All posts by Pat Webster

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Autumn Splendour

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving, and today I’m giving thanks for the splendours of autumn.  All week the colours have been spectacular!

 

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This  view along the driveway at Glen Villa gives some idea of how brilliant the colour is.

 

The white posts in the distance mark the entry to the China Terrace.
The red leaves are a sugar maple on fire. The white posts in the distance mark the entry to the China Terrace.

 

On the stone wall of the house, Engelman ivy is a symphony of scarlet, red and maroon.

 

The ferns are dying back but still offer a sharp contrast in colour.
The ferns are dying back but still offer a sharp contrast in colour to the ivy on the wall.

 

The colours on the hillside above the Big Meadow are a mix of apricot and spun gold.

 

The remaining greens make the colours appear even more vibrant.
The remaining greens make the colours appear even more vibrant.

 

The fields above the house are equally splendid.

 

The figures of Abenaki Walking III are in the foreground.
The figures of Abenaki Walking III are in the foreground.

 

Everywhere along the Timelines trail, the colours are singing — not sotto voce but con brio...

 

This scene is par of The Clearing of the Land.
This scene is part of The Clearing of the Land.

 

…not piano but fortissimo.

 

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At the Skating Pond the ornamental grasses are at their best.

 

The plumes of Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light' shine by the Skating Pond.
The plumes of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ shine by the Skating Pond.

 

In an old farm field, the Big Chair is almost shockingly white against the autumnal colours.

 

The Big Chair and column are part of The Past Looms Large, one section of Timelines.
The Big Chair and column are part of The Past Looms Large, one section of Timelines.

 

Up close, the different colours on oak leaves separate into greens, browns and touches of red, making the veins stand out prominently.

 

Oak leaves have a texture that begs to be stroked.
Oak leaves have a texture that begs to be stroked.

 

Even when colours begin to fade, beauty remains.

 

Ferns in the woods offer a quieter note.
Ferns in the woods sing a quieter song.

 

We know that these glorious colours won’t remain much longer. We know that their brilliance means that colder and whiter times will soon be here. But even with the dying of this year, there’s humour to be found.

 

Who put the apples on the Seigneurie sign? Thank you, whoever it was!
Who put the apples on the Seigneurie sign? Thanks for the laugh, whoever it was!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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The China Terrace in Autumn

The China Terrace is my interpretation of history … a room in the garden at Glen Villa where I have recreated parts of Glen Villa Inn, the old resort hotel that once stood on our property.

Towards the end of summer I wrote about the new ‘walls’ that we installed to mark the division between the different rooms in the hotel: a reception area, bedroom and dining room.  (You can read that post here.)

The ‘walls’ are now covered with autumn leaves, and the grass we seeded over a month ago has grown so well that we may need to mow it before the snow falls.

Colourful leaves are just beginning to fall.
Colourful leaves almost hide entirely the pattern on these new walls, a combination of slate and  bricks inset with pieces of broken china from the old Glen Villa Inn.

 

The dining room table and rug are also covered with autumn leaves.

 

The 'door' to the dining room is near the bottom right -- that bit of open grass.
The ‘door’ to the dining room is near the bottom right — that bit of open grass.

 

The shrubs I planted at the terraced entry to the ‘hotel’ are colouring up for autumn.

 

I chose the shrubs for their resistance to nibbling deer. So far the long-legged rodents have ignored them, thank goodness.
I chose the shrubs for their resistance to nibbling deer. So far the long-legged rodents have ignored them, thank goodness.

 

The approach to the China Terrace shows that autumn colour isn’t yet at its peak. By next week it should be.

 

I like the way the white posts at the entry to the China Terrace mirror the white birch trunks along the path leading to it.
I like the way the white posts at the entry mirror the white birch trunks along the path leading to the China Terrace.

 

We are well into the fall work… mowing grass in the fields, dividing and moving plants from one spot to another. The Miscanthus sinensis we planted on the bank of the lake about ten years ago has grown so much that we’ve dug and divided enough clumps to create a new feature along the path to the China Terrace.

 

I hope that when I walk through the birch trees, with tall grasses growing on either side, I'll feel like I'm enclosed by beauty.
I hope that when I walk through the birch trees, with tall grasses growing on either side, I’ll feel like I’m enclosed by a different sort of wall, a transparent, leafy and lovely one.

 

Chopped back, the clumps don’t look like much but next year they should grow enough to make this section feel like a tunnel, with the sky overhead.

Meanwhile, in another part of the garden, the colours are vibrant.

 

Snakeroot has passed its best but some blossoms remain.
The snakeroot, Cimicifuga racemosa, has passed its best but some white spires remain.

