This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving, and today I’m giving thanks for the splendours of autumn. All week the colours have been spectacular!
This view along the driveway at Glen Villa gives some idea of how brilliant the colour is.
On the stone wall of the house, Engelman ivy is a symphony of scarlet, red and maroon.
The colours on the hillside above the Big Meadow are a mix of apricot and spun gold.
The fields above the house are equally splendid.
Everywhere along the Timelines trail, the colours are singing — not sotto voce but con brio...
…not piano but fortissimo.
At the Skating Pond the ornamental grasses are at their best.
In an old farm field, the Big Chair is almost shockingly white against the autumnal colours.
Up close, the different colours on oak leaves separate into greens, browns and touches of red, making the veins stand out prominently.
Even when colours begin to fade, beauty remains.
We know that these glorious colours won’t remain much longer. We know that their brilliance means that colder and whiter times will soon be here. But even with the dying of this year, there’s humour to be found.
The China Terrace is my interpretation of history … a room in the garden at Glen Villa where I have recreated parts of Glen Villa Inn, the old resort hotel that once stood on our property.
Towards the end of summer I wrote about the new ‘walls’ that we installed to mark the division between the different rooms in the hotel: a reception area, bedroom and dining room. (You can read that post here.)
The ‘walls’ are now covered with autumn leaves, and the grass we seeded over a month ago has grown so well that we may need to mow it before the snow falls.
The dining room table and rug are also covered with autumn leaves.
The shrubs I planted at the terraced entry to the ‘hotel’ are colouring up for autumn.
The approach to the China Terrace shows that autumn colour isn’t yet at its peak. By next week it should be.
We are well into the fall work… mowing grass in the fields, dividing and moving plants from one spot to another. The Miscanthus sinensis we planted on the bank of the lake about ten years ago has grown so much that we’ve dug and divided enough clumps to create a new feature along the path to the China Terrace.
Chopped back, the clumps don’t look like much but next year they should grow enough to make this section feel like a tunnel, with the sky overhead.
Meanwhile, in another part of the garden, the colours are vibrant.
And boy, are the bees ever happy!
Soon we’ll be closing up shop for the winter but there is still a lot of work to do. More on that in posts to come…. so stayed tuned!
Last week’s blog prompted so many responses that I’m writing about benches again. Kathy Purdy, a friend, regular reader and blogger extraordinaire (you can read her blog here) made the excellent comment that the view from a bench is as important as — more important than? — the design itself. I also have photos of many interesting bench designs that I didn’t include last week. So location as well as design is the focus for this post.
I’ve positioned benches at Glen Villa with the view very much in mind. A Victorian-style metal frame bench offers a place to look out onto the circular stone wall that stood in front of the early 19th century Glen Villa Inn.
This very simple bench sitting on the bank above Lake Massawippi draws no attention to itself, leaving that to the view onto the lake.
Anyone sitting on the bench at the Sundial Clearing looks straight at the tall dead pine tree whose shadow acts as the gnomon, or pointer, to indicate the hour and to suggest the relentless passage of time.
The view from the bench above the Skating Pond shows the pond and the surrounding fields and hills.
Which is more important in a public garden — the view or the spacing between one place to sit and another? They aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but sometimes people need to sit and rest. A bench at the botanical garden in Edinburgh looked out on a view that held only moderate interest, but it appeared just when I was ready to take a break, making it perfectly located.
The bench also demonstrates how inventiveness can turn a simple construction into a work of art, using nothing more than 2×4 boards.
More 2x4s create another very simple bench at Hannah Peschar’s Sculpture Garden. Yet see how effective it is!
Wooden planks that rise up to a climax creative an impressive bench that is a work of art at Pensthorpe Natural Reserve in Norfolk.
Wood left in its original form can also create original and effective benches.
With thought and a desire to construct something special, wood left in its natural form can create wonderful benches. That’s why one of my autumn projects is to convert this tree trunk into a bench.
The height is right for a bench and the natural shape of the maple tree trunk is interesting.
Garden benches come in all sizes and shapes. Some are strictly utilitarian, some decorative, and some add meaning to the garden through their design. The simple utilitarian version of a bench is a familiar sight, whether with a back …
… or without.
The chunky bench below was made from a single tree trunk. Set against a wall of the house, it’s easy to imagine sitting on it for hours, soaking up the sunshine.
This open-armed bench is both formal and gracious, with spreading sides that convey a welcoming spirit. The well-worn grass around it suggests that the bench is well used.
Benches at Glen Villa are simple yet each is individually designed to suit its particular location. The Skating Pond is naturalistic and the bench above it consists of two planks set atop two round rocks.
