The foundation wall of the old Glen Villa Inn is once again standing tall.
Rebuilding the wall has been quite a process. In its prime the wall was the base of a grand structure.
Unfortunately, like so many summer resort hotels built of wood, it didn’t last.
A colour postcard of the hotel sent the year it burned had this poignant message on the back:
In the last year, the hotel wall went from this …
to this …
and finally to THIS!
The muddy ground makes it difficult to appreciate the impact the re-built wall will have but we are delighted with the results.
We left the check in the foundation wall that might have been a fireplace and we rebuilt the internal staircase. Now, we’ll be able to go easily from the bottom of the wall to the higher ground at the top.
The men from Paysage Lambert, a local firm we’ve used before who I can happily recommend, used stones from the original foundation wall to rebuild the new one. By looking hard they found good flat-topped stones for the steps.
I’m not sure yet whether the stairs at the top will turn in one or both directions — that is a decision I’ll make once the dirt piles are gone and the snow melts. Which means I’ll be working over the winter months to plan the next phase of this project. Because of course there has to be one.
The photo of the hotel ruins shows two beds edging the circular drive that turned in front of the hotel.
A postcard from before the fire shows trees, shrubs and hotel guests edging the drive.
At the moment I’m seeing a simplified version of the arrangement in the photo from after the fire. The gravel drive for horses will be a mown path with two beds alongside it planted with shrubs and perennials. Currently we mow a path about ten feet wide around the wall and we’ll continue to do that. If we plant perennial beds, they probably would be about the same width.
The down side of this idea: it would require a LOT of plants. The plus side: we have very few areas where sun-loving perennials can thrive and this area gets full sun for most of the day.
In the hotel’s heyday, an asphalt path led towards the lake. Remnants of it remain.
So a variation on Idea 1 is to extend the border towards the lake, flanking the remnants of the path.
The downside of this scheme: it would take even MORE plants! But wouldn’t it look splendid?
I could combine one of these schemes or the other with a make-over of the Yin/Yang, using a contemporary version of the strange four-trunked arrangement that stood on the hotel grounds.
Four young flexible trees could be trained together, but I’m not sure I’d like the result. I do like the idea of roses, though…
This week brought more treasures and even more surprises.
The story of Glen Villa Inn was familiar to me before we acquired the property where we now live. This is not surprising since tales about it colour the history of North Hatley. I wasn’t prepared, though, for the impact that the hotel ruins had on me. They were right on our property, at the end of the big lawn, and they were such an impressive sight that they brought those familiar stories to life.
I began to do research, trying to discover as much as I could about the hotel and the property we now own. I collected or was given old postcards and photographs showing some of that history, including an original brochure produced by the man who built the hotel, George Albert LeBaron.
One of those colour postcards showed a strange flower arrangement, four posts or tree trunks covered with Virginia creeper or some type of ivy surrounding what seem to be annuals planted in a big metal tub.
This week, thanks to enquiries that the filmmaker Louise Abbot made to Jody Robinson, the archivist at the Eastern Townships Research Centre, I saw images of the hotel I’ve never seen before. One black and white photograph shows either the same flower arrangement or one that looks very similar. On the flat ground below, it shows a tennis court and the building that housed a bowling alley and dance hall. It also shows a boardwalk or ramp that I’ve never seen pictured. I haven’t figured out where the walkway led… a mystery still awaiting a solution.
But undoubtedly the most exciting photograph that Jody unearthed came from the archives of the Lennoxville-Ascot Historical Society. It shows the hotel after it burned in 1909.
This photo was taken the year the hotel burned to the ground, shortly before it was due to open for the summer season. The wall extends farther to the left and right than we thought. It includes the remains of a fireplace and steps leading up the hill, and ends in a castellation that is a complete surprise.
I know the topography of the land so well now that seeing the almost bare hillside behind the hotel ruins came as a surprise. But the shape of that hillside was totally familiar…. its shape is evident even now.
We aren’t planning to replicate that wall… only a part of it now remains. But what look like circular flower beds lining the drive that turned in front of it offer interesting possibilities…
Slowly the wall that used to hold up the old Glen Villa Inn is beginning to look like a wall again.
As exciting as the re-building are the treasures we discovered when the wall came down. We found glass bottles of all sorts, clear and coloured, broken and unbroken.
Some of the bits of glass were plain, some more decorative.
