I’m happy to share some very good news — the Aqueduct at Glen Villa is the winner of the grand prize for design in the residential category at ADIQ, the Quebec industrial designers association.
This prestigious prize recognizes the work of designer and friend Eric Fleury, of the landscape architecture firm, Hodgins and Associates (HETA). The walls and landscaping were the work of Oscar Hache and his team; the impressive steel elements were fabricated by François Beroud and the Montreal firm Designworks.
In twenty years, we’ve made many changes at Glen Villa, transforming the landscape to suit our needs. The Aqueduct is both the largest project we’ve undertaken and the one with the biggest visual impact.
Before the Aqueduct was built, water moving down the hillside was invisible. The focus of the view was a tree in the distance and a rough stone wall in the foreground.
After the Aqueduct was built, the focus of the view changed. The tree and the stone wall remained, but the dominant element became the water itself. Finally we could see it, hear it and admire it.
The before and after views are striking in both directions. A grassy slope dominated the landscape when looking towards the house. But to get from the house to the slope was a dangerous undertaking. Rough stones with rounded tops formed the staircase and there was no railing to make the the stairs safer.
Worst of all, nothing fit together. The staircase and the pointed angle at the end of the house were at odds with the rough stone wall, and it was at odds with the lines of the house. Looking out onto the big lawn, nothing held your eye.
Once the Aqueduct was built, everything fell into place. The broad steps carried the horizontal lines of the house into the landscape. The sharp triangle of the deck became mirrored in the lines of the reflecting pond and in the channel that carried water across the grass . (You can see the pointed angle of the reflecting pond in the first photo above.)
These changes altered our view. As significantly, they altered our use of the space. Before the Aqueduct was built, we used this side of the house very little. We had always eaten outside on the deck overlooking the Aqueduct but now in addition we sit on the wooden steps, soaking up the sunshine. We sit in the shade with a book or a glass of wine. We watch grandchildren play on the swings nearby or paddle in the reflecting pond. And always with us is the sound of water and the reflection of the sky above.
Congratulations to Eric, Oscar, François and Myke. And thank you for such a wonderful addition to life at Glen Villa.
It’s fascinating to see plants you think of as house plants growing outside. During a recent trip to Florida, I visited a friend and took a quick walk around her garden. The colours and textures were astonishing.
I can’t name any of the plants, although they may be familiar to those of you who live in warmer climes. Nameless or not, I loved what I saw, particularly the large-leafed beauties below.
Who can resist a shape like this rounded indentation? And the colour contrast was delicious.
I took these photos using my sister’s phone so the quality isn’t the best. But the brilliance of the colours shining out from the shade make up for it.
Returning from Florida to cold Quebec was a shock, particularly after a big storm dumped 35 cms (15 inches or so) in a few short hours. But a snow-covered landscape offers its own beauty.
Three days after returning to Quebec, I left again for Boston. Over the next few days I’ll be speaking about Glen Villa (Creating a Personal Paradise: The Story of Glen Villa) in Duxbury, Hingham and Carlisle, Massachusetts. If you happen to be in the vicinity and are interested in attending, get in touch for the times and locations.
Or take a minute to check out my website. You’ll find info there about my new talk, “Learning to Look: The Art of Garden Observation,” as well as about the other talks I offer. I’m now booking engagements for the fall and would be delighted to visit your horticultural society, garden club or other organization. Do get in touch!
I love trees. Not surprisingly, many of my favourites are in my own garden, Glen Villa, and I wrote about some of them here. But in my travels, I’ve come across many other special trees, and they stand out in my memory for different reasons.
One I remember because of its size. The Angel Oak, still growing on John’s Island, South Carolina after some 400 years or more, is so large that I couldn’t capture it in a single photo. I simply couldn’t stand far enough away — the longest branch stretches 187 feet from the trunk. The shade beneath this southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) is dense and provided welcome relief on a hot day. A visitor walking in the shade gives you an idea of the size of the oak — gigantic.
Another tree is memorable because of its roots. The beech tree (Fagus grandifolia) standing on the aptly named Beech Terraceat Dumbarton Oaks in the Georgetown district of Washington, D.C. offers a fine introduction to this garden, designed by Beatrix Ferrand in the 1920s for Robert and Mildred Bliss. I’d love to see the tree in springtime, when the Crocus tomasinianus, Scilla siberica and Chionodoxa luciliae bloom among its roots, lighting up the ground in shades of blue, and calling even more attention to the beauty of the blue-grey trunk.
