Category Archives: Design

Containers That Match Your Mood

September 2nd, 2019 | 8 Comments »

Recently a friend asked if I’d written about container gardening. Her question started me thinking about how the plants on the decks around our house have changed over the years. I pulled out old photos to see if my memory was accurate. Yes, the choices I made had changed. And while that wasn’t really surprising, what I noticed most was that the differences year to year reflected changes not only in my experience but also in my emotions and moods.

Decks surround Glen Villa, our house and garden in Quebec, offering lots of space for containers. The deck beside the living room ends in a sharp point and shortly after moving into the house, I began to fill this corner with plants in pots. The earliest photo I found was from 2005.


A few pots with plants that haven't yet grown tall enough to hide the point of the deck behind them.
This motley collection of  pots is filled with plants that haven’t yet grown tall enough to hide the point of the deck behind them.


Two years later, I was feeling more adventurous and more cheerful. Or at least I think I was — there certainly were more pots in the corner and all together the arrangement was more colourful.


A woven straw 'hat' is the backdrop for this arrangement from 2007.
A woven straw ‘hat’ that I bought at the Reford Gardens in Métis, Quebec, is the backdrop for this arrangement from 2007.


By 2009, I must have been in really high spirits. I mean, just look at the array of plants — full blown technicolour.

This photo from shows a corner of the deck off the living room.
How many different plants are there? I count at least nine, including the Mandevilla vine on the far right.


Two years later still, in 2011, was I feeling less enthusiastic? There were fewer pots and fewer flowers …

A bit more restraint... or else I had fallen in love with coleus.
The pink Mandevilla vine is still there on the far right, plus geraniums, daisies, coleus and more.  .


… but only because I was planting another area on the deck as well.


Do you recognize the blue and white Chinese pot? It was in the photo from 2005.
Do you recognize the blue and white Chinese pot? It was in the photo from 2005.


By 2015, a mustard coloured Chinese pot added a focal point, reducing the number of plants. And I seem to remember that by that time, after ten years of planting the point on the deck, I was getting tired of doing the same old thing, again and again.


Spiky was the word in 2015.
A collection of spiky plants may have matched my mood that year.


The following years confirm that suspicion, since the number and variety of plants I used kept going down. Now, in 2019, white Mandevilla vines are the only plants on the living room deck, and their white blossoms are cool and serene.


There are four white Mandevilla vines blooming in pots on the living room deck. I used to have pink ones but I'm happier now with the white.
There are four white Mandevilla vines blooming in pots on the living room deck. I used to have pink ones but I’m happier now with the white.


The same sort of arc, like a bell curve mounting from enthusiasm to exuberance to restraint, occurred on the deck beside the dining room. It morphed from this in 2006 …


A mix of plants and colours gives no special effect in this photo from 2006.
The mix of colours and textures isn’t bad but those grasses throw everything off balance.


…to this in 2014

I love the colour combination here. Although it doesn't show up, I think I planted curly parsley in the front.
I still love this colour combination. Although it doesn’t show up, curly parsley in the front gave the planter a frilly skirt .


to this a year or two later.


Life felt overwhelming that year, so I simplified and calmed the plants to include boxwood only.
Life felt overwhelming one year so I simplified and calmed things down, planting boxwood only.



The planter by the kitchen door is shaded for most of the day, so over the years the flowers I’ve chosen to plant there have, of necessity, been shade lovers.  Is it because of that limitation that the overall design of the planter has remained relatively consistent? The colours and textures of the plants have changed but not the composition — two or three annuals or perennials that caught my eye at the start of the season, with at least one bright colour to light up the dark.


Miraculously, with regular spraying the deer left these hostas alone. We transplanted the hostas at the end of the summer, and the deer thanked us the following year.
Miraculously, with regular spraying the deer left these hostas alone. We transplanted them at the end of the summer, and the deer thanked us the following year.

Sometimes the random nature of my choices means that the planter was successful throughout the summer….


This combo worked well from late May to late September.
This combo worked well from late May to late September.


…and sometimes it didn’t. The planter below looked sparse when first planted but nicely full by the time of my son’s wedding in July. Then for most of August, it just limped along.


The combination of silvery grey and yellow matched the colours in my son's wedding that year
The combination of silvery grey and yellow matched the colours chosen for the wedding. The yellow calla lilies shone like sunbursts.


This year’s plants have been a pleasure all summer. Touches of white on the yellow begonia complemented the starry white flowers beside it, and the bird’s nest found in a branch pruned from a nearby spirea added the off-centre focal point that I like in a rectangular planter like this.


