Category Archives: Art

As the Garden Turns

April 22nd, 2018 | 12 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 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


Art in Winter

December 11th, 2017 | 18 Comments »
The shape of the crabapple tree becomes dramatic when outlined with snow.
I woke yesterday to a fine dusting of snow, and during the day more snow fell. Today it outlines the branches of the big oak tree by our boathouse and the old crabapple trees by the drive, emphasizing the contrast between rough bark and soft fluffy white.   [caption id="attachment_5887" align="aligncenter" width="3888"] The shape of the crabapple trees becomes dramatic when outlined with snow.[/caption]   The forecast calls for more snow to come, and as confirmation, the sky is grey. But once the snow stops and the barometer rises, the sky will be a clear, bright blue


Metis International Garden Festival

August 22nd, 2017 | 6 Comments »
The optical illusion never fails to delight.
  Recently I visited the International Garden Festival at Metis, Quebec. I've attended the Festival many times since it first opened in 2000, but in previous years I've gone with adults. This year was special -- I went with two teenage granddaughters.   [caption id="attachment_5512" align="aligncenter" width="1425"] The festival gardens are adjacent to the St. Lawrence River in a part of Quebec that offers much to explore.[/caption]   Playsages, the theme for this year's Festival, was a good fit for the three of us. The word is a mash-up of languages, blending


The Upper Room Updated

August 7th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
An overview, looking towards the dogwood panels.
  Finishing The Upper Room, the area that honours my mother and her beliefs, was one of my goals for 2017.  I started work on the area last summer, hoping to finish then, but everything took longer than expected. This year, the sand-blasted panels that are the central feature were installed in the spring, the area was planted in early summer, and the final elements were added in July. The dogwood screen remains the crowning glory. It stands at the uppermost of three levels, defining the space without closing it in. I'm particularly happy with


Clichés to Live By

July 3rd, 2017 | 15 Comments »
George Bush's statement was a promise not to raise taxes. Did he?
I'm thrilled to announce that an exhibition of neon art I've created will open on July 8 at The Winsor Gallery in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Winsor Gallery features cutting edge contemporary art, and I'm honoured to be exhibiting there, where artists of the calibre of Alexander Calder, Attila Richard Lukacs, Patrick Hughes, Angela Grossman and Fiona Ackerman have been shown. This exhibition gives me special pleasure: the invitation to exhibit came as the result of two garden visits. The first visit happened several years ago when I went to Broadwoodside, a garden near


The Upper Room

April 26th, 2017 | 24 Comments »
The hardscaping for The Upper Room was completed last summer.
After months of anticipation, yesterday we installed the glass panels at The Upper Room. The wait was long but it was worth it -- I am thrilled with the results. The Upper Room is a memorial designed to honour my mother and her beliefs. It's a tribute to family and to the traditions I grew up with in Richmond, Virginia, when classically symmetrical architecture, brick, and boxwood shaped our streetscapes and our view of the world. From inception, brick and boxwood were essential elements of the design. So was a sense of embrace. I wanted the


Garden Plans: I’m Dreaming Again

March 27th, 2017 | 27 Comments »
You can see a bit of the trail on the left side of this photo, taken in 2009. We cleared brush from this area last fall. Some of the wildflowers have disappeared but the site still feels the same. Is this an example of unity persisting despite change?
Now that winter has dumped several feet of snow on a garden that was almost snow-free, I'm back by the fire, metaphorically at least, dreaming of the seasons ahead.   [caption id="attachment_5009" align="aligncenter" width="600"] I took this photo about ten days ago after a fresh snowfall. Today is grey. And maybe more snow will fall. I hope not.[/caption]   I'm dreaming about a trail that will lead around the property. I'm considering the route it will follow and what I will call it. I know the purpose of the trail -- it will connect art


Experimenting Landscapes: A Book Review

March 13th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
Experimenting Landscapes: Testing the Limits of the Garden is the newest book about the International Garden Festival at Métis, Québec. Full of helpful insights from  the author Emily Waugh, the book presents photos and essays analyzing some of the Festival's experimental gardens. Focusing on a selection of gardens from the last ten years, the book suggests five categories or methods of investigation that help readers position the gardens within a larger context.   [caption id="attachment_4966" align="aligncenter" width="300"] This cover photo shows Courtesy of Nature, by Johan Selbing and Anouk Vogel. It is one of



February 27th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
North is a direction, an idea, an experience. North as designed by the architects Suresh Perara and Julie Charbonneau of the Montreal firm PER.CH is a triumph. Using familiar materials, PER.CH turns the idea of north on its head. Literally. Thirty-nine fir trees hang upside down from a metal framework, their soft green triangles pointing down to a bare Toronto beach.   [caption id="attachment_4945" align="aligncenter" width="2000"] Photo courtesy of Suresh Perara.[/caption]   North is one of eight installations that make up Winter Stations, an exhibition on the shores of Lake Ontario. Now