All posts by Pat Webster

Australia Kimberley 2011-82

Rock Art

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

stonehead (1 of 1)

Strange Times

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


stonehead (1 of 1)


then a leg. First one leg …


stonehead 4 (1 of 1)


then another.


stonehead 2 (1 of 1)


The legs stretched out longer and longer.



stonehead 3 (1 of 1)


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


broken tree (1 of 1)


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


stonehead ferns (1 of 1)


Happy Hallowe’en!

Maple trees gleam in the sunlight.

Autumn Colour

Autumn is spectacular in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Unfortunately I’ve had little time to enjoy it this year, because earlier this month we sold our condominium in Montreal where we’ve lived for the last 22 years. Cleaning and sorting and disposing of the contents has taken a lot of time and effort. In fact, it’s been a real slog but thankfully I’ve had lots of help from family members. (Thank you, each and all!)

Understandably, blogging has taken a back seat to household work. But this past weekend, I took a break to enjoy some of the best that autumn offers. Here are a few scenes from Glen Villa, where, as of next week, I’ll be spending all my time. (Hooray!)  (And yes, if you do the math, you’ll see that the gap between sale and occupancy was less than three weeks. Whew!)

First is this scene along our driveway.

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White birch trees stand out against colourful leaves. The white wooden doorway in the distance marks the entrance of the China Terrace, the re-imagining of the old resort hotel that once stood on the property.


Nearby is this group of trees, resplendent in their brilliance.

Maple trees gleam in the sunlight.
Maple leaves gleam in the sunlight, offering a sharp contrast to the slender tree that has lost its leaves.


There’s a froth of colour at the Aqueduct.

Prairie dropseed, or Sporobolus heterlepis, drips and droops beside the Aqueduct.
Prairie dropseed, or Sporobolus heterolepis, drips and droops beside the Aqueduct. The red shrub behind it is Barberry ‘Ruby Glow.’


Beside it, this work horse spirea offers an unexpected touch of colour.


The reds, yellows and greens of Spirea japonica 'Magic Carpet' take us for an autumn ride.
The reds, yellows and greens of Spirea japonica ‘Magic Carpet’ take us for an autumn ride.


By the front door, our native witch hazel, with its twisted trunk, has an Asian look.


Soft tones of yellow and green adorn the witch hazel (Hammamaelis virginiana), while the twisting trunk adds an Asian touch.
Soft tones of yellow and green adorn the witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana).


At its feet are bergenia.


Bergenia leaves present themselves as Christmas colours, red and green.
Bergenia leaves present themselves as Christmas colours, red and green.


Change in the garden occured gradually. A few weeks ago, the trees had only begun to turn.


A few weeks ago, the trees had only begun to change colour. The Glen Villa flag flies proudly above the Lower Garden.
The Glen Villa flag flies proudly above the Lower Garden.


Some things, though, never change — a turkey is always a turkey.


Wild turkeys enjoy walking along the Crabapple Allée.
Wild turkeys enjoy strolling along the Crabapple Allée, munching as they go.


A late Happy Thanksgiving to Canadian readers, and an early one to Americans. And to those who celebrate neither, Happy Fall.

The fountain rises 70 feet into the air. On a sunny day it is beautiful to see. It works via a remote control!

Garden Hits and Misses

At home after three marvellous weeks visiting gardens (and  friends) in England, I find much to criticize in my garden. After many years of travelling, I’ve come to expect this — and to accept that a garden in Quebec’s harsh weather conditions will never resemble an English garden, with its lush foliage and flowers, topiary and ancient walls.

I’ve also come to expect that gardens other than my own will disappoint me.

On every tour I’ve hosted, there has always been one garden I particularly looked forward to seeing. On this trip, that garden was Boughton House, in Northumberlandshire. It wasn’t the flowers or the historically significant 18th landscape that was the big draw, it was Orpheus, a contemporary work of art by the English landscape architect Kim Wilkie.

I’ve seen Wilkie’s landforms at Great Fosters, near London, and at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. At both I admired the clarity of form, the precision of line, and the effectiveness of the work in its setting. This admiration made me eager to see Wilkie’s work at Boughton, where a pyramid, inverted to descend underground, mirrors the shape and proportions of an 18th century mound nearby.

The 18th century garden is superb and the restoration of the fountain and the Grand Etang fittingly grand for a house built along the lines of Versailles.


