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


Little Things Mean a Lot

September 18th, 2017 | 12 Comments »

Little things mean a lot, in the garden as well as in song. It’s the little things that explain why we gardeners are always looking and re-looking. Shall I move this plant, modify this combination, add or subtract?

This past week I’ve been changing some little things at the Skating Pond. After 12 years, a few boards on the boardwalk needed to be replaced. And changing some boards gave me the chance (the excuse?) to change a few more. Quite a few, as it turned out. Because what started as a tweak ended up changing the shape of the boardwalk, not entirely but significantly, at one end.

It’s instructive to look back. Here’s a photo of the Skating Pond in 2011. The boardwalk started abruptly, without feeling connected to its surroundings; it ended with a modest curve that led directly into the field and to a view, in the distance, of telephone poles, electric lines and a house.


It's hard to remember how bare the entry to the Skating Pond looked like before I planted the Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster.'
It’s hard to remember how bare the entry to the Skating Pond looked like before I planted the Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster.’


(I’d love to show you what that view looked like, but I can’t. Over the years I’ve taken more than 1600 photos of the Skating Pond; not one of them shows it. You’d almost think I didn’t like what I saw.)

That abrupt ending was hidden once the bank above the boardwalk was planted with ornamental grass, but problems with the view remained. And in the back of my mind, there was always a little itch of dissatisfaction.


We planted the bank above the boardwalk over several years, starting about ten years ago.
We planted the ornamental grasses on the bank above the boardwalk over several years, starting about ten years ago.


Now I’ve scratched it.

The boardwalk now starts (or ends, depending on which way you are walking) with a strong curve that leads up the bank.


I like having to duck slightly to walk under the willow tree.
I like having to duck slightly to walk under the willow tree.


The curve and the steps are pleasing from every angle.


The rocks were already on site and needed only to be shifted a bit. The field will regrow next year to cover the dirt.
The rocks were already on site and needed only to be shifted a bit. The bare ground at the bottom shows where the old path went.


Best of all, the view from the top of the steps is good in every direction.


The added height offers a different perspective on the Skating Pond.
The added height offers a different perspective on the Skating Pond.


Over the past month or so we’ve made two other changes, each of which has, or will, make a big difference. The opposite end of the boardwalk has presented problems for years. The ground was wet and regardless of what I planted, nothing grew well.

A year ago we dug out the dirt to expose more rock. The result wasn’t pretty. More problematic than aesthetics, though, were the practical issues. I knew the slope would shift and slide over the winter. Something more had to be done.


This photo is from October 2016.
This photo is from October 2016.


In early July we dug out more of the hillside to change the angle of the slope. We added rocks, good dirt and a few trial plants, including divisions of Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ that are now doing well. We’ll use more Calamagrostis to fill in the space, dividing some of the existing clumps to continue the line, and possibly adding another type of plant as well. So while there is more to be done, I feel that finally the area is coming together.


The Aralia will have to go -- the bright green that was so appealing in July looks out of place in September.
The Aralia will have to go — the bright green that was so appealing in July looks out of place in September.


Another section, closer to the new steps, is coming together as well. An underground spring runs alongside a section of the rocks here, creating a constant problem with slippage on the hillside. A few years ago we added a few large rocks to stabilize the ground but they have never felt completely natural.


A combination of rocks, ornamental grass and dirt.
Despite the fact that the two large rocks near the top of the slope are well grounded, they look as if they are perched on top of the rock rather than coming up out of it.


Adding a few more rocks seems to have solved the problem.


A diagonal view makes the rocks look as if they are part of a rock seam.
A diagonal view makes the rocks look as if they are part of a natural rock seam.


Still to come is the final ‘little thing’, a weeping willow that will go beside the new steps. The tree should create the impression of a gateway at the entry that will focus the view and make the Skating Pond feel even more secluded than it feels now.

Next year I may need to tweak other things at the Skating Pond. But for the moment at least, I’m satisfied. No, more than that, I’m happy.