 

And boy, are the bees ever happy!

 

Dozens of bees were fighting for space on the snakeroot... it was fun to watch them crawl into and over each other.
Dozens of bees were fighting for space on the snakeroot… it was fun to watch them crawl into and over each other to find the sweetest spots.

 

Soon we’ll be closing up shop for the winter but there is still a lot of work to do. More on that in posts to come…. so stayed tuned!

A simple and very stylish bench made from ordinary 2x4s.

A Bench with a View

Last week’s blog prompted so many responses that I’m writing about benches again. Kathy Purdy, a friend, regular reader and blogger extraordinaire (you can read her blog here) made the excellent comment that the view from a bench is as important as — more important than? — the design itself. I also have photos of many interesting bench designs that I didn’t include last week. So location as well as design is the focus for this post.

I’ve positioned benches at Glen Villa with the view very much in mind.  A Victorian-style metal frame bench offers a place to look out onto the circular stone wall that stood in front of the early 19th century Glen Villa Inn.

 

No image of the bench, instead an image of what you see sitting on it.
The Yin/Yang at Glen Villa uses contrasting colours, textures, heights and materials to suggest how opposites create a balance in nature, an idea that comes from Chinese philosophy.

 

This very simple bench sitting on the bank above Lake Massawippi draws no attention to itself, leaving that to the view onto the lake.

My husband and his old friend David share a bench on the bank overlooking Lake Massawippi.
The bench almost disappears, allowing the view its full force.

 

Anyone sitting on the bench at the Sundial Clearing looks straight at the tall dead pine tree whose shadow acts as the gnomon, or pointer, to indicate the hour and to suggest the relentless passage of time.

 

I came across this dead pine tree when marking out a new trail through the woods. As soon as I saw it, I knew it would become an important feature.
I came across this dead pine tree when marking out a new trail through the woods. As soon as I saw it, I knew it would become an important feature.

 

The view from the bench above the Skating Pond shows the pond and the surrounding fields and hills.

 

The bench is barely visible in the foreground, taking nothing away from the pond and its surroundings.
The bench is barely visible in the foreground, taking nothing away from the pond and its surroundings.

 

Which is more important in a public garden — the view or the spacing between one place to sit and another? They aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but sometimes people need to sit and rest. A bench at the botanical garden in Edinburgh looked out on a view that held only moderate interest, but it appeared just when I was ready to take a break, making it perfectly located.

A simple and very stylish bench made from ordinary 2x4s.
This fabulous bench shows how ordinary 2x4s can create elegant and stylish seating. Its design enables people both to see the view and to see each other, thereby encouraging conversation and the sharing of views. The paving underneath adds to the impact.

 

The bench also demonstrates how inventiveness can turn a simple construction into a work of art, using nothing more than 2×4 boards.

 

The same 2x4s, this time without a back.
I saw this fine backless bench at RHS Wisley.

More 2x4s create another very simple bench at Hannah Peschar’s Sculpture Garden. Yet see how effective it is!

Boards laid on end and set on clunky legs make another stylish statement.
Boards laid on end and set on clunky legs make another stylish statement.

Wooden planks that rise up to a climax creative an impressive bench that is a work of art at Pensthorpe Natural Reserve in Norfolk.

The angled back gives this bench its flair.
The angled back and curved seat give this bench its flair.

Wood left in its original form can also create original and effective benches.

 

A bench at Olana, the New York state home of the artist Thomas Church, uses curved branches to create an appealing bench.
A bench at Olana, the New York state home of the artist Thomas Church, uses curved branches to create an appealing bench. I didn’t sit on it so I don’t know how comfortable it is.

 

 

With thought and a desire to construct something special, wood left in its natural form can create wonderful benches. That’s why one of my autumn projects is to convert this tree trunk into a bench.

 

The old maple tree trunk is the right height for a bench and its natural shape is interesting.
The old maple tree trunk is the right height for a bench and its natural shape is interesting.

 

The height is right for a bench and the natural shape of the maple tree trunk is interesting.

 

Another view of the maple tree trunk.
A view of the maple tree trunk from a different angle.

 

But best of all, the view is great.

 

Bridge Ascending, 2011, by Doucet-Saito
Bridge Ascending, 2011, by Doucet-Saito

 

That’s what I call a win/win.

 

 

The colour of this bench makes it memorable, even without the names and dates of previous owners painted on the back.

The Right Bench in the Right Place

Garden benches come in all sizes and shapes. Some are strictly utilitarian, some decorative, and some add meaning to the garden through their design. The simple utilitarian version of a bench is a familiar sight, whether with a back …

This bench from a garden in Newfoundland is next to a small pond.
This bench from a garden in Newfoundland invites you to sit down and admire the pond and the plants around it.