The fountain rises 70 feet into the air. On a sunny day it is beautiful to see. It works via a remote control!
The fountain that works via remote control rises 70 feet into the air. On a sunny day it is beautiful to see.


Orpheus, however, left much to be desired.

The original gardens date from 1684, when John, the first Duke of Montagu, laid out a design based on the golden ratio, the golden spiral and golden sections. (There are many explanations of this idea on-line.) Wilkie used the same principle for Orpheus, and conceptually the project is brilliant in the way it relates the new, both to the old and to the surrounding landscape.


Orpheus descends underground in front of The Mount that dates from the 18th century.
Orpheus, only partly visible, echoes the shape of The Mount behind it.


By naming the earth work Orpheus, after the mythological Greek musician who rescued his wife Eurydice from the underworld through the beauty of his music, Wilkie connected the contemporary work to the Enlightenment ideas that formed the basis of the garden’s original design. Using the proportions of the adjacent Mount, he created a massive 160 square foot inverted grass pyramid with a sunken pool at the bottom. At ground level he added a stone rill and a series of grass sections that follow a golden spiral. Finishing the project he placed the outline of a cube, creating negative space above as he had created negative space below.

So why was Orpheus a disappointment?

First, I couldn’t really see it. To appreciate the design, I needed to see it from above. From ground level, the idea is clear but the impact is absent. Could I have climbed the Mount? Possibly, but whether through on-site restrictions or lack of time, that didn’t happen.


Boughton House (5 of 10)
I liked the colour contrast, white against green.


Second, too many technical aspects fell short. The lines of the grass banks, so important to the design, were clean and sharp but bare patches of ground were distracting. So was the algae marring what should have been clear, reflective water.


Bare dirt spoils the clean lines of the earth form.
At the bottom left of the photo is another distraction — a metal man-hole cover. It may be necessary but its presence spoils what should be a pristine form.


This summer in England was particularly dry, and a lack of rain could explain why the grass has not grown well. But it does not explain the condition of the stone rill, besmirched by bird droppings.

Most troubling was the absence of moving water in the rill itself. According to our guide, the water is rarely turned on for fear that the sunken pool will overflow and create additional problems for one side of the pyramid where an underground spring has already caused the bank to slip several times.


Boughton House (4 of 10)
Standing water beneath the cube suggests that the surface is not perfectly level.


I wanted to fall in love with Orpheus. The photographs I had seen of it told me I would. But I didn’t.

Nor did I react positively to Life Force by Angela Connor.


Boughton House (1 of 10)
The brownish red cord which is meant to suggest a vein surfaces several times along the top of an old stew pond. I wish all of it had remained hidden underground.


As for the flowery bits in the garden, the less said, the better.


The up-turned stumps that appeared in several places felt arbitrary and out of place in the Walled Garden.
The up-turned stumps that appeared in several places felt arbitrary and out of place in the Walled Garden.


The visit was far from a disaster, though, as other parts of Boughton’s landscape delighted me. I liked the serenity of the canal that stretched alongside an avenue of ancient trees.


The canal
The 18th century canal was re-lined not long ago as part of a restoration project that began in 1975.


A new grove of trees, where youngsters stood in orderly rows alongside grandparent trees, filled me with admiration. Will the grandparents be replaced by another generation as they themselves begin to fail?


The levels of light and shade changed constantly on the day we visited Boughton, creating different atmospheres and attitudes.
The levels of light and shade changed constantly on the day we visited Boughton, creating atmospheres that were alternately lively and serene.


The tree-lined view that stretched out to tomorrow was beautiful in its simplicity. This aspect of the garden underlined the long-term commitment made by the 9th and 10th Dukes of Buccleuch to rejuvenate this ancestral landscape.


You can't see the public road that crosses the open space but cars and trucks were occasionally visible.
These trees are part of the two miles of lime trees that have been replanted since 1975.


I admire enormously the restoration work going on at Boughton House. The scope of the work is daunting: formal areas cover 100 acres and there are an additional 450 acres within the original 15th century deer park. I admire equally the intention behind Wilkie’s Orpheus and the desire on the part of the current Duke of Buccleuch and his wife to add a contemporary edge to this magnificent setting. I only wish the reality of Orpheus matched its intent.


Over the next few weeks I’ll review other gardens I visited on this tour. There will definitely be some hits — and at least one more miss.