This summer's choice
This summer’s choice: two perennial grasses, begonias and — what is the name of that nice white flower? I don’t remember!


Now, three months after planting, the leaves have disappeared from the spirea. The begonia is starting to look past its best but the planter as a whole is still just fine.


The bird's nest is still there, but is hidden now behind the cascading grass.
The bird’s nest is still there, but is hidden now behind the cascading grass.


Looking back through the years, I found only one set of pots I miss… a simple planting with Ricinus.


The pots need a good cleaning but the big leaves look fabulous against the dark brown wood. Or so I think.
The pots need a good cleaning and I would like the stakes to disappear, but I think the big leaves look fabulous against the dark brown wood, and the little bits of fuchsia at the base echo the red flower about to appear.


Maybe next year, I’ll plant these again.

Do you plant containers? Do you change what you plant from year to year or do you repeat a design you are happy with?


Are you on Instagram? I’m posting there now and would enjoy seeing your photos. You can follow me at glen_villa_garden for photos of what’s happening in the garden.

The China Terrace Gets a Face Lift

August 25th, 2019 | 10 Comments »
I used Lamium 'Fancy Nancy' for the bedspread and Alternathera 'Purple Prince' for the pillow.
The title of this post might well be The China Terrace gets a Floor Lift... but that would be confusing and not entirely accurate. So what has happened? The China Terrace, a re-imagining of the grand resort hotel that once stood on the property, was one of the first projects I undertook at Glen Villa. [caption id="attachment_1567" align="alignleft" width="1024"] The entry to the China Terrace uses old pillars I found in a local antique store. The posts that curve up beyond suggest a staircase to an imaginary second story.[/caption]   My


Try and Try Again

August 18th, 2019 | 15 Comments »
The wrought-iron will rust eventually but we can scrape and oil it when it does.
The old saying is a good one: if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. There's a meme in the gardening world started by Bonney Lassie at call Tell the Truth Tuesday. Despite my fair share of failures, I've never joined in. But La Seigneurie, one of the newest parts of my Quebec garden, fits the meme all too well. So even if it isn't Tuesday, here's the truth. In early June this year, we seeded a farm field as part of Timelines, the 3 km trail I've developed that explores questions



August 11th, 2019 | 14 Comments »
I designed this fence made of steel posts and wire cable to be as invisible as possible from a distance and attractive up close.
Fences come in all shapes and sizes, yet in one way or another they all serve the same purpose: to separate one area from another. At Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, the oldest fence separates a former farm field from a driveway.   [caption id="attachment_7852" align="alignleft" width="1024"] It's obvious from the way the tree has grown around it that this barbed wire fence was put up a long time ago.[/caption]   An equally practical but more decorative fence is the one I designed to protect shrubs from the deer that


Paths with Pizazz

August 4th, 2019 | 4 Comments »
The cmbination of regular and irregularly shapes stones along with the plants that break up the stones makes this path at Malverleys particularly appealing.
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.


Garden Paths

July 29th, 2019 | 12 Comments »
The tightly laid stone path at Cottesbrooke, a Queen Anne house in Northamptonshire.
Working on Timelines, the 3 km trail at Glen Villa that opened last weekend, started me thinking about trails and paths more generally, and particularly about the way the size, shape and the material a path is made of affect how we respond. What a difference there is, for instance, between the effect of a winding path made of wood chips ...   [caption id="attachment_7795" align="alignleft" width="4272"] This photo shows a wood chip path at Holbrooke Garden, a naturalistic garden in Devon.[/caption]   ... and a straight path that leads to


La Seigneurie

June 16th, 2019 | 12 Comments »
Ken is pouring canola seed into the back of the seeder.
In the 1600s, when Quebec was known as La Nouvelle France, land was divided into seigneuries, properties under the control of a seigneur, or lord of the manor. Fields farmed by habitants were arranged in long narrow strips fronting onto the St. Lawrence River, making it easy to transport goods by water at a time when roads were few. [caption id="attachment_7576" align="alignleft" width="500"] This drawing from Wikipedia shows the layout of a typical seigneurie. Established in 1627, the seigneurial system was officially abolished in 1854.[/caption]              



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


Crabapples in Bloom!

June 3rd, 2019 | 19 Comments »
untitled (2 of 14)
The crabapple allée is in full bloom and boy, is it gorgeous! The long line of trees are stunning whether you look from the side ...   straight down the middle ...   or up close.   Last week my friend Tim Doherty came over with his drone camera to give a different point of view.  He launched the camera from a flat piece of cardboard he put on the ground.     He controlled its speed and direction from his computer, [caption id="attachment_7530" align="alignleft" width="5184"] If you look closely you can


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