A path of exploration
Unveiling the beauty and meaning behind art and gardens


Try and Try Again

August 18th, 2019 | 8 Comments »

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

August 15th, 2019 | No Comments »
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.   [caption id="attachment_7877" align="alignleft" width="5152"] You don't often see turtles on fences. Or at least not in my part of the world.[/caption]   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



August 11th, 2019 | 14 Comments »
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 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.   [caption id="attachment_7852" align="alignleft" width="1024"] It's obvious from the way the tree has grown around it that this barbed wire fence was put up a long time ago.[/caption]   An equally practical but more decorative fence is the one I designed to protect shrubs from the deer that


Paths with Pizazz

August 4th, 2019 | 4 Comments »
The cmbination of regular and irregularly shapes stones along with the plants that break up the stones makes this path at Malverleys particularly appealing.
Many garden paths are ordinary, designed simply to get you from one place in the garden to another. Grass paths, the simplest and least costly type of path to make, appear in gardens so routinely that they almost disappear. Occasionally, though, you'll see a path that stands out. The grass path below is an example. It is well maintained and nicely curved but what lifts it out of the ordinary is the white line that edges it. That line draws your eye along the curve and makes the path itself impossible to ignore.


Garden Paths

July 29th, 2019 | 12 Comments »
The tightly laid stone path at Cottesbrooke, a Queen Anne house in Northamptonshire.
Working on Timelines, the 3 km trail at Glen Villa that opened last weekend, started me thinking about trails and paths more generally, and particularly about the way the size, shape and the material a path is made of affect how we respond. What a difference there is, for instance, between the effect of a winding path made of wood chips ...   [caption id="attachment_7795" align="alignleft" width="4272"] This photo shows a wood chip path at Holbrooke Garden, a naturalistic garden in Devon.[/caption]   ... and a straight path that leads to


Open Garden Day Success

July 22nd, 2019 | 18 Comments »
The rich sounds of the cello could be heard from the Lower Garden right up to the Upper Field. No question, the music added to the special atmosphere.
On Saturday July 20, over 300 people visited Glen Villa to view the garden and walk Timelines, the 3km trail that opened for the first time. The day was exhausting because of the heat and humidity but it was exhilarating to welcome so many people to the garden and to hear how much they enjoyed the experience. Many visitors commented on how well organized we were. For this, I have to thank the 24 volunteers who worked at the registration desk and at various spots around the garden. Of all the volunteers, I want


Wildflowers and Wild Life

July 14th, 2019 | 16 Comments »
For a wildflower to seed itself all over a field ... how lucky is that!
Some wildflowers are called weeds... but often those 'weeds' have pretty flowers. Consider crown vetch, for instance. Its purple flowers are lovely from a distance and it is useful as a temporary ground cover to prevent erosion. But it's also a menace, in some cases covering and shading out native plants.  Chickweed, on the other hand, isn't a problem, although people who yearn for perfect lawns may disagree.   [caption id="attachment_7731" align="alignleft" width="2773"] It's called chickweed because chickens love to eat it. People can too, and its flowers are quite


Words on the Land

July 7th, 2019 | 8 Comments »
I deliberately made the questions difficult to read in order to slow people down.
A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the old saying goes. But sometimes a word says all that needs to be said. Or perhaps, more than a thousand pictures can convey. Words label each section of Timelines, the 2.9 km trail that we are opening to the public for the first time on July 20, as a fund-raiser for the Massawippi Foundation. (You can buy your tickets by clicking here.) Words begin the journey at In Transit/En Route, where signs ask questions   [caption id="attachment_7711" align="alignleft" width="5184"] I deliberately


Introducing Mr. Albert Stumpson

July 3rd, 2019 | 6 Comments »
stumpy (2 of 5)
For many years a pine tree towered over an old house where a tenant farmer once lived.   [caption id="attachment_6230" align="alignleft" width="4000"] You can see the tall pine tree behind the house in this photo from 2009.[/caption]   In search of the sun, it gradually leaned farther and farther away from the house. Until one day, it fell.   [caption id="attachment_6221" align="alignleft" width="4316"] The screened porch on the farmhouse is the perfect place to sit on a summer's evening.[/caption]   When the branches were removed, my son-in-law noticed that the


Favourite Things

June 27th, 2019 | 6 Comments »
The many petals of this peony capture raindrops.
Sometimes, pictures of pretty flowers are enough. I took these photos in a garden in Knowlton, Quebec that I visited last week. It was a grey, rainy day but the gardens were glorious! The flowers in one garden were the stars of the day.   [caption id="attachment_7653" align="alignleft" width="5184"] Raindrops on roses are nice. Raindrops on peonies are even better. I'm not sure how to rank whiskers on kittens.[/caption]   Bright copper kettles are no competition for the WOW! of this poppy. Talk about gorgeous!   [caption id="attachment_7652" align="alignleft" width="3765"] The