 

… or without.

 

It's hard to imagine a bench simple than this one.
This bench is stylish even though simple in the extreme, thanks to the chunky legs and squared off seat.

 

The chunky bench below was made from a single tree trunk. Set against a wall of the house, it’s easy to imagine sitting on it for hours, soaking up the sunshine.

 

This bench is a tree trunk, squared off.
The curved and grooved side of this bench at Allt-y-bela, Arne Maynard’s garden in Wales, make it particularly interesting.

 

This open-armed bench is both formal and gracious, with spreading sides that convey a welcoming spirit. The well-worn grass around it suggests that the bench is well used.

 

This capacious bench will easily seat three people.
This bench at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington may have been designed by Beatrix Ferrand. I don’t remember where it was located in the garden. Does anyone know?

 

Benches at Glen Villa are simple yet each is individually designed to suit its particular location. The Skating Pond is naturalistic and the bench above it consists of two planks set atop two round rocks.

 

The simplicity of this bench is in keeping with the natural landscape at the Skating Pond.
The simplicity of this bench is in keeping with the natural landscape at the Skating Pond.

 

The most elaborate bench at Glen Villa is the one around the linden tree at the end of the Big Meadow. Recently rebuilt by local woodworker Mike McKenna, this bench looks simple but the math behind it is quite complex.

 

The ground on one side of the tree is much lower than on the other. Making the bench both level and at a comfortable height on all sides took careful measuring.
The ground on one side of the tree is much lower than on the other. Making the bench both level and at a comfortable height on all sides took careful measuring.

 

The bench at the Sundial Clearing is equally simple but the simplicity and the words on the seat reinforce the ideas about the passage of time that are behind this part of Timelines, the trail that explores questions of memory, identity and our relationship to the land.

 

The words En Route/In Transit are carved into the seat made of a single pine board
The words En Route/In Transit are carved into the pine board seat.

 

The bench near the entry to Veddw, Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes’ garden in Wales, announces an underlying theme of the garden, its acknowledgement of, and respect for, the history of the site.

 

The colour of this bench makes it memorable, even without the names and dates of previous owners painted on the back.
The colour of this bench makes it memorable, even without the names and dates of previous owners painted on the back.

 

History is marked is a less self-effacing way in white metal benches at Somerleyton, an English estate in East Anglia — the initials under the seat are those of Francis Crossley, a carpet manufacturer who acquired the property in Victorian times.

 

I don't know if these benches were designed for Francis Crossley or came later.
I don’t know if these benches were designed for Francis Crossley or came later to recognize his role in the property’s history.

 

When wooden benches are painted, they send a different message than when they are left to weather on their own. This pale blue bench is at Wyken Hall in Norfolk. Designed by Arabella Lennox-Boyd, the unusual colour combination adds an appropriately stylish note to a small side garden.

 

The Gothic style of this bench suits the style of the house.
The Gothic style of this bench suits the style of the house.

 

Primary colours characterize Madoo, the artist Robert Dash’s garden on Long Island, and benches carry the colour theme throughout the garden.

 

Clear bright colours are characteristic of this American garden.
I love that the end of the simple board bench is painted lime green. A nice detail!

 

Stone benches are durable and many, even when new, suggest formality and antiquity.

 

This bench at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington is particularly handsome.
This bench at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington bears the family’s motto: As you sow, so shall you reap.”

 

Living benches aren’t very comfortable but they look good even when they need a haircut.

 

This living sofa at Castle Rising, a garden in East Anglia, overlooks a tennis court.
This living sofa at Castle Rising, a garden in East Anglia, overlooks a tennis court.

 

One of the most inventive benches I’ve ever seen was a metal bench, folded and printed with a map of Massachusetts.

 

This bench is at deCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. I wish I knew who designed it.
This bench is at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. I wish I knew who designed it.

 

Benches are much on my mind — a garden that doesn’t offer a place to sit is, in my mind, an unwelcoming garden. Near Bridge Ascending, the sculpture made to commemorate an old covered bridge, timbers stacked one on top of another offered a sunny place to sit and admire the sculpture.

 

These stacked timbers offered a sunny place to sit while admiring the nearby sculpture.
The timbers lasted well over fifteen years and would have lasted longer if I’d put something underneath to keep them off the ground.