A clear glass jar with nicely interlocking circles saying Ripans tabules came from Ripans Chemical Company, New York. Thanks to an on-line search and information from The Toadstool Millionaires, I now know that the bottle we unearthed once held a patent medicine said to “benefit dyspepsia and illnesses from a disordered stomach.” The company’s name ‘Ripans’ was made up from the first letters of the product’s ingredients: rhubarb, ipecac, peppermint, aloes, nux vomica, and soda. Contemporary advertisements praised the virtues of these ‘tabules,’ a word made-up by the manufacturer, claiming “No matter what’s the matter, one will do you good. They banish pain, induce sleep, prolong life.” Apparently there was also a chocolate coated version.
I didn’t need to look on-line to find information about the bottle below — its name made its purpose clear, even if its shape hadn’t done that already.
I find to my surprise that an on-line market exists for these bottles, both of which date from the late 19th or early 20th century. You can buy a Ripans bottle on ebay for U.S. $24.99 and any number of ink bottles of different shapes and colours for even less.
As well as the clear and coloured bottles, our treasure trove included the base of a broken but still attractive candlestick, part of an oil lamp, a punch cup and the top of a salt shaker. The richly coloured blue bottle made by Wm R. Warner & Co. was yet another medicine bottle, and while I haven’t found information about what type of medicine it was, I imagine it was another miracle ‘tabule’ designed to cure all ills, induce sleep and prolong life.
Is there significance in the fact that the two medicine bottles we discovered were made in the U.S. and all the broken china we discovered was made in England? The hunter green design on the cache of broken plates and saucers seems even now an appropriate choice for a country inn, even though the pattern name Recherché does not. According to marks on the bottom, the ‘Imperial Semi China’ was made by Dunn Bennett & Co. Burslem England sometime between 1891 and 1907. Since Glen Villa Inn was built in 1902 and burned down in 1909, the china must clearly have been used in the hotel.
The blue fragment below, pattern name ‘Woodford,’ may have been a soap dish. It was made by Dalehall Pottery, a company that seems to have existed for one year only, 1892. Did Mr. LeBaron, Glen Villa’s entrepreneurial builder, get a good deal on the dishes, or was a still-colonial Canada the china’s dumping ground? And why did the company go out of business? One of partners in the enterprise was Edward Alfred Wedgwood so perhaps Dalehall was absorbed by the more prominent and longer established company. Or perhaps it simply went under.
Along with broken glass and pottery, we uncovered metal bits and pieces — the metal rims around barrels, old nails and pieces too bent to identify. For me, these treasures are signs of the past that tell stories or raise questions. I like Mr. Warner’s blue bottle and Underwood’s ink jar; together they remind me of the Skipp’s Peacock Blue ink that once was all the rage. But perhaps my favourite treasure is this bent and rusty horseshoe.
It makes me think of the horse-drawn carriages that brought guests to the front door of the Glen Villa Inn, how the horses must have slowly circled the low stone wall where the lady in white is sitting in the postcard below. Thinking of those horses makes me think of how much more slowly life moved then, how different the problems were from those we face today. Or, after a slightly longer thought, to wonder if our problems were similar after all.
Now that the area around the wall has been cleared, I know that we won’t find any more treasures. Nor do I know what I’ll do with the ones we’ve found. Perhaps, like the broken pieces of china I discovered shortly after we moved into Glen Villa in 1996, they will sit in the basement for years until an idea occurs to me.
Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll rebury this newest treasure trove in the re-built wall, leaving it for someone else to discover years from now.
The job of rebuilding the hotel foundation wall is progressing but more slowly than we hoped. The slow-down was unavoidable, thanks to (really, no thanks to) the snow that fell this week.
The snow is attractive, no doubt, but it has come much too early.
The early snowfall is one part of the unusual weather we’ve been having recently. (Is unusual weather the new normal? Unfortunately, I fear it is.) Just over a week ago we had hurricane-strength winds that knocked out power lines all over Quebec, leaving many without power for three or four days. We were fortunate and never lost power but the ferocious winds blew down trees all over the property. The worst loss was a very tall pine tree that was the centrepiece of one part of Timelines, the trail at Glen Villa that explores questions about time, memory and our relationship to the land.
I discovered the tree at least ten years ago when scouting out the route for a new trail. As soon as I saw it, I knew it would become a feature of the trail. And so it did.
The tall pine and the clearing in the woods we created around it were the climax of a section of Timelines called In Transit/En Route. It became the gnomon, or pointer, on a sundial and its shadow hitting numbered posts that circle the clearing marked the hour.
We installed the posts in 2011 along with a straight-backed bench built like a pine box. We cut the words In Transit/En Route into the wooden seat to underline the message. (I wrote about the origins of In Transit/En Route in blog posts you can read here, here and here.)
Several years ago we added a fallen tree with a plaque to announce the Sundial itself.
