All posts by Pat Webster

The optical illusion never fails to delight.

Metis International Garden Festival

 

Recently I visited the International Garden Festival at Metis, Quebec. I’ve attended the Festival many times since it first opened in 2000, but in previous years I’ve gone with adults. This year was special — I went with two teenage granddaughters.

 

The festival installations are adjacent to the St. Lawrence River.
The festival gardens are adjacent to the St. Lawrence River in a part of Quebec that offers much to explore.

 

Playsages, the theme for this year’s Festival, was a good fit for the three of us. The word is a mash-up of languages, blending ‘play’ with the French word for landscape (paysage). While I’d happily attend the festival any year, this theme told me to make the trip this year, and to take along some younger eyes.

It was a great decision. Six of the 25 gardens on view are new this year, and of these our joint favourite was The Woodstock. This interactive installation is simple in concept and engaging in practice. Both girls climbed up and down the tree stumps, playing a teenage version of King Queen of the Castle. I admired the way the stacked stumps of varying heights defined the space, creating a playground that simultaneously provoked exploration and contemplation.

 

untitled (5 of 14)
Designed by Atelier Yok Yok, this installation was inspired by the stacks of wood gathered by loggers. Pushing the idea, the installation can be seen as an echo of the life cycle of a forest as it is affected by human beings.

 

Not surprisingly, the girls liked the interactive projects the best. They liked splashing around in a shallow pool, wearing the rubber boots provided (Se Mouiller (La Belle échappé) by Groupe A/Annexe U.)  They liked walking through the woods to the quiet spot where a swing hanging from a tree gave a nod to solitary enjoyment (Haiku, by Francisco A. Garcia Pérez & Alessandra Vignotto.) They liked making patterns in the gravel (Around-About, by Roy Talmon & Noa Biran) and loved lying flat on their backs, looking up at the trees and listening to the sound of bells ringing in the wind.

I was equally enchanted by Soundcloud, where the mixed music of the wind and the bells established a dialogue between natural and artificial sounds. The bell-shaped flowers planted around a white cloud-like pouf added a visual element that mirrored this mix.

 

Soundcloud, by , combined natural and created sounds. A round puffy white cloud offered a comfortable place to relax.
Soundcloud, by Johanna Balhaus and Helen Wyss, used ‘bell flowers’ planted in the ground and hung on branches. Each bell produced a different sound.

 

I was less enthralled by I Like to Move It. The girls had fun with this garden, pushing a full-sized tree back and forth along a trench. (The best part, they said, was leaving the tree smack in the middle of a path, forcing people either to walk around it or to move it back into its ‘proper’ place.) For me, though, this installation was a disappointment, despite the fact that the idea of moving trees around and forming different relationships is appealing.  Reasons for my reaction are easy to identify. This installation is in its third year and the wear and tear is showing. One of the original three trees is dead and what used to be a seemingly wild meadow is now a platform covered with wood chips, with the mechanics too obviously visible.

 

Pushing a full-sized tree along a track was fun. Leaving the full-grown tree in the middle of the path was the best bit, according to the girls.
Pushing a full-sized tree along a track was fun but you really need three trees to set up design relationships.

 

We all liked Making Circles in the Water, by Balmori Associates, now in its 7th year. This series of circles leading towards the St. Lawrence River is a successful experiment in seeing, focusing the view and visually connecting the forest to the water. The installation engages the body as well as the eyes and mind; almost no one can resist walking through the circles, skipping and laughing as they do.

 

The optical illusion never fails to delight.
Now an eye-popping black and white, the panels were originally painted in shades of grey, less dynamic but more subtle. I’m not sure which I prefer.

 

Courtesy of Nature was another garden we all liked, not for its playful qualities but for the direct simplicity of its concept and the sense of reverence it established. This garden by Johan Selbing and Anouk Vogel encloses three tall trees in a black box open to the sky. The effect is to focus attention on what could easily be overlooked, to set apart a tiny piece of nature and thereby to transform it into a jewel-like work of art.

 

The black exterior walls blend into the forest; the white interior walls present the trees like works of art.
The black exterior walls blend into the forest; the white interior walls present the trees like works of art in a museum. Not surprisingly, the small evergreen has grown a foot or so since I saw this installation in 2013.

 

A perennial favourite is Hal Ingeborg’s Reflexions colorées, where semi-reflective tinted plexiglass confuses inside and outside views that change seasonally and with the time of day.

 

Which birch tree is where?
Which birch tree is where?

 

For sheer delight, though, our joint favourite of all the gardens was Vertical Line Garden, by Julia Jamrozik and Cory Kempster. I’m told that in previous years the streamers were black and white. While that choice may have been striking, the multi-coloured streamers were pure joy. Sitting on one of the pink chairs beneath was like being in the midst of a gentle hurricane, exciting but non-threatening. It helped that the wind was blowing regularly on the day we were there, but even with the lightest breeze, the streamers would have blown and flown.

 

Some answer must be blowing in the wind.
Was an answer blowing in the wind?

