All posts by Pat Webster


Garden Centres and Garden Reviews

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

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

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




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


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


cones (1 of 1)


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

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




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


This little guy can be yours for only £2150.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will publish the three best pieces.”

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




Oudolf at Pensthorpe

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

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

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




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

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




But this was far from the only difference.

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




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


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


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




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




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




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

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

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




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




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




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




Petworth: a Landscape by Capability Brown

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


Equally elegant in its old age is an urn nearby.


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


More impressive is the pair of urns situated nearby.


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


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

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

Spirea japonica 'Crispa'

Ends and Beginnings

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

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

Generally, things are looking pretty good.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


The Gravel Garden was looking good a few weeks ago …


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


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


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


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


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


And speaking of holes…


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


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


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


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


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


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


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There used to be more Ironweed. Did I kill it off or did it die on its own?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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

The cedar will turn grey over the winter.

Nine Bridges, to Where?

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


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


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


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


A smaller ditch on the trail needed a smaller bridge.


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


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

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


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


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


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


There is the zig zag bridge in the Asian meadow.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

A side view of the new bench shows how simple it is -- two rocks and two planks.

The Skating Pond, August 2018

Sometimes small changes make a huge difference, or as I wrote last fall, Little Things Mean a Lot.  I was writing then about some small changes I’d made at the Skating Pond at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec. Later in the fall, after I wrote about the changes, I made one more. I added a bench.


The slate under the bench was left over from a previous project.
The slate under the bench was left over from a previous project.


My sister immediately said the bench looked wrong — and she was right.


Looking up at the first bench from the boardwalk told me that my sister was right. I needed to change the bench.
Looking up at the first bench from the boardwalk told me that my sister was right. I needed to change the bench.


It took me almost a year to replace that bench. The new one does everything I wanted it to do. Unlike its predecessor, it almost disappears into the landscape.


From the far side of the Skating Pond, the bench almost disappears.
From the far side of the Skating Pond, the line of the bench echoes the line of the boardwalk.


The materials are simple and appropriate for the setting.


A side view of the new bench shows how simple it is -- two rocks and two planks.
A side view of the new bench shows how simple it is — two rocks and two planks.


From the boardwalk looking up, the bench appears like a natural element, not a decorative seat as the previous one was.


This view from the boardwalk shows
This view from the boardwalk shows how  comfortably this bench fits the landscape.


I’m happy with this modest change. As small as it was, it re-affirms for me how important it is to keep looking and to make changes when you need to.

What about you? Have you made a small change in your garden that has made a big difference?



The Big Meadow

The Middle of August

In the middle of August the garden at Glen Villa is just beginning to emerge from an unusually long dry spell. A few days ago we had rain — buckets of it that washed out our driveway and threw a section of bank into Lake Massawippi. (We repaired the driveway; the lake itself may take care of the landslide.)

Before the rain, plants were wilting badly. The leaves on a catalpa tree we planted years ago first drooped, then began to curl up and turn brown; thankfully they are now starting to recover.

The Big Meadow suffered badly as well. Grass that in previous years was tall and lush hasn’t grown. From a distance, it looks fine although not as interesting as in previous years.


The Big Meadow
The path running through the Big Meadow makes it clear that the unmown grass is intentional


But up close, it simply looks weedy. The patch of dock that normally disappears in the thick grass stands out like a rash that refuses to heal.


Red dock, or sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), is patchier than in previous years.


Not all is a loss. There is a dainty white wildflower, member of the aster family, that is adding a touch of interest.


a member of the aster family?
This wildflower is one of many composites or daisies in the aster family. There is more of it this plant this year than last. Calling it dainty is a nice way of saying that it doesn’t make a big impression. I’m hoping,, though, that with more and more of it, eventually it will.


The Cascade is lush and green.


The Ligularia is drooping.
The Ligularia has almost finished blooming but still provides a touch of yellow.


The Aqueduct looks good although the Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ that made such a show for a month or more has been shaved back to allow for a possible second bloom.


The Prairie Dropseed, sporobalus heterlopis is coming into its own.
The Prairie Dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis, is coming into its own. In another few weeks it will begin to change colour, ending as a golden-orange that blends well with the rusted steel edging the reflecting pool.


in the reflecting pool, the tadpoles that gave grandchildren such a treat in early July have grown up into frogs.


Nice noises come from these little guys.
These little guys can make a lot of noise. I think their sounds are magnified by the steel surrounds.


I’m not a fan of the strong yellows and oranges that thrive in late summer so there isn’t a lot of colour in the garden at the moment.  Instead, green and white dominate.  By the kitchen door, white spears of clethra, or summersweet, pierce the green surroundings. Its fragrance is powerful in the sunshine, attesting to the honesty of its name.


clethra (1 of 1)
The yellow edge on the hosta in the background is the sort of yellow I like at this time of year — soft and creamy.


Near the front door and in the Lower Garden, lacecap hydrangeas add another touch of white. They are blooming well now, with weeks of bloom still to come.


hydrangea (1 of 1)


Near the Lower Garden, a PeeGee hydrangea is loaded with blooms.


