This week the first group of gardeners will be coming to tour Glen Villa. Forty plus members of the Ottawa Garden Club will spend the morning here, on what I’m hoping will be a sunny day.
They are coming at a good time — the garden is looking fabulous. I rarely write a blog post that’s only about flowers, but this week the blooms are so spectacular that it’s worth showcasing their beauty.
The Aqueduct, where last year I added Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’, Ruby Carousel barberry and Porteranthus (formerly Gillenia trifoliata) to existing boxwood balls, is stunning, a symphony of blue and green.
A close-up shows how the nepeta is almost overwhelming the boxwood. I’m wondering how much I’ll have to cut back in the future. But for now, I’m happy with the balance.
The Cascade, which in previous years has proved problematic, is looking the best I’ve seen it for a long time. I’m particularly pleased with the two perennial geraniums that I planted last year. Geranium ‘Biokovo’ is a tiny delight…
,,, while Geranium ‘Hocus Pocus’ brings a touch of dark magic to the scene.
Near them are plants I started from seed about a dozen years ago, Sanguisorba menziesii. I love the bottlebrush shape and the fabulous burgundy colour.
In the Lower Garden, the pink peonies are luscious.
So are the double white.
The Acquilegia canadensis are staying true to themselves, and offer a punch of colour in combination with ‘Bowles Golden’ carex.
I don’t have much bright red in the garden, but seeing this honeysuckle in bloom, that may change.
In the same bed a fingerleaf Rodgersia (Rodgersia aesculifolia) is a standout against a pink-flowered weigela (Weigela florida ‘French Lace’).
By the front door, the Anemone canadensis I added last year is doing exactly what I hoped it would do, shining a spot of light in the shade of a pine tree.
The display is wonderful now and should continue for weeks. Next to come, I think, will be the astilbe in the Lower Garden. Even now, tightly closed, the promise is unfolding.
I plan to challenge the members of the Ottawa Garden Club by asking them a few questions. I didn’t think up the questions, I’ve pinched them from one source or another. They seem to be good questions for gardeners anywhere to ask, about their own garden and any garden they visit.
What one thing in the garden would you change? Is there something you’d add or delete? And would you like this garden to be yours?
I hope they send me their answers. Honest criticism is a good way to learn.
What happens when two opinionated garden makers visit the garden of a Chelsea award-winning garden designer?
Last month, Anne Wareham, Charles Hawes and I visited Allt-y-bela, the home of Arne Maynard, an author and prominent UK garden designer. We spent several hours wandering around the impressive garden, located in Monmouthshire, Wales; Anne and I spent even more time several weeks later exchanging ideas and responses to what we had seen.
Along with running her own garden, Veddw, (in case you missed my review of Veddw, you can read it here), Anne edits the internationally read on-line garden magazine ThinkinGardens. This week she has published our correspondence about Allt-y-bela.
As Anne mentions in her introduction to the piece, our responses to the garden raised a number of interesting questions. What is the affect of visiting a garden along with the person who has made it? Does it add to or subtract from the experience? What about history? Is it important to bring that into the design of the garden? And what are the pros and cons of stage managed gardens?
Coming home from a tour of English gardens I felt a short, sharp shock. Everything in my garden looked inadequate, not up to the standard I had come to expect. I moped. I complained. Why can’t I grow the hundreds of plants I saw and admired? Some of them must surely suit my climate. So why don’t the garden centres around Glen Villa stock them?
Then I faced the facts. My garden will never match the perfection of an English estate that employs six or seven full time gardeners. The garden centres will never stock the rarities — with such a small market, it’s not a paying proposition. Plants I grow will never match the size they reach in England, not as long as I live where I do, where winter temperatures drop regularly to -25 or -30C.
And since I have no desire to live anywhere else, I had to quit complaining. I gave myself a good talking to. Instead of accepting your limitations, I told myself, embrace them. And I have. I do. My garden no longer looks inadequate, it looks splendid. I am enthusiastic about what I can grow, and even more enthusiastic about what grows here naturally.
I mean, just look at it. Can any English country scene be more beautiful than our old farm field bursting with buttercups?
And what about the lupins that are dancing their way across the meadow? I’m happy to see them, and to see this year for the first time a brighter-than-average pink that I hope will spread and become even brighter.