 

Some people question whether installations like these can be called gardens. Perhaps instead they should be asking how these installations modify our ideas about what a garden is, or can be. After all, who would have thought that rubber boots could make you think of bouquets of flowers,

 

Boots of all colours and sizes encouraged people to wade in the pool of Se mouiller.
Boots of all colours and sizes encouraged people to wade in the pool of Se mouiller.

 

or that elastic ribbons could create cat’s cradles in the sky?

Le bon arbre au bon endroit is another long-time installation, by NIP Paysage.
Le bon arbre au bon endroit is another long-time installation, by NIP Paysage.

 


Getting to the International Garden Festival at les jardins de Métis takes time — it is a 6 hour drive from Montreal or a 90-minute flight to the nearby town of Mont Joli. But it is well worth the effort. And in addition to the Festival, there is an historic garden that provides a richly traditional garden experience. I highly recommend both.

I can't identify the plant exactly -- I gathered seeds from plants that were growing along a nearby road.

A Mid-Summer Check Up

In the middle of August, the garden feels different. It’s not as fresh or vibrant, not as satisfying. This makes it tempting to move into planning mode. But first, I need to review the goals I set for the year, to assess what still needs to be done.

One goal was to hold a second Open Garden Day. I checked that off in July. Another was to let the garden express itself. This is a goal that will never be finished. But I’m doing my best, letting nature take its course in the fields and in The Big Meadow, previously known as The Big Lawn.

My first major goal was to finish Orin’s Sugarcamp. Last week we cleaned up the area, removing some tin leaves and miscellaneous bits and pieces. We added slate steps to make it easier to walk up the incline that leads to the sugar camp and visually lowered the granite lintel by adding more earth in front and behind. Now, someone climbing the steps will easily see the quotation cut into the stone: “The Gods can be known to exist on account of the existence of their altars.”

 

The words come from Chrysippos, a Greek philosopher. I saw them at Little Sparta, a garden in Scotland, and knew immediately I would use them at Orin's Sugarcamp.
The words come from Chrysippos, a Greek philosopher. I saw them at Little Sparta, a garden in Scotland, and knew immediately I would use them at Orin’s Sugarcamp.

 

Before the clean up we added a short column of corrugated tin at one corner. The column ties in with a larger project I’m working on, which I’ll write about at some point. I like the contrast between the rusted tin roof and the un-rusted column — it underlines how things change over time, an important idea behind that larger project.

The final change was something minor that nonetheless has a big impact. Compare these two photos to see if you can spot the difference. The first photo is from July 1 …

 

This photo is from July 1, 2017.
Yes, the leaves stacked by the tree are gone, but that’s not the change I’m talking about.

 

… and the second from August 8.

 

The angle is different and the change is subtle.
The angle is different and the change is subtle, and so hard to notice.

 

Did you spot it? The change was lowering the boiling pan and turning it around so that a long bent piece is in front, almost touching the ground.

The weight of winter ice and snow brought down some of the tin maple leaves that hang around the sugar camp. Within the next few weeks we may re-hang some of them, but we could stop today and call it quits.  Except for one thing.

The installation is named after Orin Gardner, a real person who worked for my father-in-law. Recently I learned that Orin was a strong Christian. The person who told me this worried that combining his name with the quotation from Chrysippos could lead people to think otherwise. I respect this concern and am searching for a way to acknowledge it.

 

A close-up shows the twisted boiling pan, where maple sap was reduced to maple syrup.
A close-up shows the twisted boiling pan where maple sap was reduced to maple syrup.

 

 

The second major goal was to improve the plantings at The Skating Pond.

One area at the Skating Pond has never done well — it’s soggy, with soil that no plant seems to like. Last summer, hoping to uncover more of the rocky ledge that edges part of the pond, we started digging. We didn’t find rock; instead we created a mess — a steep slope with crumbly rock.

 

Talk about eyesores!
This is what the area looked like earlier this summer.

 

To correct the problem we added crushed rock for drainage, rocks for stability and good quality soil. We transplanted several clumps of the Calamagrostis that is growing nearby, even splitting some of the larger plants, and to my delight, they didn’t suffer.

 

I'm trying several other plants to see how they manage -- Aralia 'Sun King' and Agastache. Maybe I'll add some Rudbeckia.
I’m trying several other plants to see how they manage — Aralia ‘Sun King’ and Agastache. Maybe I’ll add some Rudbeckia.

 

In the fall we’ll divide more Calamagrostis. We’ll move out the Japanese blood grass that has never done well, repair some of the boardwalk and change the shape slightly, to provide a better entry point.

I’m confident that we’ll finish work on the Skating Pond this year. I’m equally confident that next year I’ll fiddle around with the plants. What I won’t do is disturb what is working well.

The Skating Pond is at its best where it is most natural.

 

If only all the rock was as gorgeous as what you see here.
Wildflowers fill the field around the Skating Pond, changing with the seasons.

