounds of grass form a chequerboard at Le Jardin Plume, in France.
Trees and mounds of grass form a chequerboard at Le Jardin Plume, in France.

 

Trees can perform miracles. When planted with intent, they transform a space into something new. Or as the Chilean landscape architect Juan Grimm said,

A natural clearing in a wood is a glade. But a perfectly round clearing the same size, in the same wood, becomes a garden.”

 

“A natural clearing in a wood is a glade. But a perfectly round clearing the same size, in the same wood, becomes a garden.” Chilean landscape architect, Juan Grimm:
This garden in the woods is at the Scottish garden Broadwoodside, one of my favourite gardens anywhere.

 

Recently I read a post on Dirt, the blog of the American Society of Landscape Architects about Marina Abramović, the performance artist . Her advice? Go out and hug a tree. Hug it tightly for at least 15 minutes. Tell the tree your troubles, pour out your anger, your frustration, your woe. The tree will absorb your negative emotions and you will feel rejuvenated.

Who knows, she may be right. Anyone who has gone for a walk in the woods and come back feeling relaxed and ready to face life again will agree that simply being in nature brings positive benefits. Forest bathing, a practice that began in Japan in the 1980s, has verified the therapeutic effects and is being used more and more widely.

For novice tree huggers, Abramović suggests that you  “… choose a tree that you like… Pick the tree because of [w]hatever triggers your affection… Don’t immediately hug the tree. Just feel the energy … not touching it but just holding your hands a little bit above.  And then complain your heart into it.  .. you feel rejuvenated. You feel happy after that.”

I don’t often complain to trees but I do hug them, actually and metaphorically. I thank them, every day, all year long. In turn, they reward me in more ways than I can count.

Your tree for the season may be real or artificial. It may be big or small, decorated or left in its natural glory. Or you may not have a tree at all.

 

Christmas tree (1 of 1)
Our Christmas tree is decorated with an odd assortment of hand-made ornaments or those given us over the years.

 

No matter. The trees are there, outside your window, in the park nearby or outside the city where forests survive. Thank them, one and all. Maybe even give one a hug. If Abramović is right, you’ll feel happier. Maybe the tree will, too. And who doesn’t want a little happiness these days?

untitled (7 of 7)

Continuum, Continued

Over the last few weeks, while the weather was remarkably kind, I’ve continued to work on an extension to Timelines, the trail that explores ideas about memory, history and our relationship to the land. I wrote about the initial work on Continuum in my last blog post, almost a month ago.  Since then, lots has happened.

We added a wonderful tree trunk bench alongside the stream, right next to the old lid from a sap bucket that was used, who knows how many years ago, when maple syrup was being made at Orin’s Sugarcamp. (There are multiple posts about this installation, another part of Timelines. You can read about it here and here.

 

untitled (7 of 7)

 

I gathered remnants of that maple syrup-making operation found along the trail and arranged them in a haphazard way next to the newly-chipped path.

 

maple cans (1 of 1)

 

At the top of a rise in the open field, we erected Tree Square, a new, very simple sculpture that shows the squared-off heart of a tree trunk, surrounded by the side pieces that were removed.

 

The raw wood will turn grey over the winter, allowing it to blend in even while standing out.
The raw wood will turn grey over the winter, allowing it to blend in even while standing out.

 

We removed brush that was hiding some of the ancient trees along the wooded part of the trail, like these two Elders, one living, one dead.

 

untitled (4 of 7)

 

Simply trimming back the brush revealed more treasures, like this gorgeous stump and the ancient tree behind it.

 

untitled (5 of 7)

 

The trail now leads past an area where trees have been cut, leaving stumps as their only testament.

 

The area looks bleak, perhaps, but the stumps as well as the young trees that will be planted are all part of a process.
The area looks bleak now, but the stumps as well as the young trees that will be planted illustrate different times in an evolving process.

 

Rocks outlining the shape of maple seeds, or keys, or samaras, are now in place on the slope above the pool we dug this summer.

 

I need to tweak the shape but the idea is there.
I need to tweak the shape of one of the samaras but the idea is there.

 

I still need to drill the rocks that will sit at the bottom of the slope, near the water where a stick is now. Doing that is work for the winter months, when it is too cold and snow too deep to work outdoors.

On another front, the napkins I made for the newly-set dining room table on the China Terrace were fired by our local potter, Lucy Doheny. She showed me what to do (I wrote about that here) and then left me to it — and I’m thrilled with the results.