My heart sings when I see the lupins blooming amid buttercups and ragged robin, especially when set off by the citrus green of Aralia ‘Sun King’ behind them.
I take no credit for these wildflowers. Each year they appear on their own, this year more floriferous than last. The shrub border in the Upper Field is a different matter, and it gives me pleasure of a different sort. I chose the shrubs and thanks to the fence I designed to protect them from the deer, they are blooming like they’ve never bloomed before.
The shrub border is doing all I hoped it would, and more. I wanted some privacy in the Upper Field, and the shrubs are big enough now to shield our view of cars driving past. I wanted the privacy screen to be truly appealing, so I’d walk up the hill to see it. And that has worked. The vibrant blossoms and foliage add colour and excitement, and draw me like a magnet to see how each plant changes, day to day.
The blossoms on the Ninebark ‘Coppertina’ for instance. They start as tight pin pricks, then open to resemble tiny berries, then become as fluffy as dandelion heads, all in a matter of a week or two.
All around the garden, blooms are bursting. At the Skating Pond the yellow flag iris are shining in the distance …
… elsewhere, single white peonies gleam …
… and camassias growing more abundant year by year.
Seeds I gathered from an acquilegia in Australia are blooming quietly on a rocky outcrop, retaining their original colour and refusing, I’m glad to say, to affect the colour of the wild Canadian ones that grow nearby.
But the wildflowers capture my heart most of all. The yellow flower that is blooming in a field next to a tall grass…
… the delicate pink daisy-like flowers that appear everywhere….
Why should I be envious of an English garden when I am surrounded by such natural beauty? Even the grass is glorious.
Do you have garden envy? And are you doing anything about it?
I’m home again at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, after touring gardens in England. In ten days, the small group I was hosting visited 17 gardens, each special in its own way. Add in the Chelsea Flower Show and pre-tour visits to three other gardens and you can imagine the result: more photos and memories than a dozen blog posts can handle.
Let me mention a few highlights. (More blog posts will come once I catch my breath and begin to assimilate all I saw.)
The Chelsea Flower Show was its normal madhouse of flowers, garden-related goods and people — even on a members only day, it is crowded. Like many others, I found this year’s show gardens a disappointment. Unlike many, I admired the garden chosen as Best in Show, a quarry garden designed by James Basson that highlighted Malta’s horticulturally rich yet threatened environment. My favourite gardens, though, were the smaller, fresher ones.
Perhaps the strongest overall impression of the garden tour itself was the generosity shown by so many of the garden owners. Our group of Canadian and American women was welcomed as if we were members of the family. We were treated to personal stories and gardening anecdotes as well as to tea and cakes — all delicious in their way. And instructive.
Spending time with Penelope Hobhouse at her newest garden, the Dairy Barn, provided a lesson in how many plants can be crammed successfully into a tiny space. Being asked by this expert for advice on how to treat an ailing plant was a lesson in humility: how could I possibly tell her anything she didn’t already know? Yet she listened, considered and even agreed.
Alasdair Forbes at Plaz Metaxu was warm hospitality mixed with a degree of erudition that would be intimidating in a less open-hearted man. Over some 25 years he has created a landscape to capture the mind and the spirit. A landscape garden superficially in the 18th century tradition, this ‘place between,’ as the name translates, presented much more than beautiful views. It is a garden after my own spirit, a garden of significance, and one I could happily live in. At the same time its underpinnings are so complex that I would need multiple visits and hours of reading and research even to begin to understand what I saw.
Visiting Wildside and getting a glimpse into the extraordinary passion that drives owner Keith Wiley offered a balance to what I sometimes see as my own over the top obsessions. However much I do, I can’t hold a candle to this man who has, literally, reshaped his garden world. Nor can I ever match his knowledge of plants or provide the range of habitats that they need.
John and Jennie Makepeace at their village garden Farrs not only led our group through the garden, they led us through their working lives. John is a distinguished furniture designer whose work takes furniture to a level rarely seen. Sitting at the dining room table in one of his chairs combined art and comfort; moving from one beautifully designed chair to the next, and the next, and the next, demonstrated how a change in the tiniest detail can alter the experience and the pleasure — a lesson that applies equally well to gardens.