 

A flower I seeded years ago has happily spread all around, as have many other wildflowers.

 

I can't identify the plant exactly -- I gathered seeds from plants that were growing along a nearby road.
I think this is knapweed, a type of scabious. I can’t identify it with certainty — I gathered seeds from plants that were growing along a nearby road.

 

Resident snapping turtles sun themselves on the rocks.

 

I can't tell the turtles apart but I know there are two of them -- I've seen both at the same time.
I can’t tell the turtles apart but I know there are two of them — I’ve seen both at the same time.

 

Water bugs, dragon and damsel flies add life and movement.

 

A Canada darner rests on a native day lily beside the Skating Pond.
A Canada darner rests on a native day lily beside the Skating Pond.

 

The constant movement makes the area an attraction for children and grandchildren. And for me — I can watch for hours at a time.

 

sp damsel fly (1 of 1)
I think this is a Whitetailed Skimmer. Please let me know if I’m wrong.

 

Work on both of these projects will probably continue next year but for now I’m satisfied with the progress made.

An overview, looking towards the dogwood panels.

The Upper Room Updated

 

Finishing The Upper Room, the area that honours my mother and her beliefs, was one of my goals for 2017.  I started work on the area last summer, hoping to finish then, but everything took longer than expected. This year, the sand-blasted panels that are the central feature were installed in the spring, the area was planted in early summer, and the final elements were added in July.

The dogwood screen remains the crowning glory. It stands at the uppermost of three levels, defining the space without closing it in. I’m particularly happy with the way the sand-blasted panels reflect what’s behind the viewer and simultaneously give a view through to the woodland beyond. Add the beauty of the dogwood tree and over-sized petals, drawn by Mary Martha Guy, and the skill of the sandblasting done by the Montreal company Vitrerie VM and you have something special indeed.

 

The spreading tree suggests Virginia and a mother's embrace.
The spreading limbs of a dogwood tree remind me of Virginia and my mother’s out-stretched arms.

 

I’m even happier with the way the different elements of The Upper Room work together to create a space that accomplishes everything I wanted.

 

An overview, looking towards the dogwood panels.
An overview, looking towards the dogwood screen, shows the benches I designed. Perspective distorts the relative size of the benches and the dogwood panels, making the benches look larger and the panels smaller than they actually are.

 

The plantings in and around the Upper Room are complete, for this year at least. In front of the dogwood panels is Gaultheria procumbens, a species indigenous to northeastern North America, also known as eastern teaberry, checkerberry, boxberry, or American wintergreen.  Boxwood is the primary plant, though, currently providing a backdrop to bleeding heart( Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’).

 

The boxwood came from the Egg, as this area used to be called. I will shape it into balls as it grows.
The boxwood came from the Egg, as this area used to be called. I will shape it into balls as it grows.

 

Surrounding the area I’ve used native ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) transplanted from the forest. These ferns, commonly called Christmas ferns because they remain green all year long, feel very comfortable in the space. I also like the evergreen symbolism — it seems appropriate for The Upper Room.

 

These native ferns are commonly called Christmas ferns because they remain green year round.
These native ferns grow abundantly throughout our woods. I plan to add more in the next few weeks.

 

About a month ago I added columnar yews (Taxus hicksii) to rise like pillars at the four corners of the ‘room’, and underplanted them with Waldsteinia fragaroides, or barren strawberry.  I didn’t plan to use yew since the deer like it, but no other plant offered as many of the qualities I was looking for. When I found four tall, handsome specimens, the choice was unavoidable.

 

Yews planted in boxes at the front and back of the central area will be pruned into columnar shapes.
Yews planted in boxes at the front and back of the central area will be pruned into columnar shapes. The barren strawberry plants will spread to cover the soil.

 

Choosing yews, though, meant we needed a fence.

We built the fence in June, following the style used at the shrub borders in the Upper and Lower Fields and in the Asian meadow. As they do elsewhere, these fences accomplish their purpose while almost disappearing. I wasn’t happy at first by the idea of a fence but I find I like it. It defines the space and sets it off from the surrounding woods, making the ‘room’ feel even more distinct and room-like.

 

Looking down on The Upper Room, the fence almost disappears.
This view from above The Upper Room shows how an almost invisible fence sets the area off from the forest around it.

 

As a final touch I designed two benches resembling church pews. They were beautifully made of white oak by a local craftsman, Mario Vaillancourt. Placed facing each other, the benches provide a comfortable place to sit. More significantly, their quiet dignity reinforces a sense of peace that permeates The Upper Room.

 

A friend suggested leaving the open space between the seat and the back rest of the bench, allowing a view of the woods behind. I happily used his suggestion.
We’ll probably bring the benches inside during the winter. If not, they will definitely be covered to protect them from snow and ice.

 

Depending how plants fare through the winter months, I may need to tweak the selection next year but for now this area is complete. I am very happy with the results, whether looking towards the dogwood screen or in the opposite direction.

 

A view towards the lake.
A view towards the lake shows how dense the forest around The Upper Room is — the lake itself can’t be seen.