 

napkins (1 of 1)

 

I’m also working on a second extension to Timelines, to the area called Mythos  … but sharing that story will have to wait for another day!

 

 

This is how the rock looked in 2013, before I started on the trail extension.

Continuum

“There is often a huge difference between an idea and its realization. Ideas must be put to the test. That’s why we make things, otherwise they would be no more than ideas.”

Andy Goldsworthy’s words ring true for me. I have more ideas than I can realize, certainly more than I can act on in my lifetime.  Folders splitting at the seams contain scribbled thoughts and doodles, pages torn from magazines, projects detailed but never executed.

So when I begin to translate an idea into the reality that Goldsworthy speaks of, there is genuine satisfaction. There’s a sense of excitement, of momentum, of fear. Will my idea translate well? Will I be able to realize it fully?

Timelines, the trail at Glen Villa that explores ideas about history, memory and our relationship to the land, started with a desire to create a path that led past interesting formations on the land, natural highlights that I had noticed over the years.  One of those highlights was an outcropping of rock in the woods. It spoke to me of age and the passage of time, and I began to call it Rock of Ages.  But that name had too many religious connections and connotations and it inspired nothing except a song in my head.

 

 

This is how the rock looked in 2013, before I started on the trail extension.
This is how the rock looked in 2013, long before I started on Timelines or the current the extension to the trail.

 

Earlier this summer, in an attempt to expose more of the rock, we dug down near its base. Much to my surprise and delight, water appeared. And as we enlarged the hole, the water kept rising.

Water joined with rock to become essential elements in what I now knew would be an extension to Timelines. I knew the route. It would begin in an open field and enter a section of  woods where ancient maple trees, gnarled and broken, nonetheless still stood tall. These were Elders who had weathered every force thrown at them.

 

trees (1 of 2)

 

They had survived and grown wiser with age. Or if not wiser, at least more resigned to dealing with hardship.

 

The sadness in this face is impossible to miss.
The sadness in this tree’s face almost makes me weep. It reminds me of some Biblical figure, a sculpture by an artist who also had suffered. Michelangelo perhaps?

 

I knew the trail would come out along a former farming road, lined with more ancient trees, to reach the climax, the rock outcropping and the newly dug pool.

 

Even very old maple trees produce sap for maple syrup! We don't tap these trees often but we did in 2000 when this photo was taken.
Even very old maple trees produce sap for maple syrup! We don’t tap these trees often but we did in 2017 when this photo was taken.

 

I knew where I wanted this new part of Timelines to go, but I had no concept that tied the pieces together in a way that satisfied me. Until finally, about a month ago, I did.

It happened, as it often does for me, when I found a name for the extension. Continuum. The name changed a cluster of ideas into a clear vision. I knew what I was trying to say and how I would say it.

Work began about two weeks ago and is going forward quickly.  Last week we cut brush to create a path into the woods.

 

untitled (2 of 6)

 

The path will skirt a stream which is impossibly beautiful at this time of year.

 

I took this photo to remind myself to remove that one small tree. Without it, the view will be even better.
I took this photo to remind myself to remove that one small tree. Without it, the view will be even better.

 

My photos don’t begin to do justice to the site, and whether the water that is now tumbling over the tiny waterfalls will persist in drier seasons is hard to know. But even without it, the contrasts will be striking, ancient trees pointing a path for tiny saplings, immoveable boulders standing beside the smaller stones pushed into place by spring run-offs.

Last week Jacques Gosselin, one of two men who make all my work possible, built the wooden construction I designed that will identify this part of Timelines. It’s a nine-part cube where the letters that spell CONTINUUM will appear, arranged in one way on one side, in a different way on each of the others.

 

Letters will be burnt into each 8" square block, on all four sides and the top.
Letters will be burnt into each 8″ square block, on all four sides and the top.

 

I pulled out boulders from an old rock pile and, with help from my friend John Hay, sketched out the design I will drill into them over the winter.

 

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That design is based on the samaras, or keys, that contain the seeds of maple trees.

 

This is simply a random arrangement of maple keys, or samaras, that will form the basis of the design to be incised in the boulders.
This is simply a random arrangement of maple keys, or samaras. Their winged form is the starting point of the design I’ll incise in the boulders.