At Iford Manor, our hosts were John Hignett, his son and daughter-in-law. This visit was my third to Iford Manor, a garden I like very much, and it was made more enjoyable by John’s warmth and knowledge. Hearing my sister sing an impromptu aria in the cloister where opera is performed was (literally and metaphorically) a high note.
At Spilsbury Farm, Tania and Jamie Compton showed how informality combined with structure can make a country garden feel loved and lived in. These two know plants, and it shows. The plants looked as much at home as I felt.
At the more elaborate and intensively gardened estate Malverleys, Head of Horticulture Mat Reese shared his plant and design knowledge so generously that I felt I’d completed a course in design in a few short hours.
Philip White, founder and chief executive of the Hestercombe Gardens Trust, regaled our group over lunch with stories of the restoration of this important garden. Not all people can speak so fluently, informatively and entertainingly. Not all can hold the attention of a group of women as they pick away at their Sunday roast. But Philip White did this easily. Hestercombe’s garden covers three distinct periods of garden history — an 18th century landscape garden, a Victorian shrubbery and one of the first — and finest — gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens. Mr White has been responsible for bringing this garden to its present high level, and with the discovery of an Elizabethan water garden, the sweep of history will be even wider. We left not only well-fed but also shored up by his enthusiasm for a garden he so clearly loves.
Gardens are more than arrangements of plants. Even the most beautiful gardens can feel like lifeless, like well-dressed stage sets. But not when they are full to bursting with the personality of the garden’s creator. My previous blog post was about Veddw, the garden of Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes. I was lucky enough to spend a full 24 hours there, and my welcome could not have been warmer. Few gardens are more personal, or show more clearly what matters to the couple who’ve created it.
I’ve been hosting garden tours for the last five years and this tour was one of the best. It helped that we were a congenial group of travellers, visiting great gardens at a good time of year. But the best part was the personality, warmth and generosity of the gardeners themselves.
I’m in England now, about to start on a ten-day garden tour. With my co-host Julia Guest of Travel Concepts in Vancouver, I will take a small group of women to the southwest of England. But before hitting the road, let me whet your appetite with a review of an extraordinary garden I visited pre-tour.
Veddw is the garden of Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes. Located in Wales, just across the border from England in an area of outstanding natural beauty, Veddw pays homage to its surroundings in ways that show respect for what came before. And significantly, that respectful attitude, felt throughout the garden, highlights the design talents of its creators.
English gardens that nod to the past are a commonplace but Veddw is no ordinary garden. A bench at the entry to the garden announces the difference, first in its shape and colour and then in the words that appear on the back, names used for the property over several centuries.
At the edge of a wild garden, headstones give alternate names for people and areas nearby.
Veddw and its designers do more, though, than show respect for the past. The garden they have created is very much of the present, yet it draws on ideas of time and change that are common to gardens everywhere. Attention to detail is evident throughout… not in the ordinary ‘garden variety’ way where all is neat and tidy, with no weeds apparent, but in the subtlety with which design creates meaning and significance.
Every garden design manual will advise repeating plants, colours and shapes, stressing that repetition holds a garden together, gives it coherence. And I agree. But too often, repetition of the sort advised hits you in the face, as if carbon paper had been pressed over a good idea and then imprinted mindlessly from one area to another.
Not so at Veddw. Here, the garden coheres through a more nuanced approach. The curve of hedges is repeated in the roofline of what once was a tiny stone house. The curve of the entry bench is echoed in the curves of a bench by a reflecting pool, but here the curve is modified with a dip that suggests what is about to come.
For me, the marvel at Veddw is the Hedge Garden. Designing interlocking hedges that appeal from every direction is a challenge that designer Anne Wareham has met, seemingly with ease. At the entry to the garden, a visitor encounters a genuine Wow! moment. Stretched across the valley below are scalloped-topped hedges set against flat-topped ones. Shades of green repeat and shift, balanced with touches of maroon and rust. Cones in the foreground are echoed by square columns in the distance. And all this energy is anchored by a calm backdrop of trees that promise a garden of a different sort.
To create a view this satisfying from one angle isn’t easy. To make it equally satisfying from the opposite direction adds another level of difficulty. Wareham has met the challenge and succeeded.