 

Next week I plan to assess progress with the other goals I set for myself. But what about you? Are you achieving your garden goals or simply enjoying a summer break?

As the day began, I snapped one photo of cars parked in the field. It was the last photo I took for the day.

Now for a Rest!

The last few weeks have been busy. Preparing the garden for visiting groups and getting everything in place for Saturday’s Open Garden Day has been fun, but also a lot of work. And now that August is here, I’m ready to put my feet up — for a day or two, at least.

But first, I want to thank the 20 volunteers who worked at the Open Garden Day. They made the day a success, and I couldn’t have done it without them. The weather cooperated beautifully, and the day turned out to be exactly what I had hoped for, a Goldilocks day — not too hot, not too cold, just right.

 

The Skating Pond as photographed by one of the wonderful volunteers.
The Skating Pond as photographed by one of the wonderful volunteers.

 

I also want to thank the people who came, who seemed to love everything they saw. Many commented on the peaceful setting, and how calm they felt walking through the garden. I enjoyed spending the day on the Log Terrace, talking to people as they passed through. In fact, I was so busy talking that I forgot to take photos. So instead of a picture of the volunteers or the setting, here’s a photo of a group that visited the garden the day before!

 

This photo shows a group who visited the garden the day before the Open Day. They generously contributed to the cause -- so a big thank you goes to all of them.
That’s me, almost hidden behind the artemisia, and Larry Hodgson, the group leader with the hat, seen second from the right. When Larry mentioned that the Open Day was raising money for the Massawippi Foundation, the group opened their pockets and generously contributed. So a big thank you goes to all of them.

 

The Open Day went smoothly, thanks to a great organizing team. The registration desk was up and running well before the 10am opening, and a good thing, too — the first visitors arrived 45 minutes early!

 

Visitors check in at the registration desk.
When visitors checked in at the registration desk, they received a pamphlet in either French or English, with a map and information about each area of the garden. They also received information about the trails being built by the Foundation on land conserved in perpetuity.

 

Volunteers really are the key to the success of a day like this. Some helped park cars, others added to the information in the brochure or talked about the goals of the Massawippi Foundation. One of those goals is to support community projects in the area surrounding Lake Massawippi, and one of the biggest and most ambitious of these projects is the system of trails being constructed on conserved land.

 

As the day began, I snapped one photo of cars parked in the field. It was the last photo I took for the day.
As the day began, I snapped a photo of cars parked in the field. It was the last photo I took for the day.

 

The grand opening of a new 3 kilometre trail on Massawippi Mountain will take place on August 20th. It will include music, a blessing by an Abenaki Elder, a ribbon cutting and a chance to walk the trail and speak with guides about the flora and fauna that makes the land worth conserving. This will be followed by a wine and cheese reception at the Community Centre in Ste. Catherine de Hatley.  The event is free to all and the Foundation welcomes everyone of all ages to take a hike that day and attend the reception.  For more information, go to the Foundation’s website.

Raising money to support this valuable work is why we open the garden to the public once a year. So many, many thanks all of you for all your support.

And I hope to see you all at Open Garden Day 2018!


On the Open Day, several people asked me how I learned about gardens and gardening. My answer was the same as it always is: by reading, experimenting and reading again.

Books are great, and my shelves are drooping under their weight. But for quick, helpful, easy to assimilate information, magazines are hard to beat. I have files full of magazine articles — and I go back to them again and again, as reference and inspiration.

There are fewer garden magazines in North America than there used to be. In Canada, the only magazine that circulates widely is Garden Making. I subscribe and read it for its practical information, as relevant to my cold climate garden as it is to those who garden in much warmer zones. The magazine serves a wide audience, from beginning to expert gardeners — anyone, in fact, who really wants to know the what, when and how of gardening in Canada.

In the U.S., with its larger market, there are several gardening magazines. My favourite is Garden Design. It’s gorgeous, with interesting and wide-ranging articles and outstanding photography. Best of all, there are no ads. This makes the magazine more expensive, but for my money, it is worth the price.

If you aren’t yet a subscriber to Garden Making or Garden Design — or both — consider subscribing today. Or surely you have a birthday coming up soon???

 

Glen-Villa-Open-House-2017-eng-1200x800

You are Invited!

It’s less than a week until our second annual Open Garden Day. I’m ready for it, bilingual volunteers are prepped, and the garden is looking fine.

So I hope I’ll see you here, next Saturday between 10 and 4. There’s no need to reserve a spot, and all are welcome, with admission payable on site. (No dogs or picnics, please.)

Here are the details.

 

Glen-Villa-Open-House-2017-eng-1200x800

 

And here’s a preview of what you’ll see.

The Cascade by the house …

 

The ligularia add a nice vertical element to the horizontal planting at the Cascade.
The yellow Ligularia add a nice vertical element to the horizontal planting at the Cascade.

 

The astilbe and hostas by the front door …

The sculpture is by Quebec artists Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito.
The sculpture is by Quebec artists Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito.