This peegee hydrangea (more properly called Hydrangea paniculata 'Grandiflora') is one of the most cold-hardy varieties. It was here when we moved into the house 22 years ago.
This peegee hydrangea (more properly called Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’) is one of the most cold-hardy varieties. It was here when we moved into the house 22 years ago.


Yet as so often seems the case, my favourite flowers are the wild ones. Arrowhead is shooting everywhere in the shallow waters of the pond by the road.


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Arrowhead, or Sagittaria cuneata, is also known as Wapato or arum leaf arrowhead. It is an indigenous plant that grows best is shallow, still or slowly flowing water.


Another white wildflower is blooming at the edge of the Skating Pond.


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I call this Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). Please correct me if I am wrong.


The spires of steeplebush (Spirea tomentosa) are appearing in every field and damp spot.


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Steeplebush is also known as hardhack on account of the toughness of its stems. Butterflies and other nectar-feeding insects find the flowers highly attractive.


The scabious in the fields has mostly finished blooming but the thistles (probably Cirsium discolor) are continuing the colour theme.


wildflowers (6 of 7)
The young leaves and stems of this field thistle are edible if boiled. Or so I’m told. I can’t say I’m ready to try them. Native Americans used the roots to make poultices for treating wounds and boils.


Most splendid is the field of Joe Pye weed. It covers something like an acre of wet ground and photos can’t begin to capture the impact of so many plants in full bloom in a space contained by tall trees.


wildflowers (7 of 7)
From some angles it seems that the flowers will go on forever.


A single mown path leads through the area. Yesterday, the path was almost blocked by falling stems. Moving along, touching plants carefully to avoid the bees and butterflies, was a breath-taking experience.


Joe Pye trail (1 of 1)
When upright, some of these plants are 7 or 8 feet high.


One of these days we may make a trail into the centre of the display, with a small viewing platform a few feet above ground. I can only imagine how wonderful it would be, to look out on the flowers spreading in every direction.

Or — more likely — we will never get around to it, relying on imagination instead.

This is how the water meadow looked in 2009 after we first cut a path through it.

The Clearing of the Land

For several years now I’ve been working on a trail that leads through the fields and forests at Glen Villa. Sited along the trail are art installations I’m creating that relate to history, the passage of time and the relationship between art and architecture.

I wrote about this for the first time in March 2017. My focus then was to figure out what to call the trail. Thanks to my granddaughter Elinor, there now is a name. Timelines.

I like the name. It is short and direct yet suggestive of something beyond the literal. Like a line, the Timelines trail leads from one point to another, connecting disparate elements, suggesting how events at different points in time are interrelated even if they aren’t presented chronologically.

Since I wrote that initial post, some of my ideas for the trail have shifted. So has the route itself. Changes to the route came from walking the trail, considering the multitude of possibilities, choosing the direction that seemed to best bring out the character of the site.

Finding the right way to interpret different areas isn’t always easy. One area in particular left me scratching my head. In my first post about the trail, I called this area the water meadow. And while there is a small stream that runs through it, the name didn’t feel right. Nor did the name generate ideas that I liked.


This is how the water meadow looked in 2009 after we first cut a path through it.
This is how the water meadow looked in 2009 after we first cut a path through it.


The space was large and formless, and by 2017 covered with scrappy brush.


This is how the field looked almost exactly a year ago.
This is how the field looked almost exactly a year ago. The hilltop in the distance identifies the point of view.


To give the area a chance to speak for itself, I decided to cut the brush and expose what might be hiding underneath.


The viewpoint is almost identical to the previous photo.
We began cutting in earnest last September.


Cutting the brush, we discovered some hidden treasures: a gorge, a rock pile and the remnants of an apple orchard.


The rock pile resembled a river of rock. Think of how long it must have taken to create this river.
The rock pile resembled a river of rock. Think how long it must have taken to create this river, how many hours were spent lifting and carrying the small rocks or dragging the big ones behind horses or mules.


These discoveries convinced me to re-route the path in order to incorporate them into a storyline that was becoming increasingly clear.  Things finally clicked thanks to my friend John Hay.  You’ve cleared the land, he said. That’s what this space is about.

So the name became obvious — The Clearing of the Land. The name fits historically. This is what settlers did, more than two hundred years ago in this part of Quebec: they cut the trees, removed the rocks and prepared the land for farming.

With the right name, ideas came pouring in. Stumps, up-rooted trees, stacked wood, rock piles — all showing the work that had to be done before planting could begin. The rock pile was there, it only needed to be cleared. The apple trees were there, over-grown but still producing more apples than we could possibly eat.


The old apple trees are still producing lots and lots of apples.
The old apple trees are still producing lots and lots of apples. They aren’t the tastiest but they do make good applesauce.


This is how the area looked this spring, as life was returning to the trees around it.


We cut lots of poplars but not all of them. What we cut, we chipped on site, using the chips to demarcate the path.
The trees we cut were chipped on site, and the chips spread to mark the path. The rock pile is near the top of the rise, on the left side of the trail. The apple trees are just beyond.