The most elaborate bench at Glen Villa is the one around the linden tree at the end of the Big Meadow. Recently rebuilt by local woodworker Mike McKenna, this bench looks simple but the math behind it is quite complex.
The bench at the Sundial Clearing is equally simple but the simplicity and the words on the seat reinforce the ideas about the passage of time that are behind this part of Timelines, the trail that explores questions of memory, identity and our relationship to the land.
The bench near the entry to Veddw, Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes’ garden in Wales, announces an underlying theme of the garden, its acknowledgement of, and respect for, the history of the site.
History is marked is a less self-effacing way in white metal benches at Somerleyton, an English estate in East Anglia — the initials under the seat are those of Francis Crossley, a carpet manufacturer who acquired the property in Victorian times.
When wooden benches are painted, they send a different message than when they are left to weather on their own. This pale blue bench is at Wyken Hall in Norfolk. Designed by Arabella Lennox-Boyd, the unusual colour combination adds an appropriately stylish note to a small side garden.
Primary colours characterize Madoo, the artist Robert Dash’s garden on Long Island, and benches carry the colour theme throughout the garden.
Stone benches are durable and many, even when new, suggest formality and antiquity.
Living benches aren’t very comfortable but they look good even when they need a haircut.
One of the most inventive benches I’ve ever seen was a metal bench, folded and printed with a map of Massachusetts.
Benches are much on my mind — a garden that doesn’t offer a place to sit is, in my mind, an unwelcoming garden. Near Bridge Ascending, the sculpture made to commemorate an old covered bridge, timbers stacked one on top of another offered a sunny place to sit and admire the sculpture.
This bench is now badly rotten and unsafe. It needs to be replaced. But with what style of bench, made from what material? I’m not sure but I have an idea…
Labour Day has come and gone, which must mean that summer is over. But the wildflowers blooming so exuberantly in the fields around Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, say that isn’t so.
Ok, perhaps that’s wishful thinking. The Joe Pye weed that was so gorgeous a few weeks ago is faded now, and while that has its own style of beautiful, it does mean that autumn is almost here.
Other wildflowers are still going strong. Golden rod, of course.
White asters …
… and purple ones.
Queen Anne’s lace is everywhere, gorgeous in full bloom,
and intriguing before it opens, when it is a curled up promise.
I’m delighted to seeTurtlehead (Chelone glabra) return to our fields. It was growing abundantly a few years ago and then disappeared.
But whether on their own or in mixed groups, a display of wildflowers outshines my best attempts at garden design.
As invasive as they are, I even like Canadian thistles.
Must be my prickly nature!
I’m now scheduling talks for the up-coming year. You can check out the list of topics on my website or get in touch directly to inquire about other topics, dates and details.
Recently a friend asked if I’d written about container gardening. Her question started me thinking about how the plants on the decks around our house have changed over the years. I pulled out old photos to see if my memory was accurate. Yes, the choices I made had changed. And while that wasn’t really surprising, what I noticed most was that the differences year to year reflected changes not only in my experience but also in my emotions and moods.
Decks surround Glen Villa, our house and garden in Quebec, offering lots of space for containers. The deck beside the living room ends in a sharp point and shortly after moving into the house, I began to fill this corner with plants in pots. The earliest photo I found was from 2005.
Two years later, I was feeling more adventurous and more cheerful. Or at least I think I was — there certainly were more pots in the corner and all together the arrangement was more colourful.
By 2009, I must have been in really high spirits. I mean, just look at the array of plants — full blown technicolour.
Two years later still, in 2011, was I feeling less enthusiastic? There were fewer pots and fewer flowers …
… but only because I was planting another area on the deck as well.
By 2015, a mustard coloured Chinese pot added a focal point, reducing the number of plants. And I seem to remember that by that time, after ten years of planting the point on the deck, I was getting tired of doing the same old thing, again and again.
The following years confirm that suspicion, since the number and variety of plants I used kept going down. Now, in 2019, white Mandevilla vines are the only plants on the living room deck, and their white blossoms are cool and serene.
The same sort of arc, like a bell curve mounting from enthusiasm to exuberance to restraint, occurred on the deck beside the dining room. It morphed from this in 2006 …
…to this in 2014
to this a year or two later.
The planter by the kitchen door is shaded for most of the day, so over the years the flowers I’ve chosen to plant there have, of necessity, been shade lovers. Is it because of that limitation that the overall design of the planter has remained relatively consistent? The colours and textures of the plants have changed but not the composition — two or three annuals or perennials that caught my eye at the start of the season, with at least one bright colour to light up the dark.
Sometimes the random nature of my choices means that the planter was successful throughout the summer….