In the Pool Garden, the interwoven hedges become a complex play of curves. Do they rise and fall like waves on a distant sea or do they mimic the rising and falling hills that surround Veddw? No matter. Their reflections in the dark water form an inverted goblet that spills out an invitation to enter the underwater world beyond.
A path continues around the reflecting pool to enter the Hedge Garden. Turning a corner, waves appear again, this time in a contrasting colour — the fresh green of boxwood set against the darker tones of yew.
The magic of Veddw continues in the adjacent woods …
… where the ruins of an old farm building, once in the middle of an open field, have become a mysterious shrine.
There is much more to Veddw than hedges and romantic woods. There are open sunny borders, a delightful garden stuffed with cardoon and shaped boxwood, a meadow walk and a white Clematis montana so tall it might almost be visible from outer space.
But for me, a highlight was the use of words throughout the garden. (Those of you who read this blog regularly, or who read ThinkinGardens, Anne Wareham’s internationally acclaimed blog, will be familiar with this quirk of mine. You can read A Matter of Words here.)
Hatter’s Patch and Bulchey Bernard are only two of many ways that words are used to link the garden to a wider world. A quotation from Wordsworth’s poem about nearby Tintern Abbey appears on a wooden bench, connecting the garden to the fields around. (“These hedgerows, hardly hedgerows, little lines of sportive wood run wild…”) T.S. Eliot is quoted on an irregular stone, the words suggesting the progression that occurs when past and present, repeated, are brought together in new ways.
A small, weathered plaque attached to a tree speaks to what a garden is, or can be. At Veddw, the words articulate what the garden says: past is present, present, past. The future is still becoming.
Veddw is open on Sunday afternoons in June and July and from August 2-5. Groups of ten or more are welcome by prior arrangement from May to September.
If you have the chance, go. This is a garden worth the detour.
I’m happy to announce that once again this year, we are opening the garden at Glen Villa as a fundraiser for the Massawippi Foundation.
Here are the details.
As you can see, the admission goes directly to our local community foundation, Fondation Massawippi Foundation. The Foundation supports community projects — school playgrounds, a community health centre, meals to shut-ins and seniors and much more. It also supports land conservation through the Massawippi Conservation Trust. In the few short years since the Trust was established, almost 800 acres of ecologically valuable land have been conserved; by the end of this year, the Trust hopes to add an additional 400 acres. Most of the conserved land is undisturbed forest on the hillside above Lake Massawippi, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. The Foundation is now building trails on this land to make the natural beauty accessible to the general public in an ecologically sensitive way.
This is a cause our family enthusiastically supports. I’m on the Board of Directors of the Foundation and my husband is a Trustee of the Conservation Trust. In addition, we have put a servitude, or easement, on a portion of our land, preventing development of any kind in perpetuity. We decided to do this because the land itself deserves protection. It contains sections of old growth forest and is filled with native flora and fauna that could easily be destroyed. Opening our garden to be public gives us a chance to support the work of the Foundation and Trust. And it gives me the pleasure of sharing the garden we’ve created.
In order for visitors to experience the garden at its best, we’ve decided to limit numbers. Unlike last year when visitors simply showed up at the gate, this years we are asking people to reserve for either a morning or afternoon visit. Last year the morning was busier than the afternoon, so if you want to come in the morning, I suggest reserving soon. You can do that here (English) or here (French).
As long as space is available, we will welcome visitors at the door. Payment is also at the door. Up to the Open Day itself you will be able to confirm if space is available by checking the website of the Massawippi Foundation.
*** Please note: reservations can be made only with the Massawippi Foundation and not with me.
Maps of the property in French and English will be available at the door and bilingual volunteers will be stationed throughout the garden to give directions and answer questions. I will be in and about all day, to chat or discuss issues related to gardens, art for gardens and garden design.
Last year, with very little publicity, we attracted hundreds of people. This year we are publicizing the event more widely, particularly through garden clubs and horticultural societies. So I do urge you to reserve your spot as soon as you can.
Gilbert and Sullivan got it right when they wrote about spring flowers.
