Category Archives: Art

Paths with Pizazz

August 4th, 2019 | 4 Comments »

Many garden paths are ordinary, designed simply to get you from one place in the garden to another. Grass paths, the simplest and least costly type of path to make, appear in gardens so routinely that they almost disappear. Occasionally, though, you’ll see a path that stands out.

The grass path below is an example. It is well maintained and nicely curved but what lifts it out of the ordinary is the white line that edges it. That line draws your eye along the curve and makes the path itself impossible to ignore.

A curving parth at Througham Court leads across a field to a gate banners flying in the distance.
A curving path at Througham Court leads across a field to a gate into the garden proper.


Paths with plants dotted here and there also draw the eye, whether there are many plants …


The cmbination of regular and irregularly shapes stones along with the plants that break up the stones makes this path at Malverleys particularly appealing.
The combination of regular and irregularly shaped stones along with the plants that break up the stones makes this path at Malverleys particularly appealing.


or only a few.

Two clumps make a strong statement in this path at Spilsbury Farm, the garden of Tania Compton and
Fewer clumps make a stronger statement in this path at Spilsbury Farm, the garden of Tania and Jamie Compton.


At Hatfield House, a broad gravel path is lifted out of the ordinary by the pattern of stones that border it.  At first glance the borders look identical but they are not, any more than the flowers on the left are identical to the grass on the right. The different pattern of stones, left and right, sets up a rhythm that makes the path dynamic and more interesting than if the borders were the same.

Stones line this gravel path at Hatfield House.
Would you have used the same pattern on both sides of this path? Did you notice the difference at first glance?


In another part of the garden, another path varies the ‘in and out’ rhythmic theme. This second path is narrow and is bordered by tall hedges that make it feel even narrower. Using grass to break up the stone not only repeats the green of the hedges but also makes the walkway more inviting and less austere. A subtle touch is the contrast between the straight lines of the stones and the hedge and the curved lip of the fountain and the arched hedge above it.

A long corridor becomes more interesting because of the grass in the center.
At first the grass sections appear to be identical but the one in the foreground is larger than the others. I’m sure this was done deliberately to mark the beginning of the path. Although it isn’t clear in the photo, arched hedges appear on all four sides of the fountain where the paths intersect.


Perhaps the most unusual and most affecting path I’ve ever walked is the one at the Kennedy Memorial at Runnymede, England, designed by Geoffrey Jellicoe in honour of John Kennedy. A stone path leads through woods left in their natural state to a carved stone at the top of the hill. There, a path with  an irregular edge similar to those above leads across a flat stretch of grass.

Square stone blocks are separated by thin rectangular one, . The central line of
Square stone blocks are separated by thin rectangular one, . The space between the larger blocks creates a straight line that pulls your eye forward. The indentations of grass along the sides suggests the crenellations on a castle wall.


This path, so simply designed, is very much in keeping with the tone of the memorial itself. But the path that touched my heart was the one that visitors use as they climb the hill. Jellicoe designed the memorial with John Bunyan’s 17th century allegory Pilgrim’s Progress in mind, intending that people climbing the hill feel as if they are modern day pilgrims.  Each detail of the climb has meaning. There are 50 steps, as there are 50 states. Each of the 60,000 granite stones, or setts, that make up the path is hand-cut, slightly different from every other. Cobblestones that widen or narrow for no apparent reason edge the path and  because the setts were laid directly on the ground, the path ripples like an echo of the uneven surface beneath.

According to Tom Turner, the English landscape architect and garden historian, several lengths of the path were laid in a standard manner. When Jellicoe saw the work he asked the craftsman building the path to imagine that the stones were a crowd attending a football match. The stones were the front of the crowd, surging and falling back, only to surge again. With that in mind, the work began again.


The steps are also
Each step on the path is different and each is hand-laid.


Paths take you on journeys and you never know exactly where the journey will end. Or when.

Walking Timelines, the 3 km trail at my garden Glen Villa, I sometimes remember the sense of awe I felt at the Kennedy Memorial. I walked that path in May 2016 and described the experience in a blog post you can read here. Remembering how I felt at the time is one reason I continue to find this path the most affecting I’ve ever walked.

Is there a path that stands out for you?