Writhing branches characterize a tree at Broughton Grange in England. I can’t identify the tree (can you?) but standing tall behind a laburnum allée it has become a smashing piece of sculpture. It’s tall — the laburnum tunnel must reach at least ten feet and the tree towers above it. Alongside this section of Broughton Grange’s extensive grounds is a walled garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith. If he was the one who advised against removing the tree, I say bravo!
“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.” Shakespeare penned these words to describe Cleopatra but they seem to suit as well the ancient Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) at Painshill Park near London. Looking at the tree, said to be the oldest of its kind in England — and possibly the largest in Europe — I am struck by the grace of its form, not symmetrically balanced but with a satisfying asymmetry which complements the Romantic ideas that inspired this 18th century landscape garden.
Age hasn’t withered an ancient olive tree at Villa Adriana, or Hadrian’s Villa, in Tivoli, near Rome — it’s producing olives even at a ripe old age. The Villa is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the gnarled and twisted trees form a romantically evocative grove in the surrounding grounds. According to on-line information, it is hard to date the trees because the inner part of an olive tree rots while the tree keeps growing laterally.
Some trees stick in my mind because of the extraordinary way they’ve been distorted. The tree below is in the Bishopville, South Carolina garden of Pearl Fryar, a self-trained topiary artist. About 30 years ago, he began trimming the evergreens around his yard into unusual shapes, creating living sculptures that are as memorable as the man himself.
Pearl Fryar’s trees made me smile. So did these two giant trees at Ascott, in Buckinghamshire, England. To my eyes they seem to be growing together, trying to form a single heart silhouetted against the sky. This vision may be fantasy on my part, but perhaps not: as I wrote in a review of the gardens a few years ago, Leopold de Rothschild had the gardens designed and gave them to his wife as a wedding present. Suitably, a sundial spells out his attachment in tightly clipped yew: “Light and shade by turn, but love always”. So why shouldn’t the trees continue to reflect his commitment?
Different trees arouse different emotions. This knobby old specimen at Stourhead, a National Trust property in Wiltshire, made me do a double-take. Was I really seeing an enormous owl at the base of the tree?
Other trees have made me sad. How could I fail to feel otherwise when I saw an Australian tree that seemed to be bleeding to death? Its name fits the picture — it’s called bloodwood. I felt better when I learned that Australian Aboriginals collect the sap, either when it is liquid or after it has crystallized, and apply it to sores or cuts as an antiseptic.
Sometimes the red gum hardens into funny shapes, like the mini-devil clinging to the side of the tree below. Proving, I suppose, that even sad things can bring a smile when the shape is right.
A piece about specimen trees in the on-line magazine Gardenista started me thinking about trees and how special they are to me. Having recently planted a long allée of crabapple trees at Glen Villa, (and having written about it here) where the impact stems from the sheer number of trees and the precision of their placement, my mind swung to the opposite end of the spectrum, to individual trees that make an impact on their own.
The most important tree at Glen Villa, my garden in rural Quebec, is the basswood, or linden as I prefer to call it, that stands at the end of the Big Meadow. This tree is the garden’s signature tree. It is the focal point of the view from our kitchen window and even in the fog that almost obscured it a few days ago, it stood out as something special.
The linden is special in every season. It is spectacular in autumn….
… gloriously green in mid-summer…
… and a shimmer of light in early spring.
The linden tree is special, but it isn’t the only special tree at Glen Villa. An old maple tree that for obvious reasons I call the Semaphore Tree signals the letter O non-stop. (Is the O a smoke ring signalling danger or a sign of sudden comprehension? I wish I knew.)
The Semaphore Tree makes me laugh, as does the Grass Snake Tree close by.
Other trees speak to me more softly. A small horse chestnut tree I planted some years ago announces the on-set of fall. It is always the first to change colour and while that should make me sad, the peachy tones that I know will change to fiery red make me content to welcome the inevitable.
So what if summer is over, I tell myself. The beauty of autumn will make up for it.
Other trees have inspired me to create art installations. A dead pine tree determined the location of a trail through the woods. A few years later the trail became a meditative walk called In Transit/En Route, where the tree plays an essential role. (You can read about the process of creating In Transit/En Route in a three-part series I wrote several years ago: here, here and here.)