 

This bench is now badly rotten and unsafe. It needs to be replaced. But with what style of bench, made from what material? I’m not sure but I have an idea…

 

Could this immense tree trunk become an inviting bench? Hm-m-m...
Could this immense tree trunk become an inviting bench? Hm-m-m…

 

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I’m now booking talks for the up-coming year, so do get in touch if you are interested.

You can also follow me on Instagram, at glen_villa_garden  I’m posting three times a week with photos from gardens around the world. This week’s posts include two gardens in Scotland.

Order and disorder: words can be arranged to say whatever you want.
Order and disorder: words can be arranged to say whatever you want.

 

 

 

1. Queen Anne's lace (1 of 1)

Wildflowers Rule!

Labour Day has come and gone, which must mean that summer is over. But the wildflowers blooming so exuberantly in the fields around Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, say that isn’t so.

 

Joe Pye weed has taken over an unused field... and every year I thank it for doing that.
Joe Pye weed has taken over an unused field… and every year I thank it for doing moving in.

 

Ok, perhaps that’s wishful thinking. The Joe Pye weed that was so gorgeous a few weeks ago is faded now, and while that has its own style of beautiful, it does mean that autumn is almost here.

Many plants age well but Joe Pye could do with some help, I think.
The brown tones of Joe Pye’s seed heads are a bit depressing. Do you agree?

 

Other wildflowers are still going strong. Golden rod, of course.

 

golden rod (1 of 1)

 

White asters …

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… and purple ones.

 

1. aster purple (1 of 1)

 

Queen Anne’s lace is everywhere, gorgeous in full bloom,

 

1. Queen Anne's lace (1 of 1)

 

and intriguing before it opens, when it is a curled up promise.

1. Queen Anne's lace bud (1 of 1)

 

I’m delighted to seeTurtlehead (Chelone glabra) return to our fields. It was growing abundantly a few years ago and then disappeared.

 

chelone close up (1 of 1)

 

But whether on their own or in mixed groups, a display of wildflowers outshines my best attempts at garden design.

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As invasive as they are, I even like Canadian thistles.

 

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Must be my prickly nature!


I’m now scheduling talks for the up-coming year.  You can check out the list of topics on my website or get in touch directly to inquire about other topics, dates and details.

 

 

 

This combo worked well from late May to late September.

Containers That Match Your Mood

Recently a friend asked if I’d written about container gardening. Her question started me thinking about how the plants on the decks around our house have changed over the years. I pulled out old photos to see if my memory was accurate. Yes, the choices I made had changed. And while that wasn’t really surprising, what I noticed most was that the differences year to year reflected changes not only in my experience but also in my emotions and moods.

Decks surround Glen Villa, our house and garden in Quebec, offering lots of space for containers. The deck beside the living room ends in a sharp point and shortly after moving into the house, I began to fill this corner with plants in pots. The earliest photo I found was from 2005.

 

A few pots with plants that haven't yet grown tall enough to hide the point of the deck behind them.
This motley collection of  pots is filled with plants that haven’t yet grown tall enough to hide the point of the deck behind them.

 

Two years later, I was feeling more adventurous and more cheerful. Or at least I think I was — there certainly were more pots in the corner and all together the arrangement was more colourful.

 

A woven straw 'hat' is the backdrop for this arrangement from 2007.
A woven straw ‘hat’ that I bought at the Reford Gardens in Métis, Quebec, is the backdrop for this arrangement from 2007.

 

By 2009, I must have been in really high spirits. I mean, just look at the array of plants — full blown technicolour.

This photo from shows a corner of the deck off the living room.
How many different plants are there? I count at least nine, including the Mandevilla vine on the far right.

 

Two years later still, in 2011, was I feeling less enthusiastic? There were fewer pots and fewer flowers …

A bit more restraint... or else I had fallen in love with coleus.
The pink Mandevilla vine is still there on the far right, plus geraniums, daisies, coleus and more.  .

 

… but only because I was planting another area on the deck as well.

 

Do you recognize the blue and white Chinese pot? It was in the photo from 2005.
Do you recognize the blue and white Chinese pot? It was in the photo from 2005.

 

By 2015, a mustard coloured Chinese pot added a focal point, reducing the number of plants. And I seem to remember that by that time, after ten years of planting the point on the deck, I was getting tired of doing the same old thing, again and again.

 

Spiky was the word in 2015.
A collection of spiky plants may have matched my mood that year.

 

The following years confirm that suspicion, since the number and variety of plants I used kept going down. Now, in 2019, white Mandevilla vines are the only plants on the living room deck, and their white blossoms are cool and serene.

 

There are four white Mandevilla vines blooming in pots on the living room deck. I used to have pink ones but I'm happier now with the white.
There are four white Mandevilla vines blooming in pots on the living room deck. I used to have pink ones but I’m happier now with the white.