 

And a swing to pretend you are still a child. (It works for real children, too.)

A swing makes for an idyllic summer day.
A swing makes for an idyllic summer day.

 

In the Lower Garden, you’ll see flowers and shrubs, and a sculpture by Doucet-Saito.

 

Late afternoon sunlight makes the Aralia 'Sun King' gleam.
Late afternoon sunlight makes the Aralia ‘Sun King’ gleam.

 

You’ll see more flowers twining up tree trunks …

 

Clematis Violacea Venosa matches well with Achemilla mollis, or Lady's Mantle.
Clematis Violacea Venosa matches well with Achemilla mollis, or Lady’s Mantle.

 

… shouting out sunshine …

 

The yellow flower is Inula. I started it from seed over a dozen years ago.
The yellow flower is Inula magnifica ‘Goliath’. I started it from seed over a dozen years ago.

 

… and offering the perfect landing spot for bees.

 

Echinacea now comes in a variety of colours and shapes. I still like the old coneflower the best.
Echinacea now comes in a variety of colours and shapes. I still like the old coneflower the best.

 

You may see deer — including two baby fawns who still have their spots — a fat lazy groundhog, turtles and frogs.

 

A frog in the hand is worth two in the pond.
A frog in the hand is worth two in the pond.

 

You can explore, woodland trails, ponds and meadows.

 

Snapping turtles like to laze on the rocks at the Skating Pond.
Snapping turtles like to laze on the rocks at the Skating Pond.

 

Or take a look back in time, at the China Terrace …

 

The dining room table is made of cement tinted red to suggest a velvet tablecloth.
The dining room table is made of cement tinted red to suggest a velvet tablecloth.

 

or the Sundial Clearing.

 

This is the Sundial Clearing. The shadow of a dead pine tree marks the hours of the day.
A trail through the woods leads to the Sundial Clearing. The shadow of a dead pine tree marks the hours of the day.

 

For a fun-filled day, rain or shine, Glen Villa offers a lot. Bilingual volunteers will be stationed around the garden and bilingual brochures make a self-guided tour easy. And remember, your admission fee of $25 helps to conserve pristine lands around Lake Massawippi — and to build ecologically sensitive trails that make that land accessible to all.

I’ll be around all day, happy to answer questions or just to sit and chat.

See you on the 29th!

Looking beyond the nepeta you can see how the Big Meadow is coming along.

What a Difference a Month Makes

Yesterday was Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. The 15th of the month is when garden bloggers from around the world post photos of what is blooming in their garden. (Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this meme.) I haven’t been doing this, and I’m not sure I will in the future. But I can’t resist showing off one particular bloom at Glen Villa, my garden in rural Quebec.

The flower I’m showcasing is Nepeta recemosa ‘Walker’s Low.’ It’s a cliché to say that a plant is blooming its heart out, but it’s true for this one. I planted the Nepeta, also known as catmint, at the Aqueduct just over a year ago. In that short time it has gone from tiny…

 

These are the plants I planted last June. They weren't tiny but they weren't big either.
These are the plants I planted last June. They weren’t tiny but they weren’t big either.

 

… to tremendous.

 

This photo is from July 15, 2017.
This photo is from July 15, 2017. You can barely see the Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’ I added at the front.

 

What astounds me as well is the length of time the catmint has been blooming. On June 4 I returned to North Hatley after three weeks in England. Everything then was looking rather forlorn, particularly in comparison with the lush gardens I’d been seeing. Regardless, I took a photo of the Aqueduct that night.

As you can see, the ground around the Nepeta was bare and the plants themselves were still quite small.

 

This is the view that I encountered on my return from England.
This view from June 4 shows the grass path that cuts through the Big Meadow, along with a patch of red near the linden tree. The red is dock; I’m encouraging it to spread.

 

A week later, things were starting to change. The flowers weren’t yet in bloom but the plants themselves had grown substantially and buds were about to break.

 

This photo dates from June 10, 2017.
This photo dates from June 10, 2017.

 

Ten days later, on June 20, the flowers were in full bloom, and had been for almost a week.

 

The nepeta spreads
The nepeta is sprawling. At the front is Porteranthus, which used to be called Gillenia trifoliata.

 

A month later, the flowers are still in full bloom.

 

Looking beyond the nepeta you can see how the Big Meadow is coming along.
Looking beyond the nepeta you can see how the Big Meadow has grown since early June.

 

While I’m delighted with the Nepeta, I’m still fiddling with the other plants in the area. The boxwood and the ornamental grass (Sporobolus heterolepis or prairie dropseed) have been there for several years but the carpet of juniper I used originally fell victim to voracious deer. (Despite what the books say, the deer loved it.)  So last year, along with the Nepeta, I planted a waterfall of Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy.’ I thought the colour of the foliage and the way it spilled down the hill would echo how the water in the Aqueduct fell from pool to pool. I planted some Barberry ‘Ruby Carousel’ near the stone wall to pick up on the colour of the rusted steel, and added a froth of Porteranthus (formerly called Gillenia trifoliata) next to the reflecting pool.