What about you? Have you visited a great garden recently? If you visited one that let you down, have you written about it? Evaluating a garden rather than simply describing it takes time and thoughtful consideration. It means looking at the designer’s intentions and deciding how successfully they were executed. Sharing critical views means putting yourself on the line and taking gardens seriously. I think that is something worth doing.




Garden Centres and Garden Reviews

Gardening in Canada can be frustrating. The range of plants available through nurseries or garden centres is minuscule compared with the number available in England. And seeing so many wonderful cultivars that won’t survive in my Quebec garden makes me envious of England’s more temperate climate.

Still, for anyone who loves plants, a visit to a garden centre is always a treat. The group I was hosting on my final garden tour spent a few happy hours wandering around the Burford Garden Company, an Oxfordshire-based enterprise. At this time of year the stock of perennials is low but there were still four Anemones to choose from — Queen Charlotte, Hadspen Abundance, Whirlwind, and Dreaming Swan. At the best of times I’d be lucky to find one or two, and none of those available at Burford.

A table of cyclamen made a nice display, and at £3.50 (Cdn $6 or US$5) for a 10.5 cm pot, the price was right. Plus there were eight or nine colours to choose from.




Several displays of clipped boxwood caught my eye, and made my wallet wish I could magically transport the plants to Glen Villa, my home garden.


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Prices for the boxwood balls went from £30 (Cdn $50 or US $40) for the smallest to £175 (Cdn $300, US$230) for the largest. The boxwood cones ranged from £35 (Cdn$60, US$45) to £195 (Cdn$330, US$255).


cones (1 of 1)


There were some hidden bargains. The largest cone in the photo above was priced at £195, the smallest at £125, while the mid-sized  cone was only £85 (Cdn $145). I’d pay that much for something much, much smaller — if it was available at all.  Paul Gilmour, the man in charge of plants, explained the price disparity, saying that most of their boxwood are imported from Belgium and that exchange rates vary, as do individual prices depending on the quantity the company buys.

Roses were in short supply but scenting the air was a Gertrude Jekyll rose in full bloom.




Wandering through the plants, I spotted one that I happily left for another buyer. I don’t need a topiary deer — I have far too many of the real thing!


This little guy can be yours for only £2150.


I’m back in Canada now, enjoying some beautiful autumn weather. Over the next weeks (months?), I’ll be reviewing many of the gardens we visited on this final tour. They included public and private gardens, large and small gardens, historic and contemporary gardens. Some were designed and maintained by the garden owner alone, some were designed by professionals and had large gardening staffs.

On each of the tours I’ve hosted, tour go-ers have been asked to rate their favourite five gardens. This is hard to do when the gardens themselves are so different. Which garden is ‘best?’ What criteria can apply fairly to all?

So here’s a challenge. What is the best garden you’ve visited this year?

Anne Wareham, editor of the on-line journal ThinkinGardens, is asking for reviews.

“A small competition everyone – be a star and write me a piece about the best garden you’ve visited this year.

Remember – this is thinkingardens. I don’t want any ‘lovelies’ or long winded description and tour of a garden. I want to hear about what touched you, what the spark of excitement was about it, what stayed with you after you left. How brilliantly the maker has responded to context, limitations, challenges and inspiration. Any size garden. And I want to hear also about the downsides – no garden is perfect and I won’t believe you if you try to tell me it is.

I don’t want to hear more than necessary about plants.

And I’d like to learn something from your piece. To see a new perspective, an aspect of garden making I’d never imagined. A way of looking or seeing that opens my eyes.

Let’s be clear – this is not going to tell us which are the best gardens in the world. That is not the point nor is it possible.

Between 800 and 1000 words, on a Word document with pictures inserted, so I can see where they go, but big files of them sent additionally by WeTransfer. Send via email.  Deadline 1st November 2018

I will publish the three best pieces.”

I plan to send a review… and I hope many readers will, too. First, of course, I have to decide which garden I will choose.  Does my own garden count?




Oudolf at Pensthorpe

Over the last half dozen years or so,  I’ve visited several gardens in England designed by the Dutch plantsman, Piet Oudolf. These include Bury Court in Hampshire, Scampston Hall’s Walled Garden in Yorkshire and Hauser & Wirth in Somerset. Because I’ve seen and enjoyed these gardens, I was eager to see Oudolf’s Millennium Garden at Pensthorpe Natural Park in Norfolk.

(A review of Scampston Hall’s Walled Garden is here.)

