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

Blog

Thinking about Gardens

February 13th, 2017 | 16 Comments »

After a short but enjoyable holiday in Florida, I’m back in Quebec. Moving from one weather system to another that is radically different strains the body and provokes obvious questions. Why leave ocean breezes for frozen lakes, or blue skies and green palm trees for white snow and grey skies?

 

The angle of this photo tells you how hard I was working at leaning back and doing nothing.
The angle of this photo tells you how hard I was working in Florida. Don’t laugh: leaning back and doing nothing takes some doing. (Ok, not much.)

 

It is cold here. And it keeps on snowing, making thoughts of winter gardens a mockery. Not that cold is bad. In some ways of thinking, cold temperatures build character. They generate activity where warm climates generate sloth.

Don’t believe it. Cozying up by the fireplace is my favourite winter activity. It’s where I can focus on plans for the year ahead, considering plants I want to add or subtract, or simply dreaming of projects I’ll never even start.

 

Sunrise at Glen Villa... a good time for dreaming.
Sunrise at Glen Villa… a good time for dreaming.

 

Recently I’ve been doing more than dreaming, though. I’ve been focusing on a topic that engages my brain, my heart and my (metaphoric) pen.

Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I care about words and use them carefully. I try to avoid clichés and code phrases that hide what is really being said. (Hmmm… interesting.)  So when Anne Wareham, the editor of the challenging and entertaining English website ThinkinGardens, asked me to write about using words in the garden, I jumped at the chance.

 

This sign seen at the wonderful Italian garden Bosco della Ragnaia, created by Sheppard Craige, says it all: If not here, where?
Bosco della Ragnaia, a wonderful garden in Italy created by Sheppard Craige, uses words extensively. This sign in the garden says it all: If not here, where?

 

A Matter of Words is a lament. It is also a call to action. Words are rarely used in gardens today, and to my way of thinking this is a great loss. I’ve written about how I’m using words in the garden at Glen Villa (you can read that piece here) but the article in ThinkinGardens takes a longer, broader view.

I’m delighted that this provocative English blog has given me the chance to share my thoughts with a geographically wider audience. I’m pleased, too, at the reception the article is getting, and I say thank you to the many people who, having read my ideas on the subject, have subscribed to this blog.

ThinkinGardens is a garden website that I recommend whole-heartedly. It provides a matchless forum for exchanging ideas with people around the world who care about gardens and believe they are, or can be, about more than plants. As the website’s manifesto states,

“… today most people enthusiastically take gardens for granted, regarding them as an anodyne balm for the pressures of modern life and certainly not as a source of mental or artistic provocation. It is the object of the thinkingGardens group to reinstate gardens as a stimulus to pleasurable and productive debate and to foster gardens that offer deeper artistic expression.”

If you aren’t a subscriber to ThinkinGardens, I encourage you to subscribe. I think you’ll be pleased with the breadth and depth of the commentary. And if you disagree with what I’ve written in A Matter of Words, say so, on the ThinkinGardens site or here, on Site and Insight.

I welcome your reactions and your ideas. Do you believe that gardens ‘mean’ something and that words can enrich that meaning? Or do words in the garden distract?

 

Do You Care about Garden Trends?

January 30th, 2017 | 23 Comments »
I lifted from this photo from an on-line article in the English newspaper, The Telegraph. The cut-line that ran with the photo reads "This year, look out for cacti, price wars and carrot yoghrt," says Matthew Appleby.
Do you pay attention to garden trends or do you think they are a pile of baloney? Every year about this time, I read an article telling me what's in and what's out. Hot new plants are described. I read that there's a colour I can't live without, or that shrubs are making a comeback. (When did they ever go away?) These articles appear in magazines, newspapers and on-line sites in countries around the world.  Sometimes they are based on surveys, sometimes on opinions, sometimes on catchy phrases. Alliteration abounds. As do odd conclusions.

Read More...

Reading the Garden

January 17th, 2017 | 15 Comments »
615BSID+2xL._SX442_BO1,204,203,200_-1
Those who can't garden, read. On grey winter days, nothing beats sitting by a fire and reading garden books. For the last few days, I've been devouring Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change. This 2016 publication by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher was top of my Christmas wish list; I'm only partway through but I'm enjoying every page. The book lays out sensible ways to garden ecologically, and, as it turns out, I was already applying its principles of natural evolution to guide the transformation of  the Big Lawn

Read More...