 

The Lamium 'White Nancy' looks much better in a different location.
This photo from June 2016 shows the Lamium and Porteranthus I added last summer. The sedum on top of the gabion wall was part of the original planting and continues to act like a multi-coloured carpet.

 

At the end of the summer it was clear I had to make a choice. The Nepeta was growing well, the Lamium was ok and both were overpowered visually by the prairie dropseed beside them.

 

This photo from the end of August last year shows how the plants have grown.
This photo from the end of August last year shows how much the plants grew over the summer.

 

I knew I wanted to keep the dropseed — its autumn colour is spectacular. But its bulk made the lamium beside it look small and insignificant, and that threw the whole design out of balance.

We transplanted the lamium last fall and it is much happier in its new home in a shady spot, where the speckled foliage adds a touch of light. (And because it is happier, so am I.) I left the Porteranthus in place, not sure where to move it. And after seeing it bloom this year, I’m glad I did — it’s going to stay right where it is.

 

The Porteranthus looks like it is bending over to take a sip of water. I may add another clump of it at the far right.
The Porteranthus looks like it is bending over to take a sip of water. I may add another clump of it at the far right.

 

What I’m still searching for is an exclamation mark plant. I want a tall straight flower to pop up at irregular intervals, providing a strong vertical in contrast with the domed forms of the boxwood and catmint. Its colour has to work well with the blue tones of the Nepeta and the rusty orange-red of the steel. As a trial I added two varieties of giant hyssop this year, Agastache ‘Bolero’ and ‘Heatwave’, but neither offers enough contrast, in colour or form.

So now I’m looking for a replacement.  I’ve ordered bulbs of Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’ but I’m worried that they will bloom too early and for too short a time. And I’m not convinced that Eremurus will be reliably hardy in our area.  Foxglove might be a good choice, or one of the newer cultivars of Baptisia. I’m really not sure.

What do you think? Am I overlooking an obvious choice? Advice, please!


 

Open Garden Day

The Open Garden Day at Glen Villa is your chance to support the Massawippi Conservation Trust and the public trails it is building through beautiful natural woodland.

Saturday, July 29

10-4

1020 chemin de North Hatley

Sainte Catherine de Hatley, QC

Your $25 admission fee, payable at Glen Villa, goes directly to the Trust. Reservations through the Massawippi Foundation’s website are advisable but not essential.

 

 

this Japanese maple is in my brother-in-law's garden, a beautifully cool and shady spot.

Vancouver Gardens

I’m on my way back to Quebec now, after five days in Vancouver. It’s been a terrific trip. The weather has been spectacular and the opening of my exhibition, Clichés to Live By, was a huge success — lots of people of all ages and lots of positive feedback.

Along with visits to the Winsor Gallery to see the show, I’ve been walking around Kitsilano, the area of Vancouver where I stayed. ‘Kits’ was named after a Squamish chief, August Jack Khatsahlano. Once it was a dense wildlife-filled forest; now Craftsman-style houses line the shady streets.

 

 

Pollarded trees line one of Kits's residential streets. Their shade was very welcomed on a hot day.
Pollarded trees provided welcomed shade on a hot day.

 

In Vancouver’s temperate climate, gardens grow more lushly and more vigorously than they can in my garden in Quebec. In full bloom everywhere were the blue hydrangeas I’d like to grow but can’t, not because of soil conditions (they require an acid soil; the pink ones need an alkaline soil)  but because the temperature drops too low in winter.

 

I photographed this hydrangea across several fences with my old I-phone so the quality isn't as good as I'd like. But you get the idea anyway.
I photographed this hydrangea across several fences with my old I-phone so the quality isn’t as good as I’d like. But you get the idea.

 

Hydrangea macrophylla like these are native to Japan, and many gardens in Kitsilano — and in Vancouver generally — attest to an affinity in growing conditions between the west coast of Canada and the large areas of the countries across the Pacific.  Many gardens have a vaguely Japanese aesthetic, with rocks and well-pruned trees.

 

this Japanese maple is in my brother-in-law's garden, a beautifully cool and shady spot.
This Japanese maple is in my brother-in-law’s garden, a beautifully cool and shady spot.

 

Walking around, I saw lots of nicely-arranged planters, including these beside my brother-in-law’s front door.

 

Is this garden gnome a plus or a minus? You decide.
Is this garden gnome a plus or a minus? You decide.

 

But not all gardens are as peaceful as his. I passed some in my walks that displayed distressingly common faults. Straight-line planting, for instance, seems to be making a come-back, in Kits at least.

 

Would you like to look at these staked plants all summer long? I know I wouldn't.
Would you like to look at these staked plants all summer long? I know I wouldn’t.

 

For me, these straight lines emphasize how even an attractive plant can be shown to disadvantage when the conditions are right (or should I say wrong?).