When it was struck by lightning, another dead tree at the edge of a field became the spark that ignited Abenaki Walking, an installation that chronicles the story of the original inhabitants of this part of Quebec.
Dead trees speak to me. Only a section of the trunk now remains of what must once have been an impressive specimen — a maple perhaps? — but its presence inspired a project I’m working on that links tree trunks to Greek columns.
In her book The Inward Garden Julia Moir Messervy writes that our responses to the landscape are shaped by our experiences as children. I know this is true for me. A huge pear tree outside the kitchen door of the first house I remember living in established an axial line that continued to the rear of the garden, and axial lines in gardens still sit happily in my mind. A wide spreading cherry tree that bloomed pale pink outside my bedroom window in the house where we moved when I was 12 whispered romance; I’d put down the book I was reading and imagine a boy climbing the tree to rap on my window and carry me away. The oak tree at the first house my husband and I owned was so large that I thought it had inspired the name of the town, Oakville. The ground shook when a branch fell in the night, waking us both, but leaving a crotch wide enough to hold a tree house where our children played with friends.
The archetypal tree of my childhood, though, was one that grew at my grandparents’ farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Relatives always called it a poplar; now I know it was a tulip poplar, or Liriodendron tulipifera, named after the shape of the blossoms. The tree stood in a field high above my grandparents’ farmhouse, too far away for a little girl to walk to on her own, but always out there, beckoning, urging me to explore. Over dinner I remember hearing stories that courting couples could walk to the tree since they were always in view from the house. And that once there, they might even become engaged. Or not — paintings of the tree done by two powdery great-aunts hung throughout the house, silent testimony to their old maid status.
I have a photo of the tree that I took the last time I visited my grandparents’ farm in 2003, long after they both had died. Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo from the farmhouse looking up, as I remember the tree most clearly, but from the hilltop looking down.
Who knows if the tree is still alive? It may well be dead now but no matter — the memory survives.
Are there trees that stand out in your garden, or in your memories? I’d love to hear the stories.
As the end of the year approaches, I’m thinking about transitions. In the context of gardens, transitions are often linked to paths. Paths lead you somewhere, either literally or metaphorically. They take you through different landscapes — meadows, forests, open fields — whose settings evoke different moods. They come in all shapes and sizes — grassy and gravel, broad and narrow, straight and curved. One path may lead to a specific place, another to nowhere in particular and yet a third to someplace unknown, a future waiting to be discovered.
Anyone visiting Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, can walk for hours on the paths we’ve cut. One of the first I made led through the garden and into the woods and fields that surround us. One part of this path ran parallel to the drive, towards what would become the China Terrace.
Over the years we’ve cut more paths. One covered with wood chips leads through the fern woods, past memory posts I painted to honour my father and brother-in-law.
Another path strewn with leaves leads into the woods.
Some paths are lined with flowers.
Others are lined with trees.
Some are straight…
… others gently curved.
Some paths are sunny and cheerful…
… others darkly mysterious.
The newest path is The Avenue, a double line of crabapple trees we planted in November. It leads straight through the field, to a springtime of bloom.
Or so I hope.
But I can’t be sure. Because not all paths lead straight ahead. Some take us in circles, returning us to the place we started. Some take us to places we’d rather not see, others to sights that surprise and delight.
The journey is the thing. It can stretch our minds as well as our legs. And surely that is part of the pleasure.
I woke yesterday to a fine dusting of snow, and during the day more snow fell. Today it outlines the branches of the big oak tree by our boathouse and the old crabapple trees by the drive, emphasizing the contrast between rough bark and soft fluffy white.
The forecast calls for more snow to come, and as confirmation, the sky is grey. But once the snow stops and the barometer rises, the sky will be a clear, bright blue that cheers the spirits.
For those who live in warmer climes, the thought of snow and ice and temperatures that routinely drop to -30C must be daunting. But for those of us accustomed to winter, it is full of glories, just waiting to be seen. Some are ephemeral …
… others longer lasting.
At Glen Villa, my garden in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, sculptures and installations that I’ve created reflect the history of the land. These art works have a special appeal in winter. When the sun shines, the steel bands of Trees Rings cast shadows on the snow, mirroring the tree’s internal rings on the ground as they do in the air.
On frosty mornings, the barbed wire encircling these inverted branches acquires a beauty that denies its hurtful reality.
Webster’s Column, the sculpture I made to celebrate my husband’s 50-year career as a journalist, appears black and white in the distance, missing only the touch of red that would turn it into the newspaper riddle popular when I was a child.
