Category Archives: Design

La Seigneurie

June 16th, 2019 | 12 Comments »

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.

This drawing from Wikipedia shows the layout of a typical seigneurie. The St. Lawrence River is shown in blue at the bottom.
This drawing from Wikipedia shows the layout of a typical seigneurie. Established in 1627, the seigneurial system was officially abolished in 1854.



















Remembering this history, we planted one of the fields at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, in similar long narrow strips. We seeded the field two weeks ago. much later than we wanted but as early as we could due to the weather.


It's easy to see the lines of seeding.
It’s easy to distinguish the lines of seeding from the marks left by the tractor wheels and the blades of the seeder.


The field is part of Timelines, the 1.7 km/1 mile trail that explores questions about memory, identity and our relationship to the land. To create contrasting strips we used three different crops, flax, canola and barley.  To create an interesting pattern, I designed the rows in different widths.


The largest strip in the centre of the field is flax. Moving out from the centre point, the two sides are mirror images.
This photo shows only part of the design. The 30-foot wide strip shown on the fold is actually the centre of the field. It is planted with flax. Moving out from the centre, the two sides are mirror images. The numbers show my calculation of the square footage which determined how much seed of each type we needed.



We measured the field to find the mid-point and started planting there, first sowing the 30-foot strip of flax, then the 12-foot wide strips of barley on either side.


From the back of the seeder, Ken makes sure that seeds fall through as they should.
From the back of the seeder, Ken makes sure that seeds fall through as they should.



Planting the field this way is an experiment and we’ll see if the flax and canola bloom at the same time. If they do, the contrast between blue and yellow, with the tall straight tawny lines of barley separating them, should look amazing. If not, there still should be enough contrast in the size, colour and texture of the leaves to distinguish one strip from another.


We couldn't seed all the flax, canola or barley at one time because of the pattern of strips. So after sowing one seed, the seeder had to be cleaned before another seed could be added.
After sowing one seed, the seeder had to be thoroughly cleaned before the next seed was added. We had to repeat this process a dozen times or so.


Seeding the three crops in lines that didn’t overlap took careful execution. Jacques Gosselin and Ken Kelso, the two men who make everything at Glen Villa work the way it should, were more than up to the job. With Ken on the back of the tractor as a guide, Jacques kept the wheels on the right track.


Jacques and Ken seed each strip with either flax, canola or barley.
It took a few hours for Jacques and Ken to seed the field using the seeder we borrowed from a good neighbour.


I was surprised to see that canola which has yellow blooms starts with bright blue seeds.

Ken is pouring canola seed into the back of the seeder.
Ken is pouring canola seed into the back of the seeder. The compartments ensure that the seed falls in neat rows.


Flax seed which I thought should be blue is similar to the colour of barley seed, but up close the two look very different.


Flax or barley? Which is it?
Flax or barley? Which is it?


Barley or flax?
Barley or flax?  (This is barley, of course!)


We seeded the field on June 5. On June 11, only six days later, the rows were starting to show.


Thanks to several days of temperatures in the high 20sC, the seeds germinated quickly.
Thanks to several days of temperatures in the high 20sC, the seeds germinated quickly.


Next week we’ll erect the handsome wrought-iron sign, made by the local blacksmith Justine Southam, that announces La Seigneurie. And once the seedlings are well established, we’ll cut a walking path through the field. I can only imagine how splendid it will be to pass through these colourful rows and to remember the history that inspired them.

Would you like to walk through the rows as well?

La Seigneurie is part of the Timelines trail. The trail will be open to the public for the first time this year on July 20, from 9-4. When I measured it yesterday, I found to my surprise that it is not 3 kms as I had thought but only 1.7 kms, or slightly more than a mile. Walking the trail at a leisurely pace will take about 45 minutes; adding in stops along the way may double the time.

This Open Garden Day is a fund-raiser for our local community foundation and conservation trust.  Please consider making a donation even if you can’t visit the garden on July 20. To buy tickets for a morning (9-12:30) or afternoon (12:30 – 4) visit, or to contribute to this important community cause, click on this link.


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 »
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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


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,


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


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


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


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