The passage of time was marked not only by the shadow of the tree but also by the presence of natural decay — and by the evidence that woodpeckers and other birds were going after the tasty insects in the rotting wood. It became clearer month by month that the tree wouldn’t last forever.
Nor did it. Weakened by age and by the depth and number of the holes in the trunk, last week in the storm, the tree hit the dust. Or the leaf mulch, if you prefer.
Amazingly, the trunk fell between a tree and the four o’clock post, damaging nothing but itself. I could have measured its length but didn’t think to do that before we cut it up for firewood.
The tree broke close to the ground and the decay at the base made it obvious that even without the high winds, it would have toppled soon.
Losing the tree makes me sad but its loss presents an opportunity. Shall I replace it or leave the sundial without a pointer, making the idea more abstract? If I replace the dead pine, what shall I use? I could plant a tiny tree and wait for it to grow. I could add the trunk of a tree that we cut down, leaving the bark or stripping it off. I could add a post, taller than those that mark the hour, and that post could be made of wood or of metal. The post could be upright as the pine tree was, or it could be angled as pointers on sundials usually are.
And what about the black tubing that marks the circumference of the circle? Shall I leave it or replace it with some other material?
Lots of choices mean that I’ll be doing lots of thinking in the months ahead. What do you think I should do? I welcome your ideas.
Don’t worry, it’s not a border wall we are building, only the foundation wall of the old Glen Villa Inn.
The grand old resort hotel was built in 1902 and burned down in 1909. In the summer it attracted guests from around North America, particularly southerners who came north to escape the heat and humidity of their home towns. Getting to North Hatley, Quebec was an easy journey then — patrons could board a train at Grand Central Station in New York City and wake up the next morning without ever changing trains.
Tourists began coming to North Hatley in the late 1880s, when memories of the American Civil War were fresh. Perhaps those raw memories combined with the overnight train trip explains the local story that the southern ladies coming to the hotel pulled down the blinds on the train windows so they didn’t even have to look out at the northern states as they passed through.
Regardless of the truth of the story, the hotel played a huge role in transforming North Hatley from a rural village into an international tourist destination. It also marked the landscape where we now live. The pond and waterfall at the entry to today’s Glen Villa were features of the hotel.
The maple trees that line the bank of the lake were planted when the hotel was new.
The low stone circle that is now the Yin/Yang was in front of the hotel entrance.
But the most important reminder of the hotel is the foundation wall of the building itself. When we moved into Glen Villa in 1996, the wall was in reasonably good shape. In 2005 when I took the photo below, lots of the stone wall was visible, even though some of the large rocks were beginning to fall.
By 2014 shrubs had overgrown the wall, hiding it almost entirely.
For the last few years we’ve been thinking about doing a major repair. Finally this past week the work started. The first job was to remove the vegetation that covered the wall.
With the brush out of the way, the extent of the work to be done is clear.
We will have to cut a big birch tree on top of the wall. This is a loss but not a terrible one since the tree is on its last legs. And unless we remove it, we won’t be able to reconstruct the staircase that was hidden by the shrubs.
Completing the job should take two weeks or less. I’ll post again once the work is done.
I’m not pining away, but the pine tree is. Or was.
This week we tackled a big job that I’ve been wanting to do for a few years, which was to remove an enormous old pine tree near the bank of Lake Massawippi. The photo below from 2014 shows the beginning of the end of this tree… needles on the upper branches are much thinner than they should be. It also shows how the tree towered above the ones around it.
Several years ago we cut off the dead branches at the top of the pine and not long after the branches below began to die back, leaving an unsightly blunt end to the trunk and dead branches silhouetted against the sky. I looked out over this pine from my desk and from the dining room deck where we eat many meals in warm weather, and with each glance the visual irritation became more acute.
Last week, when I couldn’t stand it any longer, the job finally began. We didn’t measure the tree before we started but we estimate that it was 60 feet tall or more.
That height and the position of the tree made removing it a complex job. We didn’t want to damage the surrounding trees, the boathouse nearby (just out of the photo to the left) or the play structure that our grandchildren use regularly. To be safe we had to remove the branches one by one, winching each down to the ground. And in order for that to happen, someone had to be at the top of the tree, cutting and roping and lowering the branches and sections of the trunk itself.
Jacques has cut many trees in his years of garden work. But how often has he been 60 feet off the ground, standing on a single branch, seemingly quite relaxed?
It took many hours to complete the job. And what a difference removing the tree has made. No more dead branches silhouetted against the sky. No more blunt end of a trunk drawing attention to itself. Only a larger opening that shows more of the lake beyond.
A small oak tree seeded itself on the lake bank a dozen or so years ago — you can see it on the left side of the opening onto the lake in the photo above. With more exposure to sun, I expect it will grow quickly to fill in the gap. But for the moment, we have a new view across the lake to the far shore.