Pensthorpe was Oudolf’s first commission in the U.K. Planted in 2000 and up-dated in 2008, the Millennium Garden is part of a larger natural reserve. Built on the site of former gravel quarries that left behind a patchwork of lakes, the watery location is designed to attract migrating and resident birds and to encourage families to  understand and enjoy nature.




Since the most recent work in the Millennium Garden is now ten years old, I was eager to see how — or if — Oudolf’s approach to planting had changed from what I’d seen at other gardens in England. Would the early date and the location make a difference in the plantings, and if so, in what ways?

One difference was obvious as soon as I entered the area. A natural element — birch trees growing close together — marked the entry rather than a gate in a wall or a door into a courtyard.   




But this was far from the only difference.

At Bury Court, Scamspston and Hauser & Wirth, you look at the plants. You observe their particularities — their colours, textures and growing habits. At Pensthorpe you are engaged with the plants, almost swallowed by them.




The contrasts in colour and texture that you see at Bury Court, Scampston Hall and Hauser & Wirth are present at Pensthorpe, but added to these elements are the sounds of nature — birds calling, wind soughing through the trees.


The flowers on these Eupatorium purpureum were larger than any I've ever seen.
The flowers on these Eupatorium purpureum were larger than any I’ve ever seen.


Topography is also a factor. The other three gardens that Oudolf has designed in England are on flat land. At Pensthorpe, the land slopes down to a small lake, one of many that dot the nature reserve.




Because of this difference in topography, I found Pensthorpe much more immersive than the gardens at Bury Court, Scampston or Hauser & Wirth.  Walking along a path that meandered down the slope, I sometimes felt like a giant Alice in Wonderland, looking down on the plants, and sometimes like a tiny Alice, with plants towering above me.




I was aware, too, of the blocky nature of the planting scheme. In my memory, the plants at Hauser & Wirth intermingle. One block of plants oversteps its boundary and drifts into the block next door.  What I saw at Pensthorpe were big areas that contained a single plant, with each area or block an entity unto itself.




What struck me most strongly, though, was how undesigned this garden felt in comparison to the others. This is not to suggest that Oudolf threw out seeds and plants willy-nilly. Far from it. But the overall atmosphere of the Millennium Garden is natural, as if all these plants just happened to be where they are.

Not so at  Hauser & Wirth where the circles of grass that are such a distinctive feature bring design to the fore. The same is true in the Walled Garden at Scampston Hall — a garden that I like very much. The five acres there are divided into nine garden rooms, each with its own character. There is a reflecting pond, a mount, semi-traditional borders and a circle where miscanthus explodes like fireworks. But most memorable for me are the curving drifts of Molinia, separated by curving strips of lawn, that Oudolf planted in one garden room, and the hedges that mimic that curving line in another.

At Pensthorpe, befitting a natural reserve, things are simpler. Plants are the focus. Big, blocky, glorious plants that rejoice in their autumnal colours.




This is the first time I’ve seen one of Oudolf’s English gardens in the autumn, when the seed heads that are so important to him are prominent features. Seeing them, I think of the opportunities that were wasted for so many years, when seed heads were chopped off as soon as the flowers faded.




Near the Millennium Garden, a children’s play area offers a fine contrast, as does the Corten Infinity Garden that follows, where a fence seems to open and close as you walked past. Neither was designed by Oudolf but both seemed to partake of his innovative spirit.




Pensthorpe would be a great place to spend the day, with children or grandchildren, or simply on your own. I’d be happy to return.




Petworth: a Landscape by Capability Brown

On a sunny day, what could be more agreeable than strolling through a landscape designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown? Earlier this week, two friends and I took advantage of the fine weather to do just this when we visited Petworth House in Sussex.

The landscape there is one of the finest surviving examples of Brown’s work. Walking through the 700-acre park, the surroundings appear to be totally natural, but in reality Brown shaped each part of the land with his customary flair.


From the house, the lake cannot be seen.
This view from the house gives no hint of what is waiting near the small groups of trees.


A flat expanse in front of the house stretches across tawny fields to spots of trees and groves in the distance. Hidden behind rolling hills is a serpentine lake typical of Brown’s work. The shoreline of this Upper Pond curves in and out gently, and trees strategically positioned suggest that it might continue forever.


The lake ends in a gentle curves, then narrows before widening again. The end of the lake is out of sight.
Water sparkled in the sunlight, imbuing the lake with a touch of magic.