We’re clearing the land with purpose now, removing dead wood and pruning the apple trees to give them a shape.


This is one of about a dozen or more apple trees that we will prune.
This is one of about a dozen or more apple trees that we will prune.


We’ve just begun clearing the rock pile. And who knows, we may discover that the river of rock is even wider and longer than it now appears.


This photo gives only an idea of how many rocks there are.
This photo gives only an idea of how many rocks there are.


We will continue to cut the brush on one part of the area, exposing the tree stumps that are there. We’ll find a way to incorporate the wood piles that must once have existed.


We cut
We cut the brush the day before I took this photo and ‘replanted’ most of the tree stumps.


And we’ll create mounds of earth, like tumuli, echoing the shape of the tall hill shown in earlier photos. We’ll continue to honour what came before the land was cleared, when Abenaki walked freely through the woods …


A group of painted tree branches are reminders of the people who inhabited this land before Europeans arrived.
A group of inverted and painted tree branches are reminders of the people who inhabited this land before Europeans arrived.


… and into the clearings, natural or man-made.


A group of inverted branches suggest human beings walking across the land.
A group of inverted branches walk alongside the path we’ve created. These branches are inverted but otherwise left untouched.


Finishing this section of the Timelines Trail will take a year or more. Brush continues to grow and we need to decide where to cut and where to leave alone. Evergreen seedlings we planted a dozen or more years ago are growing well now, and as they mature, the character of the site may shift. But for now, I’m happy with the progress.

Do you have a multi-year project you are working on? Or are all garden projects multi-year ones?



nepeta (1 of 1)

Midsummer Medley

Mid-July is truly the middle of summer in North Hatley, Quebec, when both the flowers in the garden at Glen Villa and the wildflowers in the fields strut their stuff.

The Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’ at The Aqueduct is still blooming, a month after it began. The Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’ that provided such a wonderful vertical accent has faded now, but its candles remained lit for several weeks. Only in the last few days  have they been extinguished.


nepeta (1 of 1)


Nearby, a clematis (Clematis ‘Inspiration’) with the same colour tonality as the Nepeta is blooming its heart out.


blossoms (2 of 5)


And in the Lower Garden, Geranium ‘Roxanne’ continues the colour theme.


blossoms (3 of 5)


In contrast, an unnamed daylily is blooming peacefully in a shady area in the Lower Garden.


2. flowers (2 of 4)


About a dozen years ago, I started Inula helenium ‘Goliath’ from seed. I planted the seedlings at the edge of the Lower Garden and moved them to the lake bank a few years later. But surprise! They have made their appearance in the Lower Garden again this summer, adding a spot of yellow to brighten the darkness beyond.


2. flowers (3 of 4)


The pink blooms of the sedum growing on top of a gabion wall contrast sharply with the orange portulaca I added earlier this year. It’s a strange colour combination but somehow it pleases me.


2. flowers (1 of 4)


Up at the Skating Pond, Iris setosa are blooming beside a large flat rock. The turtle who lives in the pond occasionally suns himself on that rock, and I count myself lucky that I was able to photograph him with the iris in bloom.


turtle, iris (1 of 1)


I’m happy with the flowers that I’ve planted, particularly with the Nepeta at the Aqueduct. I’m struck by how the colour shifts with changing light levels, in sunlight appearing purple, in low light more intensely blue.


2. flowers (4 of 4)


But the flowers that win my heart are the wild ones. They are growing now in great abundance in the fields and woods around us, and have been for several months. The wildflowers of June — the lupins …


lupin (1 of 1)


buttercups …


wildflowers (1 of 2)


and fleabane (what an unfortunate name for such a lovely little plant)


wildflowers (2 of 2)


have given way to golden-hued grasses …


3. field (1 of 1)


dotted with a scabious that grew from seeds I gathered and spread five or six years ago.


1.wildflowers (3 of 5)


In other fields wild achillea has seeded itself …


1.wildflowers (4 of 5)


… along with a yellow flower that I haven’t yet identified. (Can you help?)


1.wildflowers (2 of 5)


In the woods and at woodland edges, white flowers are growing. Some are delicate, like the Oxalis, or common wood sorrel, growing on a clump of moss.


oxalis (1 of 1)


Others are taller and more vigourous.


1.wildflowers (1 of 5)


But the most prominent now is the yellow bedstraw that is blooming everywhere, its scent almost overpowering in the sunshine.


bedstraw (1 of 1)


Combined with the russet tones of switch grass, the fields bring impressionist paintings to mind. These, it seems, are the planting patterns that many gardeners are trying to emulate. With every view I tell myself how fortunate I am that at Glen Villa the patterns appear with no effort on my part.


bedstraw with columns (1 of 1)


The sweeps and intermingled masses aren’t naturalistic, they are natural.  But those strange silver columns are not.

So what are they?

I’ll soon have news about them and the project they are part of.  Coming soon… so keep in touch!