Today is Thanksgiving day in Canada, and there is much to be thankful for. In the garden, colours are bright.
Even when the flowers have faded, I’m thankful for work that’s been done. At the Aqueduct the catmint ( Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’) has been cut back, making the bed look more like a monk’s shaved head than the overgrown mop of foliage it was only days ago.
Also looking bare after its annual cut is the Big Meadow. With the hay bales still in place, it looks less like a lawn and more like the farm field it used to be.
Thankfully uncut are the ornamental grasses by the Skating Pond. They are at their best in autumn, particularly on a breezy day.
Usually, fall colours hit their peak at Thanksgiving, but this year the colours are muted, less vibrant than normal. I think this is due to the hotter and dryer days we had throughout September — many days felt like summer. These warm days have continued into October, making fall still seem a distant prospect.
Going through the woods with my granddaughter, fall was more evident. We spotted some bright colours, but they often appeared in isolated patches, surrounded by green.
Poplar leaves glowed yellow or occasionally appeared a blanched out white.
Ferns were clear markers of the change of season. Many have turned from green to toasted gold…
but others, like Christmas ferns (Polystichum) and maidenhair ferns (Adiantum pedatum) still wear their summer clothes.
The woods at Glen Villa comprise different ecosystems. Some sections are full of tall straight trees with almost no undergrowth.
Others are deep and mysterious.
Some places in the woods hint at earlier times, when the land was cleared for farming.
In other places, the hints turn into shouts and the land tells its story loud and clear.
Garbage collection and municipal dumps are relatively new things in many rural areas, including this one. Before they existed, farmers used the woods. This old dump close to a trail contained many things you might expect: tin cans, glass bottles, rusted metal and an old inner tube.
It also contained some surprises.
Even if they are less vibrant than usual, colours still abound in the woods, on branches and on the ground.
Without doubt, though, the most colourful part of Thanksgiving — and definitely the most delicious — was the turkey.
Is it accurate to call The Big Lawn at Glen Villa The Big Meadow? If you use an American definition, the answer is yes. If you consult an English dictionary, the answer is less clear.
Webster’s Dictionary defines a meadow as a tract of low or level land producing grass which is mown for hay, and that definition fits precisely. Allowing the sweep of grass beside our house that was tended for decades to remain untouched produced six large bales of hay last year, the first year we didn’t mow regularly. Those bales were so big and heavy that we left them in place all winter, using them as buffers to prevent grandchildren sliding down a snow-covered hill from sliding over the bank and into the lake.
Based on an English dictionary that adds the presence of wildflowers to the mix, our Big Meadow is falling short.
Regardless of definitions, I consider wildflowers an essential element of a successful meadow. There are a few that have appeared on what used to be our lawn but not as many as I want. Far from it.
Trying to remedy this, I seeded selected areas of the Big Meadow last fall. The results were not impressive. A few seeds produced flowers but there were few, if any, signs of the long-lived perennials I’d been hoping for.
The impact of long-lived perennials continues year after year. And perhaps next year, the seeds I sowed will begin to show up. Perhaps, as well, the Agastache I planted will begin to spread. I hope so.
But in the meantime, slowly but surely, the patches of red dock, or sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) are spreading.
Unfortunately, so is the ragweed. Some hours were spent this year, removing each clump to ensure it didn’t go to seed. Mowing once a year in late September or early October will prevent the regrowth of a forest, the natural condition of land in this part of the world, but it won’t stop the ragweed. It is all around us and will continue to show up. This is discouraging and I don’t know whether I’ll have to accept it or continue to fight what I think will be a losing battle. (Advice, anyone?)
Last summer I chronicled the development of the lawn each month, delighted to see how the grass grew and changed colour, almost from week to week. This year, I’ve been less delighted, perhaps because I’ve been less surprised. But one thing has delighted me enormously — we’ve seen almost no Canada geese.
Getting rid of the geese was the first and perhaps the most important reason for making the change from lawn to meadow, and letting the grass grow seems to be doing the trick. Occasionally this summer a few geese stopped by, but there weren’t many, and they didn’t come often. What we saw instead were deer — lots of them, and almost daily.