Garden Goals for 2017

January 9th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
The tin maple leaves hung in November 2016 are now coated with snow, making the scene even more evocative.
Setting annual goals for the garden keeps me on track and helps me avoid jumping from one thing to another, something I'm all too prone to do. Last year I set 10 goals for myself and discovered, looking back in last week's post, that ten was too many. So in 2017 I'm cutting my ambitions in half and setting five goals for the year ahead. 1. Finish The Upper Room The bare bones of The Upper Room, the new area in the garden that honours my mother and her beliefs, have

Read More...

Looking Back and Forth

December 31st, 2016 | 10 Comments »
Since I didn't do anything about new pots, I shouldn't have a photo to illustrate this goal. But I did use Mandeville vines on the living room deck. I've had these same plants for ten years or so, and they continue to provide abundant blooms and colour.
Last December I took the risky step of setting goals for 2016. So as that year ends and 2017 begins, it's time to assess. How much of what I wanted to do did I actually accomplish? 1. The Cascade: As intended, I modified the plantings around The Cascade. I reduced the number of different types of plants, improved the drainage and the soil in the beds themselves. As a result, the plants flourished and I was content. But of course there are always reservations. The Weigela 'Wine and Roses' needs another year

Read More...

A Recklessly Record-less Year

December 19th, 2016 | 14 Comments »
This album will be arranged by project, not chronologically.
For the last sixteen years I've kept a record of what happens each year in the garden. I've conscientiously photographed each project I've undertaken, each border as it changed from season to season, each modification I made or was thinking about making. I've stuck these photographs into albums and written comments --  about my intentions for a project, or the weather, what I was wanting to do next -- in effect, about anything that seemed relevant at the time. These albums are immensely helpful. They are a record of how the garden has developed. They both show and tell

Read More...

A Doorstep for Orin’s Sugarcamp

December 12th, 2016 | 15 Comments »
Jacques and Ken are skilled workers who can operate almost any piece of equipment, even under difficult conditions.
On the weekend we installed the granite slab that marks the 'front door' of Orin's Sugarcamp, my latest art installation at Glen Villa. (You can read about the project here.) Doing this was tricky. It involved transporting an 800-pound slab of rock across a snowy field and a partially frozen stream on the back of an open wagon. That takes skill, particularly since the snow is very slippery right now. But Jacques Gosselin and Ken Kelso, the talented men who work for me at Glen Villa, managed the job with ease.   [caption id="attachment_4767" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]

Read More...

When Less is More

December 5th, 2016 | 25 Comments »
water meadow clean up
Is less more? I associate the familiar phrase with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the founders of modern architecture and a proponent of simplicity of style. But when I went to confirm this, I found to my surprise that the phrase was first used in print in Andrea del Sarto, a poem by Robert Browning. Who strive - you don't know how the others strive To paint a little thing like that you smeared Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,- Yet do much less, so much less, Someone

Read More...

Melvin Charney’s Garden in the City

November 28th, 2016 | 10 Comments »
A grassy meadow abuts a busy Montreal street.
Melvin Charney’s garden made for the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal is firmly and unequivocally a city garden. It is surrounded by traffic on all sides, rising up from a piece of land lost between the entry and exit ramps of a busy expressway. It is composed of elements found in many gardens -- plants, sculptures and the fragments of buildings -- yet it combines them in a way that makes this garden unlike any other I know.   [caption id="attachment_4713" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] A grassy meadow abutting a busy Montreal street

Read More...

Orin’s Sugarcamp

November 21st, 2016 | 12 Comments »
The distorted the shape of the leaf to suggest how the shape changes in the fall. l
Just over a year ago I began work on a project in the woods at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec. I was inspired by an exhibition I saw at The Mount, Edith Wharton's home in western Massachusetts. One piece in particular caught my eye, a collection of oddly shaped pieces of wood that contrasted in an interesting way with the straight vertical tree trunks around them.   [caption id="attachment_4682" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Cognito, a sculptural installation by William Carlson[/caption]   I knew almost immediately that I wanted to do something similar and

Read More...