Many of the trees at Petworth seem old enough to have been planted in Brown’s day. They are magnificent, like elegant ladies who stand erect even while showing their age.


The shapes of the trunks were fabulous -- in the word's true sense.
The trunk of this ancient chestnut tree was knobbed and knotted. It was one of a dozen or more in a grove on top of a hill overlooking the Upper Pond.


Equally elegant in its old age is an urn nearby.


Weathered by age
Weathered but still beautiful, this urn near a grove of chestnut trees is positioned to attract the eye.


Many garden historians do not admire Brown’s landscape parks and criticize him for destroying important examples of garden history. Working at Petworth in the 1750s and 1760s, Brown wiped out the formal gardens designed by the royal gardener, George London, that included ramparts, terraces, parterres, an aloe garden and summer house.


The house was built
This narrow stone terrace is all that separates the house from the parkland.


Along with creating the Upper Pond and a smaller Lower Pond, Brown designed new carriageways to reveal the ‘capabilities’ of the site. These new routes offered visitors glimpses of the house through newly planted trees, so that Petworth’s full splendour could be admired on arrival.

The house
The house was built in 1682 when heiress Elizabeth Percy, daughter of the Earl of Northumberland, married Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset. The art collection includes major works by Van Dyck, Turner, Reynolds and Gainsborough.

Brown also created a 30-acre Pleasure Ground with serpentine paths and informal planting, set off from the deer park by stone walls and a ha-ha, one of his signature features.


A woman standing inside the pleasure garden gives a sense of scale.
A woman standing inside the pleasure garden gives a sense of scale. The grove of chestnut trees is on the hill behind her.


The Pleasure Grounds provided the ideal location for the 3rd Earl of Egremont, a patron of plant collectors, to display his collection of North American trees and shrubs. Over the years, the area has gone through periods of development and stagnation. The National Trust, owner of the property, is now working to renew the area in order to accurately display the historical 
layers of the Pleasure Grounds and the important periods of its development.

One of those area being recreated is the view towards the Ionian Rotunda.


Yews have been planted to emphasize the view-line towards the Rotunda.
Yews have been planted to emphasize the view-line towards the Rotunda.


Following Brown’s advice, the Rotunda was built in 1766 in imitation of the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli, thereby adding a flavour of Italy, something which was seen highly desirable at the time.


An Ionian rotunda
The view from the Rotunda along the yew-lined allée gives an idea of the grandeur of the walk. Pleasure Grounds were designed to arouse a variety of emotions in the ladies and gentlemen who strolled the serpentine paths.


The Rotunda is one of two focal points in the Pleasure Grounds, the Doric Temple is the other. Originally situated in the Park, Brown relocated the temple to the Pleasure Grounds in the 1750s and it was moved to its present location in 1875, where the view over the countryside is particularly fine.  With its memorial to Henry Scawen Wyndham (1915-1942), who died in action at El Alamein, the temple adds a bit of gravitas to the grounds, evoking dignity, nobility and antiquity.


From this Doric temple, the view over the countryside is pure pastoral.
From this Doric temple, the view over the countryside is pure pastoral.


Flowers do not play a major role at Petworth. A narrow border edges one of the out buildings and a newly planted bed, looking a bit out of place, sits at one side of the house.


This unimaginative planting scheme doesn't live up to the dignity of the house and parkland at Petworth.
This unimaginative planting scheme doesn’t live up to the dignity of the house and parkland at Petworth.


More impressive is the pair of urns situated nearby.


Urns on pedestals match the grandeur of the house.
Urns on pedestals match the grandeur of the house.


The parkland is home to a herd of over 900 fallow deer, complimenting the idyllic ‘natural’ style that Capability Brown is lauded for.  The deer have plenty of room to roam — the wall around the 700-acre deer park is 14 miles long.

The Park and Pleasure Grounds at Petworth were one of Capability Brown’s earliest large-scale commissions. Considered by many to be his masterpiece, the site is well worth a visit.

Spirea japonica 'Crispa'

Ends and Beginnings

I head to England today, where I’ll be hosting my final garden tour. I’m sad about this ending, but at the same time, I’m happy to remember the people and places that have formed such a rewarding part of my life.

And as I keep reminding myself, ends are also beginning. Before leaving for England, I took a walk around  the garden at Glen Villa to see what’s in bloom and to assess what needs to be done when I return.

Generally, things are looking pretty good.