The deer nibbled away at tender grass along the path and at anything (everything?) else that tickled their taste buds. I doubt it was the aesthetics that attracted them, but that was what appealed to me. The mown line, a curving strip of green, was a striking contrast throughout the summer months, whether seen from the house looking out…
or from the linden tree looking back.
Even now, as we near the end of September, the path is green and inviting.
This second year of the transformation of lawn to meadow has gone well. Longer grass has discouraged the geese and attracted the deer, and this is a trade-off I’m happy to live with. So whether more wildflowers appear or not, I’m pleased. For now, at least.
Little things mean a lot, in the garden as well as in song. It’s the little things that explain why we gardeners are always looking and re-looking. Shall I move this plant, modify this combination, add or subtract?
This past week I’ve been changing some little things at the Skating Pond. After 12 years, a few boards on the boardwalk needed to be replaced. And changing some boards gave me the chance (the excuse?) to change a few more. Quite a few, as it turned out. Because what started as a tweak ended up changing the shape of the boardwalk, not entirely but significantly, at one end.
It’s instructive to look back. Here’s a photo of the Skating Pond in 2011. The boardwalk started abruptly, without feeling connected to its surroundings; it ended with a modest curve that led directly into the field and to a view, in the distance, of telephone poles, electric lines and a house.
(I’d love to show you what that view looked like, but I can’t. Over the years I’ve taken more than 1600 photos of the Skating Pond; not one of them shows it. You’d almost think I didn’t like what I saw.)
That abrupt ending was hidden once the bank above the boardwalk was planted with ornamental grass, but problems with the view remained. And in the back of my mind, there was always a little itch of dissatisfaction.
Now I’ve scratched it.
The boardwalk now starts (or ends, depending on which way you are walking) with a strong curve that leads up the bank.
The curve and the steps are pleasing from every angle.
Best of all, the view from the top of the steps is good in every direction.
Over the past month or so we’ve made two other changes, each of which has, or will, make a big difference. The opposite end of the boardwalk has presented problems for years. The ground was wet and regardless of what I planted, nothing grew well.
A year ago we dug out the dirt to expose more rock. The result wasn’t pretty. More problematic than aesthetics, though, were the practical issues. I knew the slope would shift and slide over the winter. Something more had to be done.
In early July we dug out more of the hillside to change the angle of the slope. We added rocks, good dirt and a few trial plants, including divisions of Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ that are now doing well. We’ll use more Calamagrostis to fill in the space, dividing some of the existing clumps to continue the line, and possibly adding another type of plant as well. So while there is more to be done, I feel that finally the area is coming together.
Another section, closer to the new steps, is coming together as well. An underground spring runs alongside a section of the rocks here, creating a constant problem with slippage on the hillside. A few years ago we added a few large rocks to stabilize the ground but they have never felt completely natural.
Adding a few more rocks seems to have solved the problem.
Still to come is the final ‘little thing’, a weeping willow that will go beside the new steps. The tree should create the impression of a gateway at the entry that will focus the view and make the Skating Pond feel even more secluded than it feels now.
Next year I may need to tweak other things at the Skating Pond. But for the moment at least, I’m satisfied. No, more than that, I’m happy.
Last week I visited a very special garden, where rock outcroppings enhanced with shade-loving plants create an atmosphere of deep serenity.
Developed over the last fifteen years by designer Michiko Gagnon, the garden is at the end of a cul-de-sac in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, not far from the U.S. border. It’s an idyllic setting, with an old farmhouse that she and her husband, the artist Charles Gagnon, renovated some 40 years ago. Now, near the house at the edge of a sunny lawn, Michiko has placed two wooden chairs.
The chairs face a typical Township’s view. It isn’t grand or spectacular, rather it is gentle and comfortable, the sort of landscape you can relax into. But the view seems to stretch out forever, through farm fields to a dark green forest that merges seamlessly into rolling hills and shades of blue.
It’s hard for a garden to compete with that kind of pull, but Michiko’s garden succeeds. An intriguingly constructed fence is the first clue as to how it does this. Marking the division between domestic and wilder spaces and stopping the eye, the fence begs for closer inspection.
And close inspection is key to the garden’s success. A fern placed in exactly the right spot draws the eye and enhances the beauty of a rippled rock.
A sturdy tree growing on top of another rock appears even sturdier with a frothy green skirt of corydalis lutea at its feet.
