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


A Victorian Garden

June 17th, 2018 | 15 Comments »

Yesterday I spoke at the Colby-Curtis Museum in Stanstead, Quebec, home to the Stanstead Historical Society. The museum is a local treasure, housed in a classical revival-style villa built in 1859 called Carrollcroft.


The house
The house, its gardens and adjacent stable and carriage house, tell the story of the Colby family, a prominent local family of American origin. The family donated the house and its contents to the Stanstead Historical Society in 1992. Exhibitions provide insight into the social and cultural history of the county which borders Vermont.


The current exhibition, Abundant in Bloom, is well worth visiting. It looks at  the gardens created by the women of the Colby family through artifacts, old photographs and contemporary paintings by Cynthia Hammond, a Montreal artist and Associate Professor of Art History at Concordia University.  Based on her research in the museum’s archives, Hammond’s paintings offer fascinating insights into Victorian gardens and the way they were used by the Colby family.

After my talk, I spent a few minutes exploring the museum’s garden as it is today. Appropriately, it too was abundant in bloom.


I took these photos under harsh mid-day light so they aren't as good as I'd like them to be.
I took these photos under harsh mid-day light so they aren’t as good as I’d like them to be.


The garden isn’t a reproduction of a Victorian garden but it does use aspects of one. It is divided into two sections, each with its own distinctive colour palette. Black urns planted with annuals mark the entrance to the first section, a circular design ringed with peonies and roses.


Old fashioned roses sweetly scent this part of the garden.
Peonies and old fashioned roses sweetly scent this part of the garden.


The second section of the garden plays off the Victorian love for strongly contrasting colours.


Orange and purple may not have been favoured in Victorian times, but they look fabulous together.
The orange poppies were started from seed by a local volunteer. Delphiniums bloom later in the summer.


Orange poppies and purple iris were combined with baptisia and a pale lavender thalictrum, or meadow rue, in an explosion of colour.


Baptisia is growing in my garden. Seeing this combo makes me want to add some orange poppies.
Baptisia is growing in my garden. Seeing this combo makes me want to add some orange poppies.


Orange is one of those colours that goes in and out of fashion. In the 1970s through to the turn of the century, pastel flowers were the rage. To include a bright orange plant in your garden was to mark yourself as being, in Nancy Mitford’s terms, non-U —  the “u” was her shorthand for upper class. Today orange is back in fashion, thanks to who knows what. And in my eyes, for drama and impact, the museum’s orange poppies beat the pastel peonies, hands down.


Fuzzy stems only add to the appeal of the crepe-like petals.
Fuzzy stems only add to the appeal of the crepe-like petals.


The two-part design, dating from 1900 or earlier, may be original, but the garden itself has changed over the years.  A wooden pergola smothered with bittersweet once sheltered the area from the road; dangerously rotten, it was taken down some years ago and wasn’t replaced. An arbour separating the two sections of the garden was replaced with a new structure, designed to copy the original as closely as possible.


The diamond shape has been there forever, according to one volunteer.
Clematis are now growing up the arbour instead of sweet peas which have chosen not to flourish there.


The garden was resuscitated about 20 years ago and now has colour throughout the summer season. Certainly when I saw it yesterday, it sparkled.

To those who look after it, staff and volunteers alike, I say Bravo! You’ve created a garden that enhances the house museum and brings the current exhibition abundantly to life.

Crabapples in Bloom!

June 4th, 2018 | 20 Comments »
May 24, 2018
In just over a year, the Crabapple Allée, aka the Avenue, has gone from dream to dirt, to bloom and gone. We started with this, a dull bare field.   [caption id="attachment_6400" align="aligncenter" width="4272"] I took this photo on April 24, 2017, when I became serious about planting a long allée of trees,. The walk through the trees is part of a larger project I'm still working on.[/caption]   Four months later, The Avenue was beginning to take shape.   [caption id="attachment_6399" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] August 8, 2017[/caption]   By mid-November, the


What’s in a Name?

June 1st, 2018 | 4 Comments »
cardamine diphylla (1 of 1)
I saw this wildflower in the woods last week and was surprised to learn its botanical name, Cardamine diphylla.     I was surprised because only a week or so ago, I looked up the name of another plant, now growing in damp areas in the garden and in the fields at Glen Villa. Its botanical name is Cardamine pratensis.   [caption id="attachment_6380" align="aligncenter" width="3264"] Lady's smock or milkmaids is growing beside the Glen Villa pond. It has bloomed for several weeks.[/caption]   What is the relationship between the two Cardamines? Are


Terracing the China Terrace

May 29th, 2018 | 15 Comments »
terraces (1 of 1)
One of the first projects I undertook at Glen Villa was the China Terrace, a contemporary folly that honours an old resort hotel that once stood on the property. I first wrote about it as a conceptual garden. Following that, I wrote about it sporadically, focusing on the changes I made --  the bed that shook off its annuals in favour of a moss quilt,   [caption id="attachment_1565" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Moss forms a quilt on an old iron frame bed.[/caption]   and the staircase leading to the imaginary second and third story that changed, from


The Big Meadow, Year 3

May 24th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
Saturday late afternoon-020
In 2016, in order to discourage Canada geese from 'littering' the  lawn, we began to transform it into a meadow. We didn't follow the advice given by experts on how to create a meadow -- their process involved too much work and too much expense. Instead we simply stopped cutting the grass. We let it grow throughout the season and cut it only once in the fall, to mulch the leaves and to cut down any trees that were taking root. Now, entering the third year of this experiment, it is fascinating to see what is appearing. From a


The Way to Go, or Not to Go

May 15th, 2018 | 18 Comments »
The Grotto of the Deluge marks the division between primitive life and the beginning of civilization.
  One of the decisions I have to make when groups visit Glen Villa is which way to go. Shall I to lead the group around the garden this way or that? In some gardens the choice is made for you. There is a set route that the garden maker or garden owner wants you to take. Or that the government authority in charge has dictated. This is the case at Villa Lante, the Renaissance garden built for Cardinal Gamberaia and now owned by the government of Italy. The Cardinal's garden used water to


Pining Away

May 4th, 2018 | 16 Comments »
I'm guessing that the big pine was about 150 years old.
A few weeks ago I posted the photo below on Facebook and asked for ideas about what to do with the trunk of an enormous pine tree that had pined away.   [caption id="attachment_6219" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] The pine tree was about 150 years old.[/caption]   Many people responded: make it into a table, or benches, a totem, planters, bird houses or toothpicks (hard to imagine how many of those there would be!), an art display: Twenty Ways to Commemorate a Fallen Pine. (Thanks, Janet. I loved that idea.) But that's


New Growth

April 29th, 2018 | 12 Comments »
A cheery face looks up to the sun.
Today it is grey and rainy but yesterday felt like spring. And how wonderful that was! Despite the soggy ground, covered in many places with deer pellets and dead leaves, I spent an hour or so wandering around the garden, enjoying the sunshine and the new growth that was popping up in every warm corner. For readers who live in milder climates or in places where spring has truly sprung, the thrill of seeing new growth may have come and gone. But living in a cold climate, where snow is still lurking


As the Garden Turns

April 22nd, 2018 | 12 Comments »
This garden in the Eastern Townships has a splendid view out over the countryside.
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


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