The hydrangea by the front steps always blooms well.
The deer have left the Sum and Substance hosta alone and the hydrangea by the front steps is blooming well. The sculpture is by our friends Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito.


A spirea by the steps to the Lower Garden is re-blooming now, after a bigger bloom earlier in the summer. It would bloom more profusely if it got more sun, but I like it where it is, mainly because the colour blends so well with the coneflowers nearby. (They have passed their best before date so I’m not picturing them.)


Spirea japonica 'Crispa'
Spirea japonica ‘Crispa’ has wonderful cut leaves as well as soft cherry blossoms.


The white roses by the road are also enjoying a second bloom.


The deer seem to have ignored the rose buds this year. Thank you, deer.
The deer seem to have ignored the rose buds this year. Thank you, deer.


Surprisingly, despite the heat we’ve experienced all summer, the Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is still coming into its own. Probably by the time I return, it will be finished.


In full bloom, the sedum is covered with happy bees.
In full bloom, the sedum is covered with happy bees.


The Lower Garden is looking peaceful and serene. There’s not much colour there, mostly green and white, and while I like the serenity that green and white bring, I’d like it even better with a touch of colour.  Adding some pink-toned Japanese Anemone and New England asters would do that without disturbing the atmosphere.


The Lower Garden is now mostly green and white.
I’ve been meaning to add the Anemones for several years now. Will I remember this year? I hope so.


The Gravel Garden was looking good a few weeks ago …


Dead wood frames a poodle-shaped pine.
Dead wood frames a poodle-shaped pine.


… but was looking better once the Sedum ‘Dazzleberry’ came into bloom — and once we’d cut off the dead wood on the poodle pine.


The Sedum is a variety called Dazzleberry. I like the colour very much.
The pine dies back a bit every year, unfortunately. Shaking off the dead needles in the spring isn’t fun.


The variegated butterbur (Petasites japonicus) lining the steps that lead up the hill is particularly lush at this time of year. I only wish it didn’t look so moth-eaten…


A variegated Petasites lines these steps through a section of woods.
Help! Someone tell me — is there some way to stop whatever is eating the leaves?


And speaking of holes…


How much longer do you think this cedar tree will survive?
How much longer do you think this cedar tree will survive?


At the Skating Pond, the ornamental grasses are in full flourish, with their reflection allowing them to do double time.


I like the way the infloresence is reflected in the pond.
You can’t see it here (or maybe you can) but there are two types of miscanthus in the group. One is ‘Malepartus,’ the other is ‘Morning Light.’ Combining them was a mistake. Note to self: think before planting!


Nearby, in a wet area above the pond, mint is threatening to take over the world. I don’t mind, though — brushing against the leaves releases a wonderful fragrance.


Which shall this become -- mint jelly or flowers in a vase?
Which shall this become — mint jelly or flowers in a vase?


The giant fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha) that grows in many places at Glen Villa looks good even after the blossoms have faded. I particularly like it at this time of year, when it is back-lit. But I need more New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis ) to set it off.


persicaria polymorpha (1 of 1)
There used to be more Ironweed. Did I kill it off or did it die on its own?


Tours aren’t the only thing coming to an end. Everywhere I look I see  signs that autumn is about to begin. There’s a hint of colour in the horse chestnut tree.


A touch of colour on the horse chestnut tree is a sure sign of approaching fall.
This touch of colour is a sure sign of approaching fall.


The Joy Pye weed trail is looking decidedly autumnal — or to say it more directly, dead.


A touch of autumn?
The dead heads of Joe Pye are enlivened by the exuberance of the white asters. The asters are having a bumper blooming year. Is this because of high temperatures or the rain that finally fell a few weeks ago, or is it a combination?


Bright lights are shining. About ten years ago, I started some Lobelia cardinalis from seed. It grew well, bloomed once, and gave up the ghost. Or so it seemed. But here it is again, shining in the sunlight.


The red is like a stop light.
The red is brighter as any cardinal I’ve seen. I’m hoping this patch will grow. Or at least will bloom again.


As I prepare to leave, I’m feeling good about the garden. There’s lots to be done, but what else is autumn for?

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This is a bumper year for mushrooms. On a short stretch of path in the woods, I spotted six different types. I didn’t pick any or examine them carefully, and without noting the specifics of their gills and stalks, I can’t identify them with certainty. Mushroom identification is tricky in the best of cases, and without being sure what each is, I definitely won’t eat them. But the differences in colour and shape are interesting.