Colour and texture provide subtle contrasts throughout. Set against the olive tones of a moss-covered rock is the fresher green of pennywort, or Cymbalaria muralis, one of many creeping plants that Michiko has used.
The subtle coloration of Diervilla and its tiny yellow blossom add a point of light in the deep shade.
Dark mulch on planted areas allow subtle differences in shades of green to emerge.
Not all the plants are indigenous but all are chosen for their particular colour, texture or shape.
Tree stumps gathered from surrounding woods add a timeless quality to the garden. Were the stumps below once trees growing in place, or were they brought in from somewhere else? It’s hard to know. But whichever, their presence makes the garden feel as if it has always been here.
Each season has its star performers — blue Siberian iris in early summer, Japanese anemones in late.
But the stars never throw the garden off balance. This is the second time I’ve visited Michiko’s garden, and on both visits I’ve been struck by its restraint. This isn’t an ‘in your face’ garden, it’s a garden of nuance, where subtleties have room to shine.
Both visits have been at the end of summer, when the garden isn’t at its best. Or so Michiko claims. I found it quite splendid both times, but next summer I vow to return earlier, to see if she is right. And to sit once again to enjoy the garden’s peace.
Even while summer is coming to an end, the garden continues to make me happy.
I’m really pleased with the gravel garden. Early in the summer we adjusted the slate border; now it steps rather than slopes down, giving a firmer definition to the edge. While the yucca didn’t bloom this year, it did produce dense clumps that should bloom next year. The sedum ‘Dazzleberry’ is growing well and the small islands of sandwort (Arenaria verna) that I added offer good colour contrast.
And talk about bees! They are dazzled by the Dazzleberry.
The shrub border in the Upper Field is full of strong colour contrasts, particularly striking on a sunny day.
We planted the shrub border in the Lower Field last fall, adding clumps of giant fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha) at the same time. The shrubs are still adjusting to their new location, the fleeceflower is thriving. Next year the shrubs should be fuller and begin to grow. But in the meantime the astilbe (A. Veronica Klose) we added is blooming as never before, providing a powerful punch of bright pink that picks up on the fading tones of the fleeceflower.
Although the yellow Ligularia has finished blooming, the Cascade still looks good. I like the contrasts in form and texture. The Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ are starting to show their muscle… I’ll need to prune judiciously next year to keep everything in balance.
At the Yin Yang, the contrasts in colour, shape and texture couldn’t be more obvious — soft billowy grey-green, hard static brick red.
Colours at Webster’s Column are less obvious. The Column, dwarfed by the tall trees that surround it, is filled with newspapers that recognize my husband’s 50 year career as a journalist. The colours on the papers have faded over the last seven years since the column was installed. That means the news isn’t fresh — but it isn’t fake, either.
On the deck where we frequently eat, the flowers are as colourful as they were at the beginning of the summer, and much more profuse. This is a combination I may repeat.
The last touch of colour is one I’m not too happy to see… autumn will soon be here.
I hope your summer was as good as mine. If only it were longer!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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,
or that elastic ribbons could create cat’s cradles in the sky?
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.
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 finishOrin’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.”
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 …
… and the second from August 8.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A flower I seeded years ago has happily spread all around, as have many other wildflowers.
Resident snapping turtles sun themselves on the rocks.
Water bugs, dragon and damsel flies add life and movement.
The constant movement makes the area an attraction for children and grandchildren. And for me — I can watch for hours at a time.
Work on both of these projects will probably continue next year but for now I’m satisfied with the progress made.
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.
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.
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’).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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!
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.
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???
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.
And here’s a preview of what you’ll see.
The Cascade by the house …
The astilbe and hostas by the front door …
And a swing to pretend you are still a child. (It works for real children, too.)
In the Lower Garden, you’ll see flowers and shrubs, and a sculpture by Doucet-Saito.
You’ll see more flowers twining up tree trunks …
… shouting out sunshine …
… and offering the perfect landing spot for bees.
You may see deer — including two baby fawns who still have their spots — a fat lazy groundhog, turtles and frogs.
You can explore, woodland trails, ponds and meadows.
Or take a look back in time, at the China Terrace …
or the Sundial Clearing.
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.