 

Come spring, we’ll set the boulders near the rock outcropping which was the starting point for the trail.  It looks very different now than it used to. And like the stream, the water level will rise and fall, as the seasons dictate.

 

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That change in the water level is fitting, as satisfying as the project itself. Together with the samaras and the ancient trees, it reflects the natural forces that the word Continuum describes.

This project should be finished by next summer when, once again, we will open the garden to the public. I hope to see you then!

 

The Forms are one installation on Timelines, the trail at Glen Villa that explores ideas about history, memory and our relationship to the land.

Autumn Leaves

Walking through the woods recently, I passed this installation, called The Forms.

 

The Forms are one installation on Timelines, the trail at Glen Villa that explores ideas about history, memory and our relationship to the land.
The Forms represent the basic building blocks of the constructed world. They are one part of Timelines, the trail at Glen Villa that explores ideas about history, memory and our relationship to the land.

 

The colours of the plexiglass shapes stood out from the muted tones around them, attracting me like a magnet. Closer, I noticed leaves scattered on top of them, some haphazardly, some artfully arranged.

 

watermarked (4 of 4)

 

The contrast in colours atop the orange square was not as dramatic as that atop the blue cube but the arrangement itself was even more intriguing. To my eyes, the space created by torn leaves appeared to be an opening into a hidden world below, and I wanted more than anything to go beneath the surface and explore that other world .

 

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A hole in one red leaf offered a flawed beauty …

 

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… while crumbling brown leaves pointed to the decay that inevitably would follow.

 

watermarked (1 of 4)

 

Yet the sight that pleased me the most was what was happening inside the long yellow rectangle.

 

grass (1 of 1)

 

There I saw a striking contrast between the world all around that was closing up for winter and the vigorous growth inside that pointed in the opposite direction. The grasses growing in the built form made me think of weeds springing up in the cracks of stone walls and city sidewalks, of the determination of living things to grow and survive no matter where they are.

More to the point, it struck me as ironic, that the artificial box I’d made to suggest a contrast between the built and the natural world nonetheless sheltered and aided that natural world to find a way of its own.

Nature rules!

The colour of this sourgum is quite different from the one next to it -- this one a fruit salad of peach and apricot, the other a fire of red-hot apple.

Autumn Colour Brings Joy

The autumn colours seem particularly intense this year at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Leaves started to turn earlier than usual and the height of the season has almost come and gone. But what a season it has been!

It started early, when a small horse chestnut tree (Aesculus pavia) began to turn.

 

This photo was taken on September
This photo was taken in mid-September

 

It continued as the sourgum trees (Nyssa sylvatica) nearby began to change colour. First one tree caught fire …

 

You can't see the tree itself, only this one branch silhouetted against the sycamore behind. Isn't the contrast gorgeous?
You can’t see the tree itself, only this one branch silhouetted against the sycamore behind. Isn’t the contrast gorgeous?

 

… then another.

 

The colour of this sourgum is quite different from the one next to it -- this one a fruit salad of peach and apricot, the other a fire of red-hot apple.
The colour of this sourgum is quite different from the one next to it. This one is a fruit salad of peaches and apricots, the other one a fireplace of red-hot pokers.

 

Everywhere colour lights up the shade. On the driveway down to the lake…

 

A view down the driveway hints at the intensity of colour this year.
A photo only hints at the intensity of colour this year.

 

…  near the house, where the stephanandra (Stephanandra incisa crispa) tumbles alongside the steps …

 

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… in the Lower Garden where a magnolia is sun-shining its heart out …

 

The sculpture in the foreground is by Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito.
The sculpture in the foreground is by Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito.

 

… and beside a stone wall, where the leaves of a fothergilla outdo the colours of a motley fool.

 

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The colours at the Skating Pond are past their peak but are still worth paying attention to.

 

The water is calm on a grey day.
The water is calm on a grey day.

 

Along Timelines, the trail that explores ideas about history, memory and our relationship to the world around us, Abenaki Walkers at The Clearing of the Land move proudly into the woods.

 

I particularly like how the mottled white walkers blend with the white tree trunk behind.
I particularly like how the mottled white walkers blend with the white tree trunk behind them.

 

The corrugated tin columns that form part of The Past Looms Large stride across a misty autumnal field.

 

A green path gives added punch to the russet leaves in the foreground.
A green path adds punch to the russet leaves in the foreground.