 

Begonias in rows of bare soil: ugh!
Impatiens in neat rows sticking out of bare soil: ugh!

 

Generally, though, the gardens I’ve seen over fences and behind hedges have been a treat.  I can even admit a touch of envy… who wouldn’t want to live where growing conditions like these allow sweet peas to tumble carelessly?

 

Pruning the dead branches would enhance the effect of the sweet peas. But even unpruned, the combo caught my eye.
Pruning the dead branches would enhance the effect of the sweet peas. But even unpruned, the combo caught my eye.

 

What about you? Have you seen any garden horrors recently? Or better, any garden delights?

 

George Bush's statement was a promise not to raise taxes. Did he?

Clichés to Live By

I’m thrilled to announce that an exhibition of neon art I’ve created will open on July 8 at The Winsor Gallery in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Winsor Gallery features cutting edge contemporary art, and I’m honoured to be exhibiting there, where artists of the calibre of Alexander Calder, Attila Richard Lukacs, Patrick Hughes, Angela Grossman and Fiona Ackerman have been shown.

This exhibition gives me special pleasure: the invitation to exhibit came as the result of two garden visits.

The first visit happened several years ago when I went to Broadwoodside, a garden near Edinburgh that remains one of my favourites. Cut into a plaster wall was a Biblical phrase, The Writing is on the Wall. As soon as I saw it, I knew I was going to create a version of the sign.

A few months later, I made my version in neon as a gift for my husband, a career journalist whose writing has appeared around the world.

 

To get the full story on this quotation and why it seemed like a perfect gift for my husband on our 50th wedding anniversary, you can read this post.
To get the full story on this quotation and why it seemed like a perfect gift for my husband on our 50th wedding anniversary, you can read this post .

 

The second garden visit came last summer, following our first Open Garden Day. (The second Open Garden Day takes place on Saturday, July 29. It’s a fund-raiser for our local community foundation and its conservation trust.  You can register to attend on the foundation’s website.)

One of the people attending that first Open Garden Day was Jennifer Winsor, owner of Vancouver’s Winsor Gallery. She saw the sign and liked it, telephoned a few days later and invited me to exhibit at her gallery.

It didn’t take me long to say yes. The prospect was exciting. It was challenging. (And I like a challenge.) It pushed me to think about what I’d like to say to a wider public, and why.

Early in the process of preparing for the exhibition, I knew that I would call the show Clichés to Live By. The title summed up an attitude I hold about today’s political discourse — that ideas of merit too often become debased by being overly simplified.  

 

George Bush's statement was a promise not to raise taxes. Did he?
George Bush’s statement was a promise not to raise taxes. Did this phrase trivialize a significant issue?

 

The exhibition includes seven pieces, six wall signs and a desk top piece, all with political overtones. One is a new version of The Writing is on the Wall, others are phrases that most people who follow politics, in Canada or elsewhere, will recognize.

 

Pierre Trudeau's words could be a feminist statement as well as a political one.
Removed from their original context, Pierre Trudeau’s words can be read as a challenge, a feminist call to arms, or a child’s call for attention.

 

Clichés to Live By runs from July 9 to August 9 in conjunction with The Flats Block Party. You can find out more about the exhibition here.

There’s an opening reception on July 8 from 2-4. So if you are in Vancouver, please drop in for a visit and a chat.

The Winsor Gallery is located at 258 E 1st Ave, Vancouver, BC. For information about the pieces, contact the gallery on line or at (604) 681-4870.

 

 

I want to add a tall spiky plant that pops up through the Nepeta at occasional spots and tones in with the barberry and rusty steel.  I'm trying several possibilities this year, including early summer blooming Eremurus 'Cleopatra.' I've ordered the bulbs for fall planting.

Garden Visitors

This week the first group of gardeners will be coming to tour Glen Villa. Forty plus members of the Ottawa Garden Club will spend the morning  here, on what I’m hoping will be a sunny day.

They are coming at a good time — the garden is looking fabulous. I rarely write a blog post that’s only about flowers, but this week the blooms are so spectacular that it’s worth showcasing their beauty.

The Aqueduct, where last year I added Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’, Ruby Carousel barberry and Porteranthus (formerly Gillenia trifoliata) to existing boxwood balls, is stunning, a symphony of blue and green.

 

I want to add a tall spiky plant that pops up through the Nepeta at occasional spots and tones in with the barberry and rusty steel. I'm trying several possibilities this year, including early summer blooming Eremurus 'Cleopatra.' I've ordered the bulbs for fall planting.
I want to add a tall spiky plant that pops up through the Nepeta at occasional spots and tones in with the barberry and rusty steel. I’m trying several possibilities this year and have ordered early summer blooming Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’ to try next year.

 

A close-up shows how the nepeta is almost overwhelming the boxwood.  I’m wondering how much I’ll have to cut back in the future. But for now, I’m happy with the balance.

 

flowers (13 of 13)
I plan to add another clump of Porteranthus (Gillenia trifoliata) at the far corner to echo the clump of white shown in the photo above.