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Is this one of the edible puffballs?  Maybe, maybe not.


orange cap
The intense colour of this mushroom tells me that it is most likely not edible. Note how the mushroom is emerging from its protective covering.


Orange flat top
Any mushroom with a scaly stem looks unappealing.


yellow tops with spots.
This yellow mushroom could be a fly agaric.  Notice the brownish mushroom almost hidden in the grass.


white scalloped edges
These white mushrooms develop scalloped edges as they mature. There’s another puffball on the bottom  left and some tiny orange mushrooms hidden in the leaf litter.


In another part of the woods, I spotted three more types.


A tilt of the hat to my granddaughter Vivienne who took this photo.
A tilt of the hat to my granddaughter Vivienne who took this photo.



She also captured this pink and white one.
Someone has taken a bite out of this pink-tinged one, exposing the gills.


Vivienne photographed this one, too. Strange colours... they make me think of Hallowe'en.
Vivienne photographed this one, too. The strange colours make me think of Hallowe’en.


There is one mushroom I saw that is easy to identify. And even easier to eat. Chanterelles. Yum.


The woods are full of chanterelles this year. And they are later than usual.
The woods are full of chanterelles this year. And they are later than usual.


Do you pick mushrooms? Do you eat the ones you pick?

The cedar will turn grey over the winter.

Nine Bridges, to Where?

Last week we added two new bridges on the Timelines trail. They aren’t large constructions but both allow us to keep our feet dry. The first bridge, near the end of the avenue of crabapple trees, avoids the ditch at the end of a culvert that goes underneath a road that connects our village of North Hatley to the neighbouring village of Sainte-Catherine-de-Hatley — formerly known as Katevale.


This ditch is always wet. We've made it larger by driving over it multiple times in a small all-wheel vehicle.
Over time we’ve made this ditch deeper and wider by driving through it in a small all-wheel vehicle.


The lines of the bridge are simple, a good fit for the straight allée that follows.


The cedar will turn grey over the winter.
The cedar posts and planks will turn grey over the winter.


A smaller ditch on the trail needed a smaller bridge.


Some months ago we added a similar bridge at another point on the Timelines trail.
Some months ago we added a similar bridge at another point on the Timelines trail. Now we can comfortably cross the streams and drainage ditches.


Thinking of these two new bridges made me realize how many other bridges we have at Glen Villa, and how different they are from each other.

There is the big bridge on the road by our pond.


The bridge is public, the pond isn't.
The bridge is public, the pond isn’t.


There is the little bridge covered with small round logs, that one of our grandchildren named the Troll Bridge.


I tried to cover the planks with moss but it didn't work.
I wanted moss to grow on the logs but the moss made the logs slippery so I let it die off.


There is the zig zag bridge in the Asian meadow.


A traditional Asian belief, that evil spirits move only in straight lines, accounts for the design of this zig zag bridge.
A traditional Asian belief, that evil spirits move only in straight lines, accounts for the design of this zig zag bridge.


There is the gently curved foot bridge at the edge of the woods, designed to rise above high water in the spring run-off.


I love the curve on this bridge. It rises gently enough to be easy to walk across but the centre point is high enough to avoid high water in the spring run off.
I took this photo when the bridge was new. The wood has now aged to a soft grey, blending into the surrounding forest.


And finally, there is the rock bridge that spans the stream that fills the Skating Pond.


We uncovered this rock when we dug the pond. My friend Myke suggested that it become a bridge.
We uncovered this rock when we dug the pond. My friend Myke suggested that it become a bridge. Good idea, Myke! It has worked well.


Not all bridges serve the same purpose. We needed a large bridge to cross the stream that separates our property from a neighbour’s. They were ok with the connection. And with the signs.


No, not a metaphor.
A nod to René Magritte? Crossing in the other direction, the signs are in French: Ce pont n’est pas … une métaphore.


Not all bridges are actual. Some are works of art, like this one made from girders that once supported an old covered bridge.


The sculptors Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito named their sculpture Bridge Ascending.
The sculptors Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito named their sculpture Bridge Ascending. The fire that destroyed the bridge twisted the girders into curving forms.


Some bridges aren’t there at all, or are there only in the eye of a beholder looking upwards and out.


An approaching storm colours the skies.
These storm clouds looked to me like a bridge to another world. The storm that followed was a doozy!


Who knows where this sky-bridge may lead?  Or who can cross it, or when?