 

The temple façade stands out against a background of orange, red, yellow and green.

 

Is the temple façade under construction or is it falling down?
Is the temple façade under construction or is it falling down?

 

And everywhere, fallen leaves are scuff-able, offering carefree moments that bring out the child in me.

 

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Autumn can be a sad season but on a clear day when the sky is blue and the air crisp, I don’t feel sad, I feel energized.  What does autumn bring to your part of the world? How does it make you feel?

The team from NIP Paysage stand beside Bridge Ascending, a sculpture by Quebec artists Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito.

Visitors at Glen Villa

Last week was very unusual — after a summer of isolation, living inside a family-only bubble, two groups of visitors came to tour Glen Villa.

One group came from NIP Paysage, a landscape architecture firm in Montreal whose name reflects its approach to every project it undertakes. To understand, you need to know that NIP is the French acronym for a PIN, or Personal Identification Number. So, as its website states, “NIP aims to reveal the true character of the environments upon which it intervenes.”

I first met two of the principals of the firm, Michel Langevin and Melanie Mignault, in 2012 in London at the inauguration of the Chelsea Fringe Festival.  To promote Les Jardins de Métis and its International Garden Festival, the firm designed one of the most intriguing installations at the Fringe, a fact recognized when it was chosen to be the Festival’s opening venue.

 

My photos fail to do justice to this spectacular installation.
My photos fail to do justice to this spectacular installation. Set among industrial buildings, Floating Forest harkens back to the timber trade between Canada and Great Britain.

 

Floating Forest consisted of 450 slices of tree trunks floating on the dark waters of the Grand Union Canal. There, held in place by cables that allowed only minimal motion, the wooden circles created the impression of a mysterious forest hidden under water, swaying slightly in the breeze.

 

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I met Michel and Melanie again five years later at the International Garden Festival in Métis when I was visiting the gardens there with two granddaughters.

 

The granddaughters and I enjoyed this exuberant installation. The Vertical Line Garden is by Coryn Kempster and Julia Jamrozik. It is now installed on the roof of the Musée in Quebec City.
The granddaughters and I enjoyed this exuberant installation. The Vertical Line Garden, by Coryn Kempster and Julia Jamrozik, is now installed on the roof of the Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec City.

 

I met Michel and Melanie for a third time this week at Glen Villa. Along with a dozen members of their team they brought morning snacks, a delicious lunch from our local eatery, the wonderful Saveurs et Gourmadise, and lots of sharp, well-informed eyes.  It was a pleasure for me to welcome them and to hear their observations about the garden and art installations that make up Timelines.

 

The team from NIP Paysage stand beside Bridge Ascending, a sculpture by Quebec artists Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito.
The team from NIP Paysage stand beside Bridge Ascending, a sculpture by Quebec artists Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito.

 

To see them next to the Big Chair that the firm designed was a special treat.

 

I first saw the Big Chair at the entrance to the Reford Gardens in Metis. I knew immediately that I wanted one for Glen Villa. And here it is!
I first saw the Big Chair at the entrance to the Reford Gardens in Metis. I knew immediately that I wanted one for Glen Villa. And here it is!

 

Paul Carignan and his partner Sylvia Bertolini were my other visitors. After seeing Paul’s installation on the Tomifobia Nature Trail, I was more eager than ever to have him and Sylvia come for a visit, not only to get to know them better but also to show them  the installations I’ve created that relate to the Abenaki and their presence on the land. When Paul began to drum among the first group of Abenaki Walkers, the inverted ash tree branches that remember the original inhabitants of this part of Quebec, I couldn’t have been happier or felt more comfortable about the installation I created.

 

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Equally satisfying for me was to show Paul and Sylvia other parts of Timelines that relate to the Abenaki. The turtle who rises from under the water to create Turtle Island …

 

The painted post on the turtle's back represents the chaotic, unformed world which the rising turtle is pushing away.
The painted post on the turtle’s back represents the chaotic, unformed world which the rising turtle is pushing away.

… the painted posts that suggest people walking through the woods …

 

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… and the group of Walkers who turn their backs on the palisade in The Clearing of the Land.

 

The path turns a corner and the palisade begins to collapse.
As the path turns the corner, the palisade begins to collapse.

 

Best, though, was when Paul and Sylvia saw this rock, a natural occurrence whose striking shape was for years partially hidden underground. Immediately they recognized it for what it was… a turtle moving slowly across the land.