Michiko’s Garden

September 10th, 2017 | 4 Comments »
Striations in the rock suggest ripples in a stream.
Last week I visited a very special garden, where rock outcroppings enhanced with shade-loving plants create an atmosphere of deep serenity.   [caption id="attachment_5589" align="aligncenter" width="1425"] Polystichum, or Christmas fern, is found in shady woodlands throughout Quebec. Note the small patch of tiarella cordifolia, another indigenous plant, at the top of the photo.[/caption]   Developed over the last fifteen years by designer Michiko Gagnon, the garden is at the end of a cul-de-sac in Quebec's Eastern Townships, not far from the U.S. border. It's an idyllic setting, with an old farmhouse that she and


A Colour-full Summer

August 28th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
The Coleus is a variety called Indian Summer. I pinched it back regularly to keep it from getting too big.  (thanks for the warning, Nancy A.!)
Even while summer is coming to an end, the garden continues to make me happy. I'm really pleased with the gravel garden.  Early in the summer we adjusted the slate border; now it steps rather than slopes down, giving a firmer definition to the edge. While the yucca didn't bloom this year, it did produce dense clumps that should bloom next year. The sedum 'Dazzleberry' is growing well and the small islands of sandwort (Arenaria verna) that I added offer good colour contrast.   [caption id="attachment_5567" align="aligncenter" width="705"] Although it doesn't show


Metis International Garden Festival

August 22nd, 2017 | 6 Comments »
The optical illusion never fails to delight.
  Recently I visited the International Garden Festival at Metis, Quebec. I've attended the Festival many times since it first opened in 2000, but in previous years I've gone with adults. This year was special -- I went with two teenage granddaughters.   [caption id="attachment_5512" align="aligncenter" width="1425"] The festival gardens are adjacent to the St. Lawrence River in a part of Quebec that offers much to explore.[/caption]   Playsages, the theme for this year's Festival, was a good fit for the three of us. The word is a mash-up of languages, blending


A Mid-Summer Check Up

August 14th, 2017 | 6 Comments »
I can't identify the plant exactly -- I gathered seeds from plants that were growing along a nearby road.
In the middle of August, the garden feels different. It's not as fresh or vibrant, not as satisfying. This makes it tempting to move into planning mode. But first, I need to review the goals I set for the year, to assess what still needs to be done. One goal was to hold a second Open Garden Day. I checked that off in July. Another was to let the garden express itself. This is a goal that will never be finished. But I'm doing my best, letting nature take its course in the fields and


The Upper Room Updated

August 7th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
An overview, looking towards the dogwood panels.
  Finishing The Upper Room, the area that honours my mother and her beliefs, was one of my goals for 2017.  I started work on the area last summer, hoping to finish then, but everything took longer than expected. This year, the sand-blasted panels that are the central feature were installed in the spring, the area was planted in early summer, and the final elements were added in July. The dogwood screen remains the crowning glory. It stands at the uppermost of three levels, defining the space without closing it in. I'm particularly happy with


Now for a Rest!

July 31st, 2017 | 14 Comments »
As the day began, I snapped one photo of cars parked in the field. It was the last photo I took for the day.
The last few weeks have been busy. Preparing the garden for visiting groups and getting everything in place for Saturday's Open Garden Day has been fun, but also a lot of work. And now that August is here, I'm ready to put my feet up -- for a day or two, at least. But first, I want to thank the 20 volunteers who worked at the Open Garden Day. They made the day a success, and I couldn't have done it without them. The weather cooperated beautifully, and the day


You are Invited!

July 23rd, 2017 | 6 Comments »
It's less than a week until our second annual Open Garden Day. I'm ready for it, bilingual volunteers are prepped, and the garden is looking fine. So I hope I'll see you here, next Saturday between 10 and 4. There's no need to reserve a spot, and all are welcome, with admission payable on site. (No dogs or picnics, please.) Here are the details.     And here's a preview of what you'll see. The Cascade by the house ...   [caption id="attachment_5399" align="aligncenter" width="1425"] The yellow Ligularia add a nice


What a Difference a Month Makes

July 17th, 2017 | 26 Comments »
Looking beyond the nepeta you can see how the Big Meadow is coming along.
Yesterday was Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. The 15th of the month is when garden bloggers from around the world post photos of what is blooming in their garden. (Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this meme.) I haven't been doing this, and I'm not sure I will in the future. But I can't resist showing off one particular bloom at Glen Villa, my garden in rural Quebec. The flower I'm showcasing is Nepeta recemosa 'Walker's Low.' It's a cliché to say that a plant is blooming its heart out,


Vancouver Gardens

July 10th, 2017 | 14 Comments »
this Japanese maple is in my brother-in-law's garden, a beautifully cool and shady spot.
I'm on my way back to Quebec now, after five days in Vancouver. It's been a terrific trip. The weather has been spectacular and the opening of my exhibition, Clichés to Live By, was a huge success -- lots of people of all ages and lots of positive feedback. Along with visits to the Winsor Gallery to see the show, I've been walking around Kitsilano, the area of Vancouver where I stayed. 'Kits' was named after a Squamish chief, August Jack Khatsahlano. Once it was a dense wildlife-filled forest; now Craftsman-style houses