…and sometimes it didn’t. The planter below looked sparse when first planted but nicely full by the time of my son’s wedding in July. Then for most of August, it just limped along.
This year’s plants have been a pleasure all summer. Touches of white on the yellow begonia complemented the starry white flowers beside it, and the bird’s nest found in a branch pruned from a nearby spirea added the off-centre focal point that I like in a rectangular planter like this.
Now, three months after planting, the leaves have disappeared from the spirea. The begonia is starting to look past its best but the planter as a whole is still just fine.
Looking back through the years, I found only one set of pots I miss… a simple planting with Ricinus.
Maybe next year, I’ll plant these again.
Do you plant containers? Do you change what you plant from year to year or do you repeat a design you are happy with?
Are you on Instagram? I’m posting there now and would enjoy seeing your photos. You can follow me at glen_villa_garden for photos of what’s happening in the garden.
The title of this post might well be The China Terrace gets a Floor Lift… but that would be confusing and not entirely accurate. So what has happened?
The China Terrace, a re-imagining of the grand resort hotel that once stood on the property, was one of the first projects I undertook at Glen Villa.
My friend, the landscape architect Myke Hodgins, named the area after the broken china my daughter and I found on the site, and I’ve worked on the area off and on since 2002.
Our first job on site was to rebuild a low stone wall around the area, a rectangle approximately 40 X 60 feet. Our second was to create a bedroom, an essential for any hotel. I wanted to cover the old iron frame bed I tucked into a corner with roses but there wasn’t enough light so instead I planted flowery perennials that could withstand the shade.
But as hardy as the plants were, they couldn’t survive the winter in only a few inches of soil atop a steel plate. That meant that every fall the plants had to be dug up, planted in earth over the winter and replanted every spring.
After a few years of doing that, to eliminate one annual job, the bedspread changed to a patchwork quilt made of moss.
A friend visiting shortly afterwards pointed out that a bed set off to one side didn’t make a strong enough statement in such a large area. I took note of his words and added cement bricks inset with broken china to mark where rooms might have been.
Over the years, there have been many changes. We added the dining room table in 2007 and the chairs shortly afterwards.
As soon as the table was finished, I realized that this area, too, needed more definition. So in September in 2007, I began making a rug using pieces of broken china set into cement squares.
With a rug underneath, the dining room became the focal point of the China Terrace.
Keeping the China Terrace in good shape is an on-going process. And, like many gardeners, I can’t leave well enough alone. Last year I modified the plantings at the entry, terracing the slope to suggest the different floors inside the hotel.
This year, I tackled a problem that has been bothering me for some time — the bricks that divide the space into rooms. Over the years, they have lost their impact, almost disappearing entirely, covered with grass, moss and the detritus of time.
I knew that I wanted to strengthen the design, lifting the bricks out of the ground and making them look more like the walls that remain in an archeological dig. I couldn’t raise them above ground level, though, because we need to mow the grass and mowing around raised ‘walls’ would mean spending a lot more time on maintenance. In my mind, though, I had an image of walls set off by gravel that I’d seen in an archeological site somewhere, so we mocked up a sample combining the materials.
Instead I decided to make the ‘wall’ wider by adding slate as a border and replacing the grass between the bricks with slate cut to the same length.
To keep the ‘walls’ flush with ground level and to make installation easier, we put the bricks and slate into a metal channel set into the ground. This meant digging up a lot of the grass as well as the bricks themselves, but I didn’t mind since the grass had become full of unattractive weeds.
We didn’t change the placement of the ‘walls’ or the openings that suggest doors from one room to the next. Nor have we quite finished replacing the sod but the difference, before and after, is striking.
The walls are now much more prominent visually. At first I worried that they were too prominent, but I know that with time, the grass will begin to encroach and they will settle into place.
We’ll finish laying the sod this coming week, finishing the work on the China Terrace for the year. But already, I know what is in store for next year….
Do you have projects that keep drawing you back? How do you know when to stop?
The old saying is a good one: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
There’s a meme in the gardening world started by Bonney Lassie at call Tell the Truth Tuesday. Despite my fair share of failures, I’ve never joined in. But La Seigneurie, one of the newest parts of my Quebec garden, fits the meme all too well.
So even if it isn’t Tuesday, here’s the truth.
In early June this year, we seeded a farm field as part of Timelines, the 3 km trail I’ve developed that explores questions about memory, identity and our relationship to the land. We marked the entry to the field with a beautiful wrought iron sign made by local blacksmith Justine Southam, and beneath the sign we added two wrought iron gates whose style felt in keeping with the sign and the history behind it. As I wrote earlier this summer, the seigneurial system was a key feature of 17th century Quebec under French rule. Long narrow fields ran down to the St. Lawrence River, giving habitants access for easy transportation.