 

The same sort of arc, like a bell curve mounting from enthusiasm to exuberance to restraint, occurred on the deck beside the dining room. It morphed from this in 2006 …

 

A mix of plants and colours gives no special effect in this photo from 2006.
The mix of colours and textures isn’t bad but those grasses throw everything off balance.

 

…to this in 2014

I love the colour combination here. Although it doesn't show up, I think I planted curly parsley in the front.
I still love this colour combination. Although it doesn’t show up, curly parsley in the front gave the planter a frilly skirt .

 

to this a year or two later.

 

Life felt overwhelming that year, so I simplified and calmed the plants to include boxwood only.
Life felt overwhelming one year so I simplified and calmed things down, planting boxwood only.

 

 

The planter by the kitchen door is shaded for most of the day, so over the years the flowers I’ve chosen to plant there have, of necessity, been shade lovers.  Is it because of that limitation that the overall design of the planter has remained relatively consistent? The colours and textures of the plants have changed but not the composition — two or three annuals or perennials that caught my eye at the start of the season, with at least one bright colour to light up the dark.

 

Miraculously, with regular spraying the deer left these hostas alone. We transplanted the hostas at the end of the summer, and the deer thanked us the following year.
Miraculously, with regular spraying the deer left these hostas alone. We transplanted them at the end of the summer, and the deer thanked us the following year.

Sometimes the random nature of my choices means that the planter was successful throughout the summer….

 

This combo worked well from late May to late September.
This combo worked well from late May to late September.

 

…and sometimes it didn’t. The planter below looked sparse when first planted but nicely full by the time of my son’s wedding in July. Then for most of August, it just limped along.

 

The combination of silvery grey and yellow matched the colours in my son's wedding that year
The combination of silvery grey and yellow matched the colours chosen for the wedding. The yellow calla lilies shone like sunbursts.

 

This year’s plants have been a pleasure all summer. Touches of white on the yellow begonia complemented the starry white flowers beside it, and the bird’s nest found in a branch pruned from a nearby spirea added the off-centre focal point that I like in a rectangular planter like this.

 

This summer's choice
This summer’s choice: two perennial grasses, begonias and — what is the name of that nice white flower? I don’t remember!

 

Now, three months after planting, the leaves have disappeared from the spirea. The begonia is starting to look past its best but the planter as a whole is still just fine.

 

The bird's nest is still there, but is hidden now behind the cascading grass.
The bird’s nest is still there, but is hidden now behind the cascading grass.

 

Looking back through the years, I found only one set of pots I miss… a simple planting with Ricinus.

 

The pots need a good cleaning but the big leaves look fabulous against the dark brown wood. Or so I think.
The pots need a good cleaning and I would like the stakes to disappear, but I think the big leaves look fabulous against the dark brown wood, and the little bits of fuchsia at the base echo the red flower about to appear.

 

Maybe next year, I’ll plant these again.

Do you plant containers? Do you change what you plant from year to year or do you repeat a design you are happy with?


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Are you on Instagram? I’m posting there now and would enjoy seeing your photos. You can follow me at glen_villa_garden for photos of what’s happening in the garden.

I used Lamium 'Fancy Nancy' for the bedspread and Alternathera 'Purple Prince' for the pillow.

The China Terrace Gets a Face Lift

The title of this post might well be The China Terrace gets a Floor Lift… but that would be confusing and not entirely accurate. So what has happened?

The China Terrace, a re-imagining of the grand resort hotel that once stood on the property, was one of the first projects I undertook at Glen Villa.

The entry to the China Terrace uses old pillars I found in a local antique store.
The entry to the China Terrace uses old pillars I found in a local antique store. The posts that curve up beyond suggest a staircase to an imaginary second story.

 

My friend, the landscape architect Myke Hodgins, named the area after the broken china my daughter and I found on the site, and I’ve worked on the area off and on since 2002.

 

Some pieces of the broken china we found showed the name and location: Glen Villa Inn, Massawippi Lake. Local artist Caroline George used them to form this mosaic welcome mat at the entry.
Some pieces of the broken china we found showed the name and location: Glen Villa Inn, Massawippi Lake. Local artist Caroline George used the shards to form this mosaic welcome mat at the entry.

 

Our first job on site was to rebuild a low stone wall around the area, a rectangle approximately 40 X 60 feet. Our second was to create a bedroom, an essential for any hotel. I wanted to cover the old iron frame bed I tucked into a corner with roses but there wasn’t enough light so instead I planted flowery perennials that could withstand the shade.