The flowers that bloom in the spring, Tra la, Breathe promise of merry sunshine — As we merrily dance and we sing, Tra la, We welcome the hope that they bring, Tra la, Of a summer of roses and wine.
Right now, I’m dancing and singing. Because everywhere at Glen Villa, spring flowers are blooming. Daffodils galore brighten the path to the China Terrace ….
hugging the base of birch trees.
More daffodils sparkle on the berm by the Skating Pond ….
and spring up from the grassy hillside like dots of butter and cream.
In the Lower Garden, magnolia blooms take pride of place. Now blooming are the star magnolias (Magnolia stellata ‘Susan.’) When they begin to fade, the darker-toned Magnolia ‘Leonard Messel’ appears, as welcome as any flower that blooms in the spring.
In my photos, the colour of the star magnolia blossoms seems almost unnaturally vivid against a lawn still greening up after winter.
In close-up, the pink is softer and gentler.
Joining the magnolias and daffodils throughout the garden are ferns of all sorts. They rise up from the leaf mold like sleepy monks shedding their winter robes.
Whatever the variety — and growing wild in our woods there are many — the newly emerging ferns always make me smile. They seem like sociable creatures, happy to be part of a group ….
or, like giddy maids at school, to be sharing secrets with special friends.
Normally my favourite spring flower, the one I watch and wait for, is the twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) that grows by the kitchen door. I love watching the leaves and buds emerge, opening and shutting as the weather dictates.
But of all the flowers in bloom this year, the highlight for me are the daffodils that are whipping their way across the grass in the Dragon’s Tail.
For the last fifteen years, the Dragon’s Tail has been blue in the spring when the grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) bloomed and bright fuchsia in August with Astilbe ‘Veronica Klose.’ But lately the muscari hasn’t been doing well. Deer eat the foliage as it emerges, and this weakens the bulbs so gradually they’ve been fading away. Last fall I dug them up, determined to try something new.
A year or two from now I’ll be able to assess whether the change was an improvement. But for now, I’m loving it.
STAYED TUNED FOR AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT!
I’ll be posting in a day or two with news about this year’s Open Garden Day. For now, mark it down on your calendar: Saturday, July 29, from 10-4.
After months of anticipation, yesterday we installed the glass panels at The Upper Room. The wait was long but it was worth it — I am thrilled with the results.
The Upper Room is a memorial designed to honour my mother and her beliefs. It’s a tribute to family and to the traditions I grew up with in Richmond, Virginia, when classically symmetrical architecture, brick, and boxwood shaped our streetscapes and our view of the world.
From inception, brick and boxwood were essential elements of the design. So was a sense of embrace. I wanted the area to include something that felt like a hug from the out-stretched arms that always welcomed me when I returned.
Genealogy was important to my mother so representing family was another key component. I played around with the idea of making a literal family tree but everything I sketched was too complicated and too busy. Yet the idea of a tree stuck. If not a family tree, what about an actual one? But what kind of tree, and would it have the necessary impact, situated as it was in the midst of a forest? I doubted it. So if not a real tree, what about the image of a tree?
Immediately the idea felt right. The tree would be a flowering dogwood. Two groves of stately white dogwood (Cornus florida) grew outside the first house I remember, and dogwood is the Virginia state flower. I asked my friend, the Montreal artist Mary Martha Guy, to draw the tree and her design captured my heart.
Even before the drawing was done, I knew I wanted it to appear on glass — the transparent, translucent and reflective qualities of glass seemed to fit the idea behind the project. It was easy to imagine the outline of a tree etched or sandblasted into glass. But I quickly realized that I wanted to flip that around. Instead of picturing the tree on the glass, I wanted to picture its absence. I wanted the shape of the tree to be clear glass and the remaining space to be sandblasted. Clear glass would allow a view of the real trees in the forest behind, an idea I found appealing, and the empty tree-shaped space representing Virginia and so much more would add an air of poignancy.
Finding someone able to do the work as I wanted it done took time. But Deirdre and Holden Collins at Vitrerie VM and Peter Collins Design in Montreal were the ones. We worked together to find the right hardware. That took time and getting everything in place took more. When we were ready to go, the ground was deep in snow.
Yesterday, though, was perfect — warm and sunny. Work began early as the posts to hold the panels were installed.
