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Unveiling the beauty and meaning behind art and gardens

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As the Garden Turns

April 22nd, 2018 | 4 Comments »

Does your garden turn its face to the world or does it veil it off?  The difference says a lot, about you and the style of your garden — and about the spirit of the times.

Recently I spoke to several groups about how to get the most out of garden visits.  Learning to Look: the Art of Garden Observation considers what it takes to really see a garden. A handout for the talk asks some key questions, starting with the garden’s context.  How does it relate to the world around it? Is it open to its surroundings or closed off?

Topography can make an enormous difference. Properties with panoramic views rarely shut them out, particularly when they look out on a rural landscape.

St Pierre (1 of 1)
Sitting atop the hillside, residents of this house in Quebec’s Eastern Townships have a spectacular view across the countryside.

 

If the view is unattractive, however, the garden owner may want to block it out. Ugly walls, telephone poles, rooftops lined with satellite dishes: all interfere with a world view that excludes these urban elements.

Some gardens deliberately close themselves off from their surroundings, attractive or not, creating a private universe that holds the outside world at bay.

 

Other houses surround this densely planted Long Island garden.
From inside this densely planted garden, you’d never know that other houses are located close by.

 

Sometimes views are hidden, by accident or design.

 

Only the tiniest piece of the view here at The Fells, New Hampshire, is open.
Only the tiniest piece of the view here at The Fells, New Hampshire, is open.

 

Cutting the view of the surroundings turns the view in on itself. At Great Dixter, one of England’s finest gardens, the view of the surrounding fields is blocked by a line of cars.

 

Surely this isn't the only place to park a car!
Behind the cars is a quiet pastoral scene where sheep graze in green fields.

 

The effect of this is to turn the view and the viewer back towards the garden itself.

 

Hard to complain about having to look at a view
It’s hard to complain about having to look at a view like this.

 

The garden at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s house in Lennox, Massachusetts, exists in a bubble, disconnected from everything around it.

 

Tucked behind those tall trees at the end of the walkway is what could be a view of the surrounding landscape.
Tucked behind those tall trees at the end of the walkway is what could be a view of the surrounding landscape.

 

By hiding the view, the house and the people who live there take centre stage.

 

The house dominates the view from every part of the garden.
The house dominates the view from every part of the garden.

 

Contrast this inward-looking attitude with Sunnylands, the historic California estate of Walter and Leonore Annenberg. At Sunnylands, everything is directed outwards, across open lawns towards the towering, snow-capped San Jacinto mountains.

 

It would be impossible to hide the view of the mountains. And who would want to?
It would be impossible to hide the view of the mountains. And who would want to?

 

The difference in orientation reflects a difference in the spirit of the place and the spirit of the times. The names of the houses do the same. Following English and Italian models, The Mount stands above, expressing in its architecture Wharton’s ideas about order, scale and harmony. Sitting low to the ground and with glass walls that connect indoor and outdoor spaces, Sunnylands becomes an element of the landscape, one feature among many.

An openness to the surroundings characterizes many American gardens. Neighbourhood streets are lined with houses that may be divided, one from another, by hedges or low flower beds, as are these houses in Hanover, New Hampshire.

 

Several years ago, I was part of a small group from Montreal fortunate enough to visit several private gardens in New Hampshire and Vermont.
Several years ago, I was part of a small group from Montreal fortunate enough to visit several private gardens in New Hampshire and Vermont.

 

A different sense of neighbourliness can be found in British properties. This small town garden lies as close to its neighbour as the American garden does but separating the two English gardens is a tall stone wall.

 

The owners of this house are an artist and a photographer.
An artist and a photographer live here. Both are gardeners.

 

At Glen Villa, as in many larger properties, the view is open to the world in some spots and closed in others. For privacy, the view of our house from the lake is screened by trees planted many years ago by previous owners.

 

A few years ago we removed two pines that were dying and, as a result, opened up the view onto the lake.
A few years ago we removed two pines that were dying and, as a result, opened up the view onto the lake. But enough trees remain to provide privacy.

 

From inside the house and from most places in the garden, the view is open.

 

Lupin blooms wild on the bank of Lake Massawippi.
Lupin blooms wild on the bank of Lake Massawippi.

 

Historically, gardens were closed off from the outside world, for protection from animals or marauders. A change occurred in the 18th century in England, indicating a change in the way people related to their surroundings. Joseph Addison, writing in The Spectator in 1712, asked

“Why may not a whole Estate be thrown into a kind of garden by frequent Plantations, that may turn as much to the Profit, as the Pleasure of the Owner? … If the Natural Embroidery of the Meadows were helpt and improved by some small Additions of Art … a Man might make a pretty Landskip of his own Possessions.”

That’s what I’m aiming to do at Glen Villa, not to turn the landscape to profit but to turn it to art. I’ve written here about The Avenue, the allée of crabapple trees we planted last fall.  Public roads on two sides of The Avenue make the “pretty Landskip” visible to anyone passing by.

 

crabapples (1 of 1)
The snow has now melted, leaving the ground bare and very muddy.

 

Last week I made a short video about The Avenue that is now being shown on Garden Design’s Instagram page. As I write, almost 12,000 people have watched the 1 minute video. I hope you’ll join them, and join me as a subscriber to the magazine. It is an ad-free bundle of information, presented along with beautiful photographs.