 

I used Lamium 'Fancy Nancy' for the bedspread and Alternathera 'Purple Prince' for the pillow.
Instead of roses I used Lamium ‘Fancy Nancy’ for the bedspread and different dark-coloured plants for the pillow.

 

But as hardy as the plants were, they couldn’t survive the winter in only a few inches of soil atop a steel plate. That meant that every fall the plants had to be dug up, planted in earth over the winter and replanted every spring.

After a few years of doing that, to eliminate one annual job, the bedspread changed to a patchwork quilt made of moss.

 

Suzanne Campeau of Brytophyta supplied the three mosses that we used to make a patchwork quilt.
Suzanne Campeau of Bryophyta supplied the three mosses that we used to make a patchwork quilt.

 

A friend visiting shortly afterwards pointed out that a bed set off to one side didn’t make a strong enough statement in such a large area. I took note of his words and added cement bricks inset with broken china to mark where rooms might have been.

 

The brick 'walls' stand out clearly in this photo from 2006.
The brick ‘walls’ stand out clearly in this photo from 2006. The bedroom is barely visible at the far left.

 

Over the years, there have been many changes. We added the dining room table in 2007 and the chairs shortly afterwards.

 

My husband is admiring the new cement tabletop. Embedded in the cement are plates we used when our children were growing up.
My husband is admiring the new cement tabletop. Embedded in the cement are plates we used when our children were growing up. The goblets and centrepiece that now feature on the table were still to come, although a sample of a goblet is at the far end of the table.

 

As soon as the table was finished, I realized that this area, too, needed more definition. So in September in 2007, I began making a rug using pieces of broken china set into cement squares.

 

I forget how many hours I spent making the squares... and how many squares I made. About 75 or so, I think.
I forget how many hours I spent making the squares… and how many squares I made. About 80 or so, I think. And at four squares per hour, that means twenty hours or more.

 

With a rug underneath, the dining room became the focal point of the China Terrace.

 

The newly finished rug was a real plus.
I didn’t have enough china shards to complete the rug so we incorporated slate underneath the table and as a border. You can see it on the left side above but not on the front edge. We coloured the cement bricks to match the tabletop.

 

Keeping the China Terrace in good shape is an on-going process. And, like many gardeners, I can’t leave well enough alone. Last year I modified the plantings at the entry, terracing the slope to suggest the different floors inside the hotel.

 

The shrubs we planted last summer are beginning to fill in.
The shrubs we planted last summer are beginning to fill in. Another year or two and they should look wonderful.

 

This year, I tackled a problem that has been bothering me for some time — the bricks that divide the space into rooms. Over the years, they  have lost their impact, almost disappearing entirely, covered with grass, moss and the detritus of time.

 

A short section of the 'wall' is barely visible to the left of the birch tree. The staircase has been changed since this photo from 2016.
A short section of the brick wall is barely visible to the left of the birch tree. The staircase in the foreground has been changed since this photo from 2016.

 

I knew that I wanted to strengthen the design, lifting the bricks out of the ground and making them look more like the walls that remain in an archeological dig. I couldn’t raise them above ground level, though, because we need to mow the grass and mowing around raised ‘walls’ would mean spending a lot more time on maintenance. In my mind, though, I had an image of walls set off by gravel that I’d seen in an archeological site somewhere, so we mocked up a sample combining the materials.

 

Not bad, but I could easily foresee problems with gravel getting into the grass. Not good for mowing!
Not bad, but I could easily foresee problems with gravel getting into the grass. Not good for mowing!

 

Instead I decided to make the ‘wall’ wider by adding slate as a border and replacing the grass between the bricks with slate cut to the same length.

 

We mocked up a sample using pieces of slate that we had. The final version is almost identical to this one.
We mocked up a sample using slate that we had on hand. The final version is almost identical  to this one.

 

To keep the ‘walls’ flush with ground level and to make installation easier, we put the bricks and slate into a metal channel set into the ground. This meant digging up a lot of the grass as well as the bricks themselves, but I didn’t mind since the grass had become full of unattractive weeds.

 

The first 'walls' are put back in place.
The first ‘walls’ are put back in place.

 

We didn’t change the placement of the ‘walls’ or the openings that suggest doors from one room to the next. Nor have we quite finished replacing the sod but the difference, before and after, is striking.

 

The wider walls make a much bigger statement now.
The wider walls make a much stronger statement.

 

The walls are now much more prominent visually. At first I worried that they were too prominent, but I know that with time, the grass will begin to encroach and they will settle into place.

The exit area
The narrow grass strip marks a corridor that leads to the ‘back door’ of the hotel and up the hill to The Upper Room.