Each post had to be level and straight and getting this right took an hour or two. Then the first panel was carried down the hill.
This first panel was the middle of five. Positioning it perfectly was crucial — if it was off-centre, everything that followed would be wrong.
By lunchtime, three panels were in place and everyone was starting to relax. And to become excited. The drawing was coming to life.
With all five panels in place, the idea I had in my head, that Mary Martha had translated to a drawing and that Didi and Holden had sand-blasted onto glass, was finally there in front of me.
The impact is more than I had hoped for. The details of Mary Martha’s beautiful drawing have been translated with enormous skill to show overlapping branches that end with a delicacy that reminds me of Chinese ink paintings. The shadow line that Peter Collins suggested adds another level of nuance.
The area is far from finished but the biggest step is over. Today we pulled up the boxwood that were heeled in when we began work on this project in October 2015. We cleaned them up, gave them a preliminary trim and replanted them along the sides of the brick paving. Amazingly, after 18 months of neglect, they still look good — a bit scraggly, perhaps, but I’m confident that time and good growing conditions will remedy that. Or perhaps, as Mary Martha said, their sprawl suits the forest around.
I won’t use many other plants — The Upper Room is in the midst of a forest that provides its own beauty — but I do plan to use columnar trees that will rise like pillars from the corners of the symmetrical space. I’ll add a low-growing ground cover around the trees, the boxwood and at the base of the dogwood panels — possibly heuchera or heucherella, possibly lamium or vinca, possibly partridge berry (Mitchella repens).
And I’ll design two benches that will provide a place to sit, to replace the ones shown in the photos above. Today I settled on their dimensions and the idea for the design became clear.
Finishing The Upper Room was one of my goals for 2017. I’m confident now that it will be done. My mother would be pleased — she always finished what she started.
I share something with Jan Johnsen, author of The Spirit of Stone — a respect for stones and the qualities they bring to a landscape.
At Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, I’ve used stones in paths, steps and walls. I’ve used them more unusually in the gabion walls of The Aqueduct and in the parking area in front of the house.
Two stunning moss-covered rocks in the woods dictated the route of a path that we installed shortly after we acquired the property in 1996. A rock only partly exposed became the centrepiece of a new shrub border when we uncovered more of it. And at the Skating Pond, smooth blue-toned rocks are a highlight, setting a colour palette for the plantings that surround them.
The Spirit of Stone looks at uses like these and more. The subtitle of the book is an accurate description of the contents: 101 Practical & Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden. I didn’t count the ideas but the book is full of them. In effect it is a primer on the multitude of ways in which stone can be, and has been, used in gardens.
Short sections give practical advice about using these natural treasures in rock gardens, walks, steps, walls and as accents in the garden. A final section is about plants that work well in combination with stones large and small.
Johnsen’s advice is helpful but for me the ‘spiritual’ aspects of the book are more interesting. Stone is revered in cultures around the world and understandably so. Beautiful in its variety of colours, shapes and textures, it conveys a sense of permanence that anchors us in a way that changeable plants do not. A quote from the English artist Andy Goldsworthy underlines this point.
“A lone resting stone is not merely an object in the landscape but a deeply ingrained witness to time.”
A number of the ‘spiritual’ uses Johnsen reviews, such as standing stones and stone circles, are familiar. Others are less so. I for one have never seen a split rock like the ones she illustrates, which apparently were regarded by Native Americans as doors to the underworld. Nor did I know that the continent’s indigenous people believed quartz contained supernatural power.
I do know that using rock successfully requires paying close attention. Building the cascade at Glen Villa, one of the first things we did in the garden, took genuine patience. We had to examine each rock, find not only its best face but the face that it wanted to show to the world. Because, odd as it may seem, rocks will speak if you give them, and yourself, time to hear.
Rock art is one of the few rock-related topics Johnsen does not address. Perhaps this is understandable since few of us are about to use rock walls as canvases to tell stories. But since I love rock art and have ventured far into the Australian outback and other places to view it, I found the omission regrettable.
The Spirit of Stone is not a big book. It isn’t a philosophical tome and it doesn’t take long to read. But if you are looking for good ideas and practical advice about using stone in your garden, this is a helpful book to read.