One job remains: trimming the dead branches on the bottom of the pine tree to the right of the one we removed. Doing this will allow the trunk to stand out from the vegetation behind, adding a strong vertical line that I think will lessen the visual confusion.
What fall jobs have you tackled recently? Or are you doing as I did, postponing a big job to another year?
Kiftsgate Court is one of those English gardens included on many garden tours, in part because it is so conveniently located, just down the road from Hidcote, the iconic garden created by the Anglo-American Lawrence Johnston. The gardens at Kiftsgate were created over the last hundred years by three generations of women — grandmother, mother and daughter — each of whom made her own contribution to the garden as it is today.
Renowned for the Kiftsgate rose, the garden contains some wonderful areas and some fine plantings, with sumptuous flowers like this one that I photographed on a visit in 2012.
Flowers of all sorts along with rare and exotic plants enliven the garden in every season.
The handsome house is flanked by a four-square entry garden and terrace on one side,
and by a sunken courtyard with a white garden on the other.
The stand-out in this area is a gorgeous well head, carved according to the garden’s website with “bucolic activities” including harvesting, hunting and wine making.
Some may argue that the blue chairs and other contrasts in colour in parts of the garden are a bit strong; others will find them exactly to their taste.
The debate about this garden isn’t limited to contrasts of colour. Much about this garden comes down to questions of taste. Some people may like the art in the garden… this curvaceous lady at the end of a long path ….
or this motherly figure who stands beside the path to the lower garden.
Pablo Picasso is widely quoted as having said that “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” The same can be said of gardeners. Inevitably, a stolen idea is transformed and becomes your own when you ‘steal’ it. This is certainly the case at Kiftsgate. Some years ago, the tennis court was converted to a water garden, using Geoffrey Jellicoe’s Jungian-inspired design from Sutton Place in Surrey. I have no problem with that.
But something significant was lost in the process. The stepping stones that cross the moat at Sutton Place carry a symbolic message — they are the first steps in an allegorical journey through time. The steps at Kiftsgate lead to an island which goes nowhere; to get off the island you must retrace your steps.
This modification changes a meaningful element into something purely decorative. I wouldn’t necessarily quarrel with that change — the resulting design still conveys a sense of calm, reinforced by the restrained colour palette. But Sir Geoffrey’s design has been modified as well by the addition of gilded bronze leaves that stand above the water on thin rods that move in the breeze.
I greatly prefer both the clarity and originality of Jellicoe’s design and find the wobbly leaves a distraction. Others may disagree.
Opinions converge, though, when it comes to the latest addition to the garden at Kiftsgate. Everyone in the group I was with in 2018 disliked what they saw, as did everyone I spoke to in the garden at the time and later.
Creating the Jellicoe-inspired water garden involved removing nearly 1000 tons of soil. That soil was then moulded into a horseshoe-shaped mound and a long allée of tulip trees was planted. But what to do with the area inside the horseshoe mound? Someone decided to fill it with grey gravel and to add a chevron pattern of coloured stones that points along the allée towards a sculpture in the distance.
Seeing this addition was a shock. Nothing about it appeals to me. The grey gravel and coloured stones feel very much out of keeping with a garden focused on colour and on rare and exotic plants. And why the potted olive trees? Combined with gravel they might be intended to suggest a Mediterranean garden but in this context they feel both extraneous and incongruous.
I love a good allée of trees and tulip trees are a favourite. But for an allée like this one to be fully effective, the trees need to be planted on level ground, not on the side of a slope.
I didn’t walk to the end of the allée so I can’t comment on the sculpture that is the allée’s focal point and destination. From a distance it feels insubstantial, not nearly strong enough to create the visual impact that is needed. Up close, it may be different.
Somewhere I read that Diany Binny’s motto proclaimed that the “art of gardening is to notice.” I heartily agree. To notice is to admire the ancient stone that ornaments the garden and reluctantly to accept the necessity for the artificial grass that now surrounds it, due to excessive foot traffic. To notice is to admire the self-seeded flowers whose colour contrasts so nicely with the rough stone wall…
or the rosehip-like shape of a medlar, a fruit I’ve rarely seen and have never eaten.
But to notice is also to remark on the uncomfortably harsh geometry of the chevron design. It is to acknowledge the discolouration on the white stones and the bare grass on the sides of the mound.
It is to question whether the avenue, the mound and the sculpture are worthy of the garden as a whole.
In a world where garden critiques are far too often eschewed, I’m sticking my neck out by stating my opinion so clearly. I welcome comments on the other side.
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.