 

We’ll finish laying the sod this coming week, finishing the work on the China Terrace for the year. But already, I know what is in store for next year….

 

The goblets have to be re-made. But what about the tabletop itself?
The goblets have to be re-made. But what about the tabletop itself?

 

Do you have projects that keep drawing you back? How do you know when to stop?

The wrought-iron will rust eventually but we can scrape and oil it when it does.

Try and Try Again

The old saying is a good one: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

There’s a meme in the gardening world started by Bonney Lassie at call Tell the Truth Tuesday. Despite my fair share of failures, I’ve never joined in. But La Seigneurie, one of the newest parts of my Quebec garden, fits the meme all too well.

So even if it isn’t Tuesday, here’s the truth.

In early June this year, we seeded a farm field as part of Timelines, the 3 km trail I’ve developed that explores questions about memory, identity and our relationship to the land. We marked the entry to the field with a beautiful wrought iron sign made by local blacksmith Justine Southam, and beneath the sign we added two wrought iron gates whose style felt in keeping with the sign and the history behind it.  As I wrote earlier this summer, the seigneurial system was a key feature of 17th century Quebec under French rule. Long narrow fields ran down to the St. Lawrence River, giving habitants access for easy transportation.

 

The wrought-iron will rust eventually but we can scrape and oil it when it does.
The wrought-iron will rust eventually but we can scrape and oil it when it does.

 

I had a clear picture in my mind of what I wanted to accomplish — narrow strips of land that stood out from each other because of the colour of the flowers and the different colours, heights and textures of the foliage. I chose three crops, canola, flax and barley, and we seeded them in strips of varying widths.

 

This photo was taken on , days after the field was seeded.
This photo was taken on June 11, only 6 days after the field was seeded.

 

Within a few weeks, the canola was beginning to grow, and the flax and barley were not far behind.

 

By week , the strips of canola, barley and flax were beginning to show up.
Two weeks later, the strips of canola, barley and flax were beginning to create the look I was hoping for.

 

But truth be told, the end result is not a success. Individually, flax flowers are quite lovely.

 

At least a bee appreciated the flower.
The flower is much more delicate than I’d expected. The bee seems to appreciate it.

 

The bright green foliage is interesting, too, with a fine texture in a bright citrusy green.

 

The rows are clearly visible here, but not when seen from the side.
The rows are clearly visible here, but they disappear when seen from the side.

 

But flax has no impact en masse.

 

Talk about wimpy!
Talk about wimpy! And this photo makes it look better than it actually did.

 

Canola flowers are individually attractive as well.

Canola is the name used now instead of the old one, rape seed.
Canola is the name used now instead of the old one, rape seed, and it is clear from the blossom that it is a member of the mustard family.

 

They do have an impact en masse, and a powerful one, too.

 

The canola was in full bloom on July .
The canola was in full bloom on July 20, when we opened the garden as a fundraiser for the Massawippi Foundation.

 

People had warned me that the two crops wouldn’t bloom at the same time, and that the barley would only be in its early stages, so I wasn’t really expecting that the field would be solid strips of yellow, blue and tan. But I was expecting something more than what we got.

 

This photo from mid-August shows how the field looks now.
The different strips are visible but they aren’t nearly as striking as I had envisioned.

 

So it’s back to the drawing board in terms of what crops to plant. Over the winter I’ll be considering others — clover is high on my list right now. I’ll also consider whether to use only two kinds of plants instead of three, and whether to seed them in strips of equal width.

I’ll be a little sad if canola doesn’t make the cut because it plays a role in Canadian history.  Canola, aka rape seed, got its name from the Latin word ‘rapum’ which means turnip. In the 1970s Canadian scientists created a variant of rapeseed oil that contained less erucic acid, making it safer for consumption. The word canola is an acronym: Can(ada) o (oil) l (less) a (acid). Or less precisely, Canada oil (Can + ola).

With or without canola, I won’t abandon the concept of representing the seigneurial system. It’s an integral part of Quebec’s French heritage and reflecting that identity on the land is important to me and to the ideas behind Timelines. So in addition to researching possible crops, over the winter I’ll be reading Quebec history. Maybe some idea will surface, in fact or in folktale, that will tell me how to incorporate a stunning feature that so far has not received its full due.

 

The mown path through the field leads straight to this old dead tree, a natural sculptural form.
The mown path through the field leads straight to this witchy old dead tree, a natural sculptural form that I’d like to highlight.

 

Ideas, anyone?

A Fence with a Story

After reading my most recent post about fences, a friend sent me a photo of the fence around the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri.