 

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Because of the angle of the photo, the turtle is not completely evident. But if you look hard, you can spot the turtle’s head at the right, just coming out of the shell. You can also spot the turtle’s right front foot emerging as the animal moves forward.

To find the rock where I found it was good fortune. To uncover it to discover the turtle was a gift given me by the land. To share that gift with a couple who immediately recognized its significance was a privilege.

Thank you all for coming!

Paul stretched the deer skin for his drum and holds workshops to teach others how to do the same.

The Medicine Wheel and the Four Directions

Earlier this week I was fortunate to visit a new installation on the Tomifobia Nature Trail in the company of its creator, Paul-Conrad Carignan, and Paul’s partner, Sylvia Bertolini. Paul is a Metis Algonquin-Anishnabe Elder and the site he designed is dedicated to spiritual and healing teachings of the Indigenous Medicine Wheel and its four directions.

At a clearing beside the trail, located in Quebec’s Eastern Townships close to the border with the United States, large granite slabs, or stelae, rise up at the four directions. Each stone is engraved with an animal spirit and the teaching associated with that  direction.

The stone at the East depicts an eagle.

Paul-Conrad Carignan stands beside the eagle, the animal spirit that marks the East.
Paul-Conrad Carignan stands beside the eagle, the animal spirit that marks the East, the direction of new beginnings.

 

At the  South, the stone depicts a coyote.

 

The animal spirit for the South is a coyote.
The teaching for the south, the land of Coyote, is linked to adolescence and high energy.

 

That at the West shows a bear,

 

The bear is associated with
The bear is associated with middle age, quieter times and introspection.

 

… while that at the North shows a moose.

 

The moose is
The moose teaches about sharing knowledge and preparing for the end of the Earth Walk and the beginning of the Spirit Walk.

 

Together, the texts describe the Indigenous beliefs of unity and healing that make the experience of being inside the circle so powerfully positive.

 

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The circle is outlined with a variety of stones, each of which is interesting geologically, beautiful to look at and comfortable to sit on. The stones form the shape of a turtle, the ancient symbol for North America-Turtle Island; two distinctive stones suggest the turtle’s neck and head.

 

The white stone is the turtle's head. The neck stone is furrowed as the skin on the turtle's neck is.
The dark stone is wrinkled as a turtle’s neck is. The white stone is the turtle’s head.

 

During construction, Mr. Carignan performed various ceremonies, scattering sacred tobacco leaves at the base of the four Directional Stones and conducting a special Chanupa-Sacred Pipe inauguration ceremony when the last stone was installed.

Visiting the site with the designer and his partner was a special privilege. Paul explained the significance of the stones and the engravings and shared his personal stories about the inception of the project, its construction and installation. I sat on a stone as he and Sylvia drummed the turtle song, but I wasn’t simply a spectator. Instead I became a silent participant, feeling the drum beats as the turtle lumbered his way across the circle and into the woods.

Paul stretched the deer skin for his drum and holds workshops to teach others how to do the same. The colours represent the four directions: white for East, yellow for south, red for west and black (or dark blue) for north. The green earth surrounds them all.
Paul stretched the deer skin for his drum and holds workshops to teach others how to do the same.

 

The colours on Paul’s drum represent the four directions: white for East, yellow for South, red for West and black, or dark blue, for North. The green earth encloses them all.

The day we visited was bright and cool and cyclists and runners passed by regularly, using the trail as its owners, Sentiers Massawippi Inc., intended. One couple stopped to rest, another who had attended the opening ceremony stopped to offer congratulations and to praise the trail itself.

Two cyclists take a break, sitting on the stones that form the outline of a turtle.
Two cyclists take a break, sitting on two of the stones that form the outline of a turtle.

 

It is, indeed, a beautiful setting, on the edge of a forested precipice overlooking the river far below. The sense of peace and well-being I felt inside the circle tells me that the stones and their message is getting through as intended.

The new rest area opened on August 14. It is located 16.8 km. south of where the trail leaves Ayer’s Cliff, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. A second dedication ceremony will be held on September 30, when Mr. Carignan will be on site to explain the significance of the installation and share Drum songs.

If you are able to attend, I encourage you to do so. I hope you will experience, as I did, a moment of serenity in these troubled times.