I hope, too, that you’ll think about how your garden turns, to the world or away from it. Does it send the message you want it to send?

The Unsprung Spring

April 16th, 2018 | 14 Comments »
Poor little snowdrops, coated with ice from this morning's freezing rain.
Spring just won't make up its mind. One day it cracks open the door, the next day, slams it shut. And I'm fed up! Come on, Spring, get a move on. Some years, snowdrops have finished by now. This year, they have barely started.   [caption id="attachment_6147" align="aligncenter" width="2334"] These poor little snowdrops are coated with ice from this morning's freezing rain. And yes, that's a patch of snow in front of them.[/caption]   In a normal spring, by now water would be splashing gaily over the rocks at The Cascade. Instead

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It’s Maple Syrup Time!

April 9th, 2018 | 12 Comments »
Jacques ladles the syrup into the final boiling pan.
It's that super sweet time of the year, when sap is transformed into maple syrup. We've been making maple syrup at Glen Villa for many years now. My father-in-law tapped trees and the site of his old sugar camp is now an art installation in the woods.   [caption id="attachment_5000" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Orin's Sugarbush is a magical spot in winter, when snow outlines pieces of rusted tin, suspended from surrounding trees to suggest the roof that once was there.[/caption]   Making maple syrup takes time, particularly if you do it

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The Best Egg Ever

April 3rd, 2018 | 6 Comments »
What's Easter without an egg or two?   With 18 family members around on the weekend, the eggs disappeared almost as quickly as they were found.   This most beautiful of eggs was a special treat... before,   during,     and after.     Thanks, Sandra!

The Upper Room in Winter

March 25th, 2018 | 16 Comments »
The Upper Room is pristine in the morning light.
The Upper Room is as glorious in winter as it is in spring, summer and fall. The highlight in every season is the beautiful screen outlining the bare branches of a dogwood tree.   [caption id="attachment_6101" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] The Upper Room stands tall in the morning light.[/caption]   Drawn by the Montreal artist Mary Martha Guy, the tree branches become more starkly striking with the late afternoon sun shining through.   [caption id="attachment_6092" align="aligncenter" width="2862"] The screen is a symphony of blacks, whites and shafts of light.[/caption]   A close-up of four

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Congratulations!

March 5th, 2018 | 25 Comments »
A desire to recreate the sounds of the stream beside our old summer cottage was the initial inspiration for The Aqueduct.
I'm happy to share some very good news -- the Aqueduct at Glen Villa is the winner of the grand prize for design in the residential category at ADIQ, the Quebec industrial designers association.   [caption id="attachment_344" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] A desire to recreate the sounds of the stream beside our old summer cottage was the initial inspiration for The Aqueduct.[/caption]   This prestigious prize recognizes the work of designer and friend Eric Fleury, of the landscape architecture firm, Hodgins and Associates (HETA). The walls and landscaping were the work of  Oscar Hache

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Yearning for Spring

February 25th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
It's grey and nasty today and all I can think about is spring. I know it will come but its arrival seems a long way away. So instead of moaning, I'm dreaming of snowdrops ...   [caption id="attachment_3744" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] It's easy to see how snowdrops got their name.[/caption]   and crocus ...   [caption id="attachment_6049" align="aligncenter" width="3456"] Yellow crocus are sunshine to the soul.[/caption]   and buds beginning to bloom.   [caption id="attachment_6057" align="aligncenter" width="1807"] When the yellow buttons of Cornelian cherry open up, the shrub becomes a haze

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Tropical Foliage (and a little bit more)

February 12th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
untitled (3 of 9)
It's fascinating to see plants you think of as house plants growing outside. During a recent trip to Florida, I visited a friend and took a quick walk around her garden. The colours and textures were astonishing.     I can't name any of the plants, although they may be familiar to those of you who live in warmer climes.  Nameless or not, I loved what I saw, particularly the large-leafed beauties below.     Who can resist a shape like this rounded indentation? And the colour contrast was delicious.

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More Memorable Trees

January 28th, 2018 | 21 Comments »
The Angel Oak is named after a family,
I love trees. Not surprisingly, many of my favourites are in my own garden, Glen Villa, and I wrote about some of them here.  But in my travels, I've come across many other special trees, and they stand out in my memory for different reasons. One I remember because of its size. The Angel Oak, still growing on John's Island, South Carolina after some 400 years or more, is so large that I couldn't capture it in a single photo. I simply couldn't stand far enough away -- the longest branch stretches 187 feet

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Special Trees

January 14th, 2018 | 10 Comments »
This maple tree was planted over 100 years ago, as part of the landscaping for the resort hotel, Glen Villa Inn. The hotel burned to the ground in 1909.
A piece about specimen trees in the on-line magazine Gardenista started me thinking about trees and how special they are to me. Having recently planted a long allée of crabapple trees at Glen Villa, (and having written about it here) where the impact stems from the sheer number of trees and the precision of their placement, my mind swung to the opposite end of the spectrum, to individual trees that make an impact on their own. The most important tree at Glen Villa, my garden in rural Quebec, is the basswood, or linden as I

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