Category Archives: Design

Making History Visible

January 16th, 2019 | 12 Comments »

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.

Glacial erratics form part of the waterfall at Glen Villa. T
Glacial erratics form part of the waterfall at Glen Villa.

 

A wolf tree standing among younger oaks deliberately planted speaks of days when the old cherry tree was part of a different forest.

 

An ancient cherry tree now grows among an oak plantation.
The twists and turns of the cherry tree show that it had to fight for the light in its younger days.

 

Signs of the past like these litter the landscape at Glen Villa. There are stone walls that once divided fields, and foundation walls of cottages long gone.

 

The stone wall in the foreground formed part of a summer cottage built around 1910 and torn down in the 1960s.
The stone wall in the foreground formed part of a summer cottage built around 1910 and torn down in the 1960s.

 

Largest and most impressive of the stone walls is the foundation of Glen Villa Inn, the large resort hotel that once stood on the property.

 

The hotel operated between 1902-1909 and was said to have 365 rooms, one for every day of the year.
The hotel operated between 1902-1909 and was said to have 365 rooms, one for every day of the year.

 

Farming left its mark at the edge of fields that used to be fenced …

 

The barbed wire embedded in the maple tree was part of the fence around what is now the Upper Field.
How many years did it take for the tree to grow around this piece of wire fencing?

 

… and in farm equipment abandoned in the woods.

 

Someone more familiar with farm equipment than I am could probably name this piece. Is it a harrow?
Someone more familiar with farm equipment than I am could probably name this piece. Is it a harrow?

 

People left their mark as well. Walking through the woods, I saw a tree growing on a huge moss-covered rock. To my eyes the tree resembled a man walking, and the image made me think of the Abenaki, the first people who had lived on the land.  Every time I passed the tree, it seemed to speak, telling me to make the Abenaki’s presence visible again.

I followed its bidding. The Abenaki believe that humans were created from the ash tree so I searched for ash trees in the woods that forked in special ways. Inverted, the branches resembled people walking, as for millennia the Abenaki had done, moving between their summer and winter camps.

 

The Abenaki believe humans were created from the ash tree. Abenaki Walking uses inverted branches of ash trees to show their presence on the land.
These Abenaki walkers are moving through a recently cleared field.

 

People’s debris told another story. I discovered pieces of china partly buried underground, and a mark on one piece confirmed what I had hoped — the burnt and broken pieces came from Glen Villa Inn, the old resort hotel. Finding a way to tell the hotel’s story took several years but eventually the china shards became part of the China Terrace, a re-creation of the hotel as it might have been in 1909 when it burned to the ground.

 

A welcome mat that incorporates pieces of broken china from the old resort hotel marks the entry to the China Terrace.
A welcome mat that incorporates pieces of broken china from the old resort hotel marks the entry to the China Terrace.

 

The more I explored the land, the clearer its voice became. In the woods, I came across a low stone wall, the remains of a building from the 1950s where maple sap had been transformed into maple syrup. This became Orin’s Sugarcamp, named to honour the farmer who worked there.

 

Surrounding Orin's Sugarcamp are maple leaves made of tin, suspended from trees. They sway and tinkle in the wind, creating a magical environment.
Surrounding Orin’s Sugarcamp are maple leaves made of tin, suspended from trees. They sway and tinkle in the wind, creating a magical environment.

 

A stone wall that stood in front of the old hotel became the yin yang, an Asian symbol that marked the years our family lived in China, during the Cultural Revolution.

 

Over the years I've used different plants to show the oppositional elements of the Yin/Yang.
Over the years I’ve used different plants to show the oppositional elements of the Yin/Yang. The year I took this photo I used blue fescue (festuca glauca) and red brick mulch to contrast colour and material. 

 

Deeper voices spoke of connections with a more distant past, when the Idea cast shadows on the wall and the oracle breathed fumes from a cleft in the ground.

 

Columns of corrugated in mark a path through a field. The contemporary material connects today's world to ancient Greece.
Columns of corrugated tin mark a path through a field. The contemporary material connects today’s world to ancient Greece.

 

The land continues to speak. I know it has stories still to tell, secrets it may share if I am quiet enough to hear. Listening takes patience, not an easy virtue. But if I  continue to listen, who knows what I will learn.

Houghton Hall: A Garden Review

January 6th, 2019 | 8 Comments »
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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,

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Topiary for the Holidays

December 14th, 2018 | 8 Comments »
Each bird is slightly different, and each has its own personality.
Do Christmas trees qualify as topiary? We never think of them as such but they fit the definition -- the Oxford dictionary calls topiary the "art or practice of clipping shrubs or trees into ornamental shapes." And surely Christmas trees don't grow naturally into the perfect cones commonly seen but have been pruned and clipped to shape them.   [caption id="attachment_5888" align="aligncenter" width="2099"] This cone-shaped spruce tree is attached to the chimney stack at Glen Villa. It hangs right outside our front door.[/caption]   As a young gardener, I disliked topiary, thinking that it was a distortion

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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

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Monuments and Memorials

November 20th, 2018 | 6 Comments »
This statue on Richmond's Monument Avenue shows Robert E. Lee astride his horse Traveller.
Paintings on rock made by indigenous people many years ago give us insights into their daily life and the events and objects they valued. (I wrote about rock paintings here.) Monuments and memorials serve a similar purpose. So what do they show about what we value today? Traditionally monuments were erected to great men and generals who led us in war, and to those who fought and died. I grew up surrounded by this type of memorial. The statues of Confederate leaders that lined Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia left no doubt about

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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

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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

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Oudolf at Pensthorpe

September 16th, 2018 | 10 Comments »
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Over the last half dozen years or so,  I've visited several gardens in England designed by the Dutch plantsman, Piet Oudolf. These include Bury Court in Hampshire, Scampston Hall's Walled Garden in Yorkshire and Hauser & Wirth in Somerset. Because I've seen and enjoyed these gardens, I was eager to see Oudolf's Millennium Garden at Pensthorpe Natural Park in Norfolk. (A review of Scampston Hall's Walled Garden is here.) Pensthorpe was Oudolf's first commission in the U.K. Planted in 2000 and up-dated in 2008, the Millennium Garden is part of a larger natural reserve.

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Petworth: a Landscape by Capability Brown

September 9th, 2018 | 18 Comments »
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On a sunny day, what could be more agreeable than strolling through a landscape designed by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown? Earlier this week, two friends and I took advantage of the fine weather to do just this when we visited Petworth House in Sussex. The landscape there is one of the finest surviving examples of Brown's work. Walking through the 700-acre park, the surroundings appear to be totally natural, but in reality Brown shaped each part of the land with his customary flair.   [caption id="attachment_6709" align="aligncenter" width="4272"] This view from the

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Nine Bridges, to Where?

August 30th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
The cedar will turn grey over the winter.
Last week we added two new bridges on the Timelines trail. They aren't large constructions but both allow us to keep our feet dry. The first bridge, near the end of the avenue of crabapple trees, avoids the ditch at the end of a culvert that goes underneath a road that connects our village of North Hatley to the neighbouring village of Sainte-Catherine-de-Hatley -- formerly known as Katevale.   [caption id="attachment_6611" align="aligncenter" width="4272"] Over time we've made this ditch deeper and wider by driving through it in a small all-wheel vehicle.[/caption]   The

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