Walking through the woods recently, I passed this installation, called The Forms.
The colours of the plexiglass shapes stood out from the muted tones around them, attracting me like a magnet. Closer, I noticed leaves scattered on top of them, some haphazardly, some artfully arranged.
The contrast in colours atop the orange square was not as dramatic as that atop the blue cube but the arrangement itself was even more intriguing. To my eyes, the space created by torn leaves appeared to be an opening into a hidden world below, and I wanted more than anything to go beneath the surface and explore that other world .
A hole in one red leaf offered a flawed beauty …
… while crumbling brown leaves pointed to the decay that inevitably would follow.
Yet the sight that pleased me the most was what was happening inside the long yellow rectangle.
There I saw a striking contrast between the world all around that was closing up for winter and the vigorous growth inside that pointed in the opposite direction. The grasses growing in the built form made me think of weeds springing up in the cracks of stone walls and city sidewalks, of the determination of living things to grow and survive no matter where they are.
More to the point, it struck me as ironic, that the artificial box I’d made to suggest a contrast between the built and the natural world nonetheless sheltered and aided that natural world to find a way of its own.
The autumn colours seem particularly intense this year at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec's Eastern Townships. Leaves started to turn earlier than usual and the height of the season has almost come and gone. But what a season it has been! It started early, when a small horse chestnut tree (Aesculus pavia) began to turn. [caption id="attachment_9230" align="aligncenter" width="2541"] This photo was taken in mid-September[/caption] It continued as the sourgum trees (Nyssa sylvatica) nearby began to change colour. First one tree caught fire ... [caption id="attachment_9228" align="aligncenter"
Last week was very unusual -- after a summer of isolation, living inside a family-only bubble, two groups of visitors came to tour Glen Villa. One group came from NIP Paysage, a landscape architecture firm in Montreal whose name reflects its approach to every project it undertakes. To understand, you need to know that NIP is the French acronym for a PIN, or Personal Identification Number. So, as its website states, "NIP aims to reveal the true character of the environments upon which it intervenes." I first met two of the principals
Earlier this week I was fortunate to visit a new installation on the Tomifobia Nature Trail in the company of its creator, Paul-Conrad Carignan, and Paul's partner, Sylvia Bertolini. Paul is a Metis Algonquin-Anishnabe Elder and the site he designed is dedicated to spiritual and healing teachings of the Indigenous Medicine Wheel and its four directions. At a clearing beside the trail, located in Quebec's Eastern Townships close to the border with the United States, large granite slabs, or stelae, rise up at the four directions. Each stone is engraved with an
The China Terrace is my way of representing the past in the present, of giving a new life to memories of the years when Glen Villa Inn welcomed summer guests from near and far. According to a local newspaper of the time, Canadians and American visitors "from every state in the Union" came to spend their holidays here in North Hatley, Quebec. The hotel's life was brief, though. Built in 1902, it burned to the ground in 1909, shortly before opening for its eighth season. Not long after moving into Glen Villa in 1996, I discovered an
In this year, the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment that gave women in the U.S. the right to vote, I'm thinking about American women from that era and the gardens they created. Marian Coffin (1876-1957) was one of the most sought-after of these women, particularly in the years before World War II. Trained at MIT between 1901 and 1904, one of only four women in the landscape architecture program, she went on to design over 50 significant estate gardens, mostly for wealthy clients on the East Coast. Her most important commission was
You know how one thing leads to another? That's what is happening this year at Glen Villa. Last November we began to rebuild the foundation wall of the old Glen Villa Inn. Once the job was complete and I saw the impressive wall, I knew it needed a garden to complement it. The result is the newly planted area, the North South Arrow, now beginning to grow in. Between the hotel wall and the Arrow is a low circular stone wall. Its original purpose was to provide a turn-around for horse-drawn carriages bringing
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to visit a garden in the small village of North Hatley, Quebec, where I live, to see the work of garden makers Jane Meagher and Jean Vanaise. Here, over about ten years, they have transformed a one-acre town lot into a lushly varied garden. The transformation began when they decided to renovate and enlarge their house. Before they began, the garden around the building was mostly grass plus a few bunches of flowers scattered more or less randomly. Not so today. Now their mini-paradise is set off from the street and
In Transit/En Route is part of Timelines, the trail at Glen Villa that explores ideas about time, memory and our relationship to the land. Dating back to 2009, it was one of the first sections of Timelines I built and was an inspiration for all that followed. Over the intervening years, In Transit/En Route has undergone many changes, including several iterations of the signs that lead from an old field into the woods. First the signs stood on wooden posts that held red glass squares with circular openings. I based that design on the Chinese concept of the universe,
Gardens and the peace they can bring are much on my mind today, as the number of people infected with COVID-19 continues to grow. It is a fact that gardens can heal the body as well as the mind. Research from around the world tells us that even brief contacts with nature are beneficial, lowering blood pressure and reducing stress as effectively as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression. Almost any reconnection with nature has a powerful physical and mental healing effect, even something as simple as weeding a flower bed.