Colours make a stronger statement in winter than they do in other seasons, when so many other colours compete. A yellow tree trunk advises caution, think about your choice.
A gleaming red apple warns you to resist temptation.
Even blacks and whites gain strength.
At Orin’s Sugarbush, silver leaves chime gently, announcing the holiday season.
And by the front door, a tree awaiting its silver star provides the seasonal touch of green. Iced, of course.
Here’s hoping that your holiday season is filled with colour and joy, and your garden with winter’s art.
Winter is almost here in Quebec, which means that not much is going on in the garden at Glen Villa. So instead of moaning about that, I’m remembering one of the gardens I visited in England last May.
Malverleys is a large private estate, rarely open to the public, so the small group of gardeners who were on the tour I was hosting was fortunate to be able to visit. We were doubly fortunate to tour the garden in the company of Mat Reese, the head gardener. Anyone who subscribes to Gardens Illustrated, or reads it regularly, may recognize his name — Mat writes ‘Plantsman’s Favourites’, several pages near the front of each issue in which he recommends special plants for each season.
The garden he is in charge of uses contrast as its central idea. Understandably, because Malverleys is a garden of extremes. Old trees tower over a new garden, and recently created views frame a countryside that seems to have existed forever.
Malverleys also shows what can be accomplished when talent combines with wealth. Working in conjunction with the owners, in a few short years Mat has created a garden that celebrates traditional Jekyll-inspired plantings, a style he believes best suits the English countryside. But not content with imitating the past, he is constantly experimenting, and the results of his experimentation show what can happen when contrasts are pushed to the limit.
Easiest to identify (and to photograph) in the ten intensely gardened acres are the contrasts in colour. These range from sharp contrasts within a single border …
… to contrasts within a single plant.
Less obvious but equally effective are contrasts in texture and size.
When the owner acquired the property, none of the current gardens existed. Now open spaces are carefully balanced against closed ones, light against dark.
In contrast to open fields and a sunny lawn is a dark stumpery, full of mystery and ferns. Some forms are delicate …
Water is handled with equal care. A large pot of water sits in a shallow pool, surrounded by beds thickly planted in cool colours.
A larger pool surrounded by more vibrant tones reflects the sky.
In a section of the garden still being constructed, water arcs from the sides of a rill to form circular patterns, while the sound of the splash adds a new note to the symphony of birds.
Throughout the garden, formality is contrasted with informality. Beside the house a recently planted parterre combines yew, boxwood and hydrangea …
while in the walled garden there is a meadowy abundance.
Classically influenced statuary at the top of a low set of stairs sets one tone …
while designer chickens wandering through the garden set quite another.
Mat Rees’s title is Director of Horticulture. This isn’t the title used in most gardens of this type, but at Malverleys, a title isn’t the only convention that has been given a twist. Topiary in a flowery meadow, for example. Christopher Lloyd’s garden Great Dixter famously had one, and Rees may well have worked on it when he was there. At Malverleys, the meadow combines the standard wildflowers with perennials and shrubs, and a topiary statue twists its way up amid the yews.
A double border lining a bit of green lawn is a standard feature, a cliché too often made worse by unimaginative planting. Not so here.
An old stone path where cracks burst with thyme and self-sown plants is a commonplace that Rees has freshened, both with the variety and combination of plants he has chosen and with the broken pattern inserted in the walk.
And what self-respecting garden of this type excludes a white garden? The very name conjures romance in the moonlight, perfumed yet coolly restrained.
At Malverleys, the white garden is wild, unrestrained, punctuated with touches of colour, on the verge of tipping over into confusion.
Can the same be said of the garden as a whole? Malverleys is a garden built on contrasts — between convention and experimentation, between restraint and lack thereof — and with contrasts as strong as these, finding a balance is essential. Establishing that balance isn’t easy; maintaining it is even harder. And I’m afraid that with the addition of one more thing, one more garden room, one more feature, the balance will be lost. A studied garden will fall over the top.
I hope I’m wrong, for the plans that Rees outlined for the future are exciting: a lake, an arboretum, a series of courses for those wanting to learn more. A few more years will tell the tale.
Last week my computer went on the blink and for three whole days, my typing fingers had a rest. The days off-line gave me time to do other things, but instead of using the time wisely, I wandered around feeling bereft.