 

The Cascade, which in previous years has proved problematic, is looking the best I’ve seen it for a long time. I’m particularly pleased with the two perennial geraniums that I planted last year. Geranium ‘Biokovo’ is a tiny delight…

 

I love the colour of these blossoms and the perky way they stand up above the foliage.
I love the colour of these blossoms and the perky way they stand up above the foliage.

 

,,, while Geranium ‘Hocus Pocus’ brings a touch of dark magic to the scene.

 

I wasn't sure these geraniums would survive the winter in this often damp location, but they have. And soon the plants should be covered with blossoms.
I wasn’t sure these geraniums would survive the winter in this often damp location, but they have. And soon the plants should be covered with blossoms.

 

Near them are plants I started from seed about a dozen years ago, Sanguisorba menziesii. I love the bottlebrush shape and the fabulous burgundy colour.

 

Hmm... maybe these burnets would work in the Aqueduct border. But would they carry enough weight to balance the explosion of Nepeta? What do you think?
Hmm… maybe these burnets would work in the Aqueduct border. But would they carry enough weight to balance the explosion of Nepeta? What do you think?

 

In the Lower Garden, the pink peonies are luscious.

 

Maybe Sarah Bernhardt?
Maybe Sarah Bernhardt?

 

So are the double white.

 

I like any colour of peony. I like the foliage, too.
I like any colour of peony. I like the foliage, too.

 

The Acquilegia canadensis are staying true to themselves, and offer a punch of colour in combination with ‘Bowles Golden’ carex.

 

This combination is growing close to a mustard-coloured Chinese vase. The colours work really well together.
This combination is growing close to a mustard-coloured Chinese vase. The colours work really well together.

 

I don’t have much bright red in the garden, but seeing this  honeysuckle in  bloom, that may change.

 

I planted this honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens 'Major Wheeler') in 2012. This is the first year it has bloomed well. Is a warmer climate the reason?
I planted this honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’) in 2012. This is the first year it has bloomed. Is a warmer climate the reason?

 

In the same bed a fingerleaf Rodgersia (Rodgersia aesculifolia) is a standout against a pink-flowered weigela (Weigela florida ‘French Lace’).

 

Rodgersia is pink around the edges... I haven't noticed that on the plants before this year.
This Rodgersia is pink around the edges… I haven’t noticed that on the plants before this year. And not all of the fingerleaf Rodgersias share this colouring, but over half of them do.

 

By the front door, the Anemone canadensis I added last year is doing exactly what I hoped it would do, shining a spot of light in the shade of a pine tree.

 

The white spots on an old-fashioned pulmonaria, variety unknown, are set off by the white blossoms on the anemone.
The white spots on an old-fashioned pulmonaria, variety unknown, are set off by the white blossoms on the Anemone canadensis. The anemone should self-seed and spread.

 

The display is wonderful now and should continue for weeks. Next to come, I think, will be the astilbe in the Lower Garden. Even now, tightly closed, the promise is unfolding.

 

The deep red of Astilbe Fanal is set against the citrus blooms of lady's mantle. Both are just beginning to bloom.
The deep red of Astilbe Fanal is set against the citrus blooms of lady’s mantle. Both are just beginning to bloom.

 

I plan to challenge the members of the Ottawa Garden Club by asking them a few questions. I didn’t think up the questions, I’ve pinched them from one source or another. They seem to be good questions for gardeners anywhere to ask, about their own garden and any garden they visit.

What one thing in the garden would you change? Is there something you’d add or delete? And would you like this garden to be yours?

I hope they send me their answers. Honest criticism is a good way to learn.

Topiary at Allt-y-bela was stunning.

An Exchange of Views

What happens when two opinionated garden makers visit the garden of a Chelsea award-winning garden designer?

Last month, Anne Wareham, Charles Hawes and I visited Allt-y-bela, the home of Arne Maynard, an author and prominent UK garden designer.  We spent several hours wandering around the impressive garden, located in Monmouthshire, Wales; Anne and I spent even more time several weeks later exchanging ideas and responses to what we had seen.

Along with running her own garden, Veddw,  (in case you missed my review of Veddw, you can read it here), Anne edits the internationally read on-line garden magazine ThinkinGardens. This week she has published our correspondence about Allt-y-bela.

 

Topiary at Allt-y-bela was stunning.
Topiary at Allt-y-bela was stunning in concept and design. The quality of the maintenance made it even more impressive.

 

As Anne mentions in her introduction to the piece, our responses to the garden raised a number of interesting questions. What is the affect of visiting a garden along with the person who has made it? Does it add to or subtract from the experience? What about history? Is it important to bring that into the design of the garden?  And what are the pros and cons of stage managed gardens?

You can read our exchange here.

And after you read it, I hope you will take a moment to reflect on the issues… and then to let us know what you think.

I welcome your views on the questions we raise and on any others that our exchange of views may prompt. You can respond here or on ThinkinGardens, or in any way that suits your fancy.