Now that winter has dumped several feet of snow on a garden that was almost snow-free, I’m back by the fire, metaphorically at least, dreaming of the seasons ahead.
I’m dreaming about a trail that will lead around the property. I’m considering the route it will follow and what I will call it. I know the purpose of the trail — it will connect art installations now in place and others I’m working on, or planning. And while there are problems about the route, the big question is what the trail should be called.
The choice of a name may seem inconsequential but in my mind it matters enormously. A name does more than describe, it defines significance, and finding the right name is proving more difficult than I anticipated. The name I’m searching for will encapsulate what links the different installations and how they add to the experience of walking the land. It will identify something meaningful.
The trail as it now exists starts in the Upper Field beside the Skating Pond and leads into the woods.
The end point of this installation, called In Transit/En Route, is a clearing, where a bench offers a place to sit and reflect. (I’ve written more about In Transit/En Routehere, here and here.)
The trail continues beyond the sundial clearing into a meadow-like area with a small stream.
Currently there is no installation in this space, tentatively named the water meadow. I plan to create something for the site but I don’t know what, although Heraclitus comes to mind. Over the summer I’ll spend time in the area, giving it a chance to speak — and giving myself time to hear it.
Beyond the water meadow, the path splits and splits again. At the second division, a tall tree trunk painted yellow announces Two Roads.
As in the poem, the two roads that present a choice to the walker lead to much the same place. At that spot, years ago, there was a farmhouse and a barn. Now it’s a quiet spot, out of the way, with a glade that reminds me of a poem by Yeats. In a year or two I will make an installation for the site, and possibly Yeats’ poem will be the genesis. But my idea needs time to grow and ripen, like the nine rows of beans he dreams of planting.
Beyond this site the route becomes complicated. There are simply too many ways to go, and too many sites that call out for recognition. The marks that history has left on the land often dictate where an installation needs to be placed and these land marks are not arranged neatly in a loop. Sometimes they veer off abruptly. Sometimes they are too close together, or too far apart. And sometimes the rhythm of the walk dictates the need for an installation even if there are no historical marks or striking natural features. That is the case in the fields near Lilac Cottage, a small house surrounded by lilac bushes, that many decades ago was used by a tenant farmer.
On two sides of the cottage are farm fields, and I’m working now on installations for both. Crossing one field will be a simple avenue of crabapple trees that I hope to plant in early spring. Crossing the other will be a more complex installation, inspired Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Scottish garden, Little Sparta, and tentatively titled The Past Looms Large.
Logic dictates that the path continue beyond the Big Chair, from the sun-filled field into a rather gloomy forest. The transition from light to shade is abrupt and is matched by a change in topography. From a dry, relatively flat field, the path leads downward, becoming increasingly soggy, provoking a change in mood that I hope to make explicit. (Dante, anyone?)
Following this same path, walkers reach Orin’s Sugarbush, a project that needs only a few finishing touches before it is complete. (For more about this installation, click here and here.)
A short distance beyond Orin’s Sugarbush the path comes out into another field. Here, walkers cross a stream before heading up the hill to the Skating Pond where they began.
Walking the trail I’ve sketched out would take a fast walker an hour at least. Loops off the main trail could easily add another hour or more. And loops seem necessary: at almost every junction another site calls out to be honoured.
These site specific installations speak to what was, but also to what may be. It is easy to walk across the land and see nothing, or to see only a tiny part of what is there. It’s easy to miss the spirit of the place. My hope is that the art I create makes this more difficult. That it helps us to see.
Which bring me back to what this trail will be called. I’m searching for a name that brings to the surface the ideas that link the installations. Regular readers will know that I like using words outdoors. (I wrote about this recently on the English website ThinkinGardens. You can read that here.) Words are a part of the installations I’ve created to date and that will probably continue. The passage of time and the history of the site are elements as well, yet I know there is something more, something deeper that I haven’t identified.
I want a name that rolls off the tongue easily, that isn’t pretentious. Most important, though, it needs to encapsulate what the trail as a whole reveals about the land and the experience of being on it. It needs to speak to the deep heart’s core.
Do you have suggestions? I welcome individual words or combinations of words — even crazy thoughts. Because who knows where a thought will lead?