I had a clear picture in my mind of what I wanted to accomplish — narrow strips of land that stood out from each other because of the colour of the flowers and the different colours, heights and textures of the foliage. I chose three crops, canola, flax and barley, and we seeded them in strips of varying widths.
Within a few weeks, the canola was beginning to grow, and the flax and barley were not far behind.
But truth be told, the end result is not a success. Individually, flax flowers are quite lovely.
The bright green foliage is interesting, too, with a fine texture in a bright citrusy green.
But flax has no impact en masse.
Canola flowers are individually attractive as well.
They do have an impact en masse, and a powerful one, too.
People had warned me that the two crops wouldn’t bloom at the same time, and that the barley would only be in its early stages, so I wasn’t really expecting that the field would be solid strips of yellow, blue and tan. But I was expecting something more than what we got.
So it’s back to the drawing board in terms of what crops to plant. Over the winter I’ll be considering others — clover is high on my list right now. I’ll also consider whether to use only two kinds of plants instead of three, and whether to seed them in strips of equal width.
I’ll be a little sad if canola doesn’t make the cut because it plays a role in Canadian history. Canola, aka rape seed, got its name from the Latin word ‘rapum’ which means turnip. In the 1970s Canadian scientists created a variant of rapeseed oil that contained less erucic acid, making it safer for consumption. The word canola is an acronym: Can(ada) o (oil) l (less) a (acid). Or less precisely, Canada oil (Can + ola).
With or without canola, I won’t abandon the concept of representing the seigneurial system. It’s an integral part of Quebec’s French heritage and reflecting that identity on the land is important to me and to the ideas behind Timelines. So in addition to researching possible crops, over the winter I’ll be reading Quebec history. Maybe some idea will surface, in fact or in folktale, that will tell me how to incorporate a stunning feature that so far has not received its full due.
I wondered if Missouri was the turtle state, and if not, what was the story behind the design?
This information from a brochure about the Old Courthouse tells the tale:
‘A turtle design on the reproduction courtyard gates commemorates a turtle that once lived in the courthouse fountain. Legend claims that custodian James Quigley brought the turtle to the courthouse where it had the distinction of being called “the only thing connected with the building that did not require an appropriation of the taxpayers’ money”.’
Thanks, Sarah! Whether true of not, the story is a good one.
Does anyone else have a good fence story to share? Or a story about a turtle?
Fences come in all shapes and sizes, yet in one way or another they all serve the same purpose: to separate one area from another. At Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, the oldest fence separates a former farm field from a driveway.
An equally practical but more decorative fence is the one I designed to protect shrubs from the deer that are such a plague in country gardens. I found the style so effective that I’ve used it in fences in the upper and lower fields, the Asian meadow and the Upper Room.
A totally impractical but decorative fence in the Asian Meadow uses ornamental Chinese tiles inset into a low wooden fence to delineate the edge of the meadow and separate it from a picnic area.
One of the most attractive deer fences I’ve seen is the one below, spotted in the Bridge Garden on Long Island. The casual arrangement of long sticks is a variation of a Japanese style.
Compare it, for example, to this more formal fence at the Morikami Japanese Garden in Florida.
Some fences are purely practical but even practical fences needn’t be unattractive. I saw the one below at Madoo, the Long Island garden of the late Robert Dash, and while its material is utilitarian, its colour lightens the surroundings and adds interest to the plants at its base.
Some fences make strong visual statements. At Veddw, the Welsh garden created by Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes, an opening into a farm field needed to be fenced. The ground on one side was much higher than the ground on the other, and the land sloped markedly from end to end. They solved this problem with imagination, and at low cost, by using slats of varying heights.
A similarly imaginative fence is at The Grove, the garden of the late David Hicks, where the silhouettes of famous landmarks decorate one side of a very plain fence.
For a fence that illustrates the interests of the gardener, one designed by Christine Facer Hoffman, a medical scientist turned garden designer, tops my list. Ms Facer Hoffman’s dog is named Pi and this fence makes his name a reality… it is an endless sequence of numbers listing the decimal points of pi. The fence is also practical, keeping gravel out of the vegetable garden.
It’s easy to install a low-cost utilitarian fence, but how much more interesting it is to design one that suits the situation, the interests and the aesthetics of the garden owner. A wonderfully contemporary fence at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve combines open and closed spaces, a principle that informs many garden designs. At first glance, the fence is a solid barrier.
But as you walk alongside it, the fence opens to allow flowers to peep through.
Designing a fence like this takes skill and imagination. Add the wonderfully toned plants and you have a winner.