Words on the Land

July 7th, 2019 | 8 Comments »
I deliberately made the questions difficult to read in order to slow people down.
A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the old saying goes. But sometimes a word says all that needs to be said. Or perhaps, more than a thousand pictures can convey. Words label each section of Timelines, the 2.9 km trail that we are opening to the public for the first time on July 20, as a fund-raiser for the Massawippi Foundation. (You can buy your tickets by clicking here.) Words begin the journey at In Transit/En Route, where signs ask questions   [caption id="attachment_7711" align="alignleft" width="5184"] I deliberately



June 9th, 2019 | 11 Comments »
Looking back shows the pink crabapples that mark the beginning and end of La Grande Allée.
Last week I showed a tiny speck of white at the end of the La Grande Allée. [caption id="attachment_7539" align="alignleft" width="5184"] You can see the drone camera easily in this photo. The speck of white at the end of La Grande Allée is much harder to make out.[/caption]   In that post, I promised a closer view of that hint of white. And here it is.   [caption id="attachment_7572" align="alignleft" width="3792"] Oh, my!  Could you tell from a distance that it was a chair?[/caption]   The white crabapple trees along


Making History Visible

January 16th, 2019 | 12 Comments »
Glacial erratics form part of the waterfall at Glen Villa. T
Making history visible on the land is the concept that guides the projects I undertake at Glen Villa, my landscape and garden in Quebec. Recognizing and honouring what happened on the land before I came onto the scene is my way of hearing the voices of the past. It's my way of listening to what the land has to say. The land speaks in different voices from different times. Glacial erratics talk about the ice age. [caption id="attachment_7240" align="aligncenter" width="3271"] Glacial erratics form part of the waterfall at Glen Villa.[/caption]   A wolf tree standing among younger oaks


Houghton Hall: A Garden Review

January 6th, 2019 | 8 Comments »
Add something about building
England has many fine gardens. Houghton Hall in Norfolk is one of the finest, offering a stimulating combination of horticulture, contemporary art and history that is far too much to absorb in a single visit. The most popular part of the garden is the five acre Walled Garden. Divided into contrasting areas, the Walled Garden contains a double-sided herbaceous border, an Italian garden, a formal rose parterre, fruit and vegetable gardens, a glasshouse, a rustic temple, antique statues, fountains and contemporary sculptures. With so many aspects, the area could feel muddled or over-crowded,


The Past Looms Large

November 27th, 2018 | 12 Comments »
The columns are striking in every season.
For the last eighteen months or more I've been working on an art installation that stretches along a 3-4 km trail at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec.  The trail moves in and out of fields and forests, and each environment has its own character. When I started the project, the idea behind it wasn't entirely clear. Gradually, working with the land and listening to its story, the project took shape. Time -- how we think about it, experience it and represent it -- was a thread connecting each installation. So several


Rock Art

November 12th, 2018 | 19 Comments »
Australia Kimberley 2011-82
Cave paintings on the island of Borneo showing animals and human hands have recently been dated back some 40,000 years, making them the oldest known example of figurative rock art in the world. (Details of the story can be found in various articles, including one here from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.) Think for a moment about how long ago that is. Forty thousand years. It takes my breath away. I've been fascinated by rock art for many years and have been fortunate to see examples in South Africa, Namibia, Australia, Chile and Peru. While the particulars


Garden Hits and Misses

September 30th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
The fountain rises 70 feet into the air. On a sunny day it is beautiful to see. It works via a remote control!
At home after three marvellous weeks visiting gardens (and  friends) in England, I find much to criticize in my garden. After many years of travelling, I've come to expect this -- and to accept that a garden in Quebec's harsh weather conditions will never resemble an English garden, with its lush foliage and flowers, topiary and ancient walls. I've also come to expect that gardens other than my own will disappoint me. On every tour I've hosted, there has always been one garden I particularly looked forward to seeing. On


The Clearing of the Land

August 6th, 2018 | 15 Comments »
This is how the water meadow looked in 2009 after we first cut a path through it.
For several years now I've been working on a trail that leads through the fields and forests at Glen Villa. Sited along the trail are art installations I'm creating that relate to history, the passage of time and the relationship between art and architecture. I wrote about this for the first time in March 2017. My focus then was to figure out what to call the trail. Thanks to my granddaughter Elinor, there now is a name. Timelines. I like the name. It is short and direct yet suggestive of something


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