So it was only yesterday, when all was once again well on the computer front, that I ventured outside to plant bulbs. I should have done this weeks ago but the weather had been so fine, almost summer-like, that I kept putting it off.
Until the snow fell.
There wasn’t much of it, but it was a clear warning that the job had to be done before the ground froze. Thankfully I hadn’t ordered too many bulbs so the job didn’t take long.
Planting bulbs lets me hope and dream. Come spring, will I see a sprinkle or a cloud of snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) alongside the path to the China Terrace?
Will the several dozen trout lilies (Erythronium tuolumnense ‘Pagoda’) planted under the witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) by the front door look like they grew there naturally, as I intend?
Walking in my mind along the path through the Big Meadow, I dream of seeing a mix of blue and white Camassia (Camassia leichtlinii ‘alba’ and ‘caerulea’) poking their heads through the grass.
And with luck, my dream of seeing foxtail lilies (Eremurus x isabellinus ‘Cleopatra’) towering above the boxwood and nepeta at The Aqueduct will come true.
What I’m most eager to see though, are the blossoms on the long avenue of crabapple trees we finally finished planting. (I wrote about them in my last blog post.)
The Avenue is impressive, whether seen from the road looking north…
or from the driveway looking south.
In the spring we’ll harrow and seed this long strip of earth, now arrow-straight. The grass should be a young, tender green when the trees bloom, pink and white.
But first we’ll enjoy another winter, with snow piled high outside and fires roaring inside. There will be books to read and dreams to dream.
When is a straight path not straight enough? When is it too narrow?
Last March, I decided to transform an unused farm field into something spectacular by lining the path that ran through it with crabapple trees. When the ground was barely thawed, I paced out the length to determine how many trees to order.
I was taken aback. We needed 100 trees, 50 each side, planted at 18 foot intervals.
The number made me stop and think. Was it worth It? The mental picture of trees in full bloom took my breath away and I decided it was.
I began to research the best varieties for our situation. I wasn’t sure if I wanted pink or white blossoms or if I wanted both. And how should I arrange them? Should I alternate the colours, mix them at random or establish some other kind of pattern?
As I often do when I face a decision like this, I called my friend, the landscape architect Myke Hodgins. We talked about the possibilities and he suggested the pattern I’m using, a single line of white blossoming trees on each side of the path, with a square of pink ones to mark each end. He also suggested that I continue the trees across the driveway to create a tunnel of pink, an idea I found immensely appealing.
I narrowed the selection to six possible varieties and made the final choice based on what could be sourced locally in the quantities I needed. That meant ordering 24 Malus x moerlandsii ‘Profusion’ (violet-red blossoms, bronze-green foliage and bright red fruit) and 100 Malus ‘Dolgo’ (white blossoms and overall reliability — plus the crabapples make a very tasty jelly.)
We began to prepare the site in mid-August. I thought it would be an easy job. The field was flat, the path was straight and all we had to do was widen it a bit.
I was wrong on all counts. Very wrong.
The path wasn’t straight. It ended far too close to a telephone pole and to a tree I wanted to keep. And it was much too narrow, particularly considering the ditches we’d have to dig.
To avoid the tree and the telephone pole, we shifted the path towards the truck you see in the photo above. We widened it from 8 feet to 12 feet. We added another six feet on either side, to give enough space for walking once the trees spread to full size. Then came the ditches, essential in a sometimes soggy field. And suddenly we were looking at a plowed strip 60 feet wide.
Then the real work began. Equipment was hired. Ditches were dug, necessarily deeper and wider than I had anticipated.
Neighbours noticed and politely inquired. Were we building a landing strip or a new road?
Finally, though, the work finished. And then the wait began.
We were ready but the trees were not, which was unfortunate since the weather was ideal — dry, sunny and cool. And while we were waiting, it started to rain. And it rained, and rained, and rained. All the holes we’d dug filled with water. And still the trees didn’t arrived.
Until finally, they did. This morning an enormous truck arrived, heavily laden with 124 crabapples and one little willow.
The trees were unloaded beside the road and the planting began.
The trees are heavy so each has to be chained and lifted into a waiting hole.
Planting will take a full day at least. And before the holes are re-filled with earth, each tree will need to be adjusted to ensure the line is straight.
I’ll post a photo once the work is done. I know the trees won’t look like much then, but consider how they’ll look next May!
A final note: Recently, I found a note I made in 2012 after visiting gardens in England. “Use a straight tree line in the garden. But where?”