 

You don't often see turtles on fences. Or at least not in my part of the world.
You don’t often see turtles on fences. Or at least not in my part of the world.

 

I wondered if Missouri was the turtle state, and if not, what was the story behind the design?

This information from a brochure about the Old Courthouse tells the tale:

‘A turtle design on the reproduction courtyard gates commemorates a turtle that once lived in the courthouse fountain.  Legend claims that custodian James Quigley brought the turtle to the courthouse where it had the distinction of being called “the only thing connected with the building that did not require an appropriation of the taxpayers’ money”.’

Thanks, Sarah! Whether true of not, the story is a good one.

Does anyone else have a good fence story to share? Or a story about a turtle?

I designed this fence made of steel posts and wire cable to be as invisible as possible from a distance and attractive up close.

Fences

Fences come in all shapes and sizes, yet in one way or another they all serve the same purpose: to separate one area from another. At Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, the oldest fence separates a former farm field from a driveway.

 

It's obvious that this barbed wire fence is old -- the maple tree has grown around it.
It’s obvious from the way the tree has grown around it that this barbed wire fence was put up a long time ago.

 

An equally practical but more decorative fence is the one I designed to protect shrubs from the deer that are such a plague in country gardens. I found the style so effective that I’ve used it in fences in the upper and lower fields, the Asian meadow and the Upper Room.

 

I designed this fence made of steel posts and wire cable to be attractive but as invisible as possible from a distance.
I designed this fence made of steel posts and wire cable to be as invisible as possible from a distance and attractive up close.

 

A totally impractical but decorative fence in the Asian Meadow uses ornamental Chinese tiles inset into a low wooden fence to delineate the edge of the meadow and separate it from a picnic area.

 

Decorative Chinese tiles are set into a simple wooden structure.
This photo shows how important hard landscaping can be in areas where snow comes early and stays late.

 

One of the most attractive deer fences I’ve seen is the one below, spotted in the Bridge Garden on Long Island. The casual arrangement of long sticks is a variation of a Japanese style.

 

This simple structure and imaginative structure is an effective protection against the deer.
This simple and imaginative structure is an effective protection against the deer.

 

Compare it, for example, to this more formal fence at the Morikami Japanese Garden in Florida.

 

Tied bamboo fences are a staple of many Japanese gardens.
Tied bamboo fences are a staple of many Japanese gardens.

 

Some fences are purely practical but even practical fences needn’t be unattractive. I saw the one below at Madoo, the Long Island garden of the late Robert Dash, and while its material is utilitarian, its colour lightens the surroundings and adds interest to the plants at its base.

 

This fence probably screens an unattractive sight at Madoo, Robert Dash's garden on Long Island. It picks up on the strong primary colours used throughout the garden.
The strong green is repeated throughout the garden along with other strong primary colours.

 

Some fences make strong visual statements. At Veddw, the Welsh garden created by Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes, an opening into a farm field needed to be fenced. The ground on one side was much higher than the ground on the other, and the land sloped markedly from end to end. They solved this problem with imagination, and at low cost, by using slats of varying heights.

The uneven slats make a virtue of uneven ground.
The uneven slats make a virtue of uneven ground and create an interesting silhouette.

 

A similarly imaginative fence is at The Grove, the garden of the late David Hicks, where the silhouettes of famous landmarks decorate one side of a very plain fence.

 

A skyline at The Grove.
An over-the-top fence at The Grove features the Parthenon among other buildings. How many can you identify?

For a fence that illustrates the interests of the gardener, one designed by Christine Facer Hoffman, a medical scientist turned garden designer, tops my list. Ms Facer Hoffman’s dog is named Pi and this fence makes his name a reality… it is an endless sequence of numbers listing the decimal points of pi. The fence is also practical, keeping gravel out of the vegetable garden.

 

An aesthetically pleasing fence
The low metal  fence that surrounds the vegetable garden at Througham Court is aesthetically interesting. I wonder, though, if anyone has ever tripped over the raised numbers.

 

It’s easy to install a low-cost utilitarian fence, but how much more interesting it is to design one that suits the situation, the interests and the aesthetics of the garden owner. A wonderfully contemporary fence at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve combines open and closed spaces, a principle that informs many garden designs.  At first glance, the fence is a solid barrier.

 

A mass of flowers soften the appearance of the fence.
A mass of flowers soften the appearance of the fence.

 

But as you walk alongside it, the fence opens to allow flowers to peep through.

I love the combination of materials and colours in this Corten steel fence at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve.
I love the combination of materials and colours in this Corten steel fence at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve.

 

Designing a fence like this takes skill and imagination. Add the wonderfully toned plants and you have a winner.