 

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The Dining Room Table on the China Terrace

The China Terrace is my way of representing the past in the present, of giving a new life to memories of the years when Glen Villa Inn welcomed summer guests from near and far. According to a local newspaper of the time, Canadians and American visitors “from every state in the Union” came to spend their holidays here in North Hatley, Quebec. The hotel’s life was brief, though. Built in 1902, it burned to the ground in 1909, shortly before opening for its eighth season.

Not long after moving into Glen Villa in 1996, I discovered an enormous cache of broken china from the hotel, and over the years I incorporated those shards into the design of a space that remembered the hotel. The broken china pieces composed a mosaic at the entry to the Inn.

 

Some pieces of the broken china we found showed the name and location: Glen Villa Inn, Massawippi Lake. Local artist Caroline George used them to form this mosaic welcome mat at the entry.
Some pieces of the broken china we found showed the name and location: Glen Villa Inn, Massawippi Lake. Local artist Caroline George used them to form this mosaic welcome mat at the entry.

 

They formed a rug under the dining room table.

This photo is from 2008, the year I made the rug.
This photo is from 2008, the year I made the rug.

 

They became part of bricks that divided the space into ‘rooms.’

 

This photo from 2020 shows the China Terrace as a whole.
This photo from 2020 shows the China Terrace as a whole. In the foreground is a staircase to an imaginary second story.

 

I set the dining room table with plates that our children had used when they were growing up. Before embedding them in the wet cement table top, I deliberately broke the plates into large pieces to suggest that the past did not tell a single, unbroken story but one that was fragmented, that varied according to your point of view. I added cutlery, goblets and napkins that I made with the help of Lucy Doheny, a talented local potter.

 

This photo is from 2007, when the napkins were still new.
This photo is from 2007, when the napkins were still new.

 

Over the years, with the freeze and thaw of winter, the plates broke into smaller and smaller pieces. The wooden goblets made by Greg Hirtle, a local woodworker, began to rot and the pottery napkins began to crumble.

 

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By this spring, the whole table was a mess. This state of affairs left me in two minds. I could leave things as they were, allowing each element to deteriorate further, or I could set the table anew. I decided to do the latter. Because while I liked the sense of change that the broken plates and rotting goblets suggested, the disintegration was so complete that it made it difficult to tell a comprehensible story.

 

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Renewing the dining room table was one of my goals for this year, and I’m pleased to say that the job is now almost complete. Using a grinder, Ken Kelso removed the shattered plates and deteriorating cutlery that I originally embedded in wet cement .

 

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Once he had finished and the table top was washed and dried, I was ready to put the new plates and cutlery in place.

 

Indentations in the cement show where the old plates were. The new ones are ready to be glued in place.
Indentations in the cement show where the old plates were. The new ones are ready to be glued in place. We used the stack of bricks to add weight to the plates until the glue completely dried.

 

Using plates with the same pattern I’d used before was important to me — that pattern was the connection between the history of our family and the history of the site. It took me several months, but by searching on line, I finally found eight plates with the same design. To make them last longer, I decided not to break the plates but to leave them whole, trusting that the weather will break them soon enough.

 

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Now, with new goblets and with the plates and cutlery glued in place, all that is missing is the centrepiece and the napkins which I will make later this fall, again with help from Lucy Doheny.

 

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I know that for a while the table will look as raw as it did when it was brand new. I also know that with time, the wooden goblets will begin to rot and the plates to crumble. And that the moss will also grow again on the sides and top of the table, giving the impression of age that makes the China Terrace feel so ghostly.

 

Still missing is a centrepiece and new napkins. They should be in place by mid-October.
Still missing is a centrepiece and new napkins. They should be in place by mid-October.

 

The original motivation for the China Terrace was my desire to recognize the history of the site. I wanted to mark the passage of time and the changes that occurred, and will occur, that register that movement. The table, the moss-covered bed and the outline of chairs do that. So does the katsura tree that I planted along one ‘wall.’ It was a tiny shrub when I bought it in 2003. Now, seventeen years later, it is is a full-grown tree.

 

The katsura tree -- Cercidiphyllum japonicum.
The katsura tree — Cercidiphyllum japonicum.

 

Its growth provides a counterpoint to the deterioration of the man-made elements on the China Terrace. Its life underlines a contrast between what grows towards the future and what looks to the past. Finding that balance is what makes the China Terrace a significant element in the garden at Glen Villa. Pondering that balance adds substance to the garden itself.