Category Archives: Glen Villa

The Past Looms Large

November 27th, 2018 | 10 Comments »

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 months ago the project acquired a name: Timelines.

The Past Looms Large is a section of Timelines that I hope will raise questions in the mind of anyone walking the trail.  It begins with a short corrugated tin column positioned near a tall dead pine and a stump whose shape makes me think of a person drowning, with neck stretched up to the sky and mouth wide open, gasping for breath.


The dead pine and the tree stump were part of the inspiration for this section.
The tall dead pine and the tree stump were part of the inspiration for this section of Timelines.


Applied to the base of the column are letters that not only give the name of this section but also prepare a walker for what is coming next.


The red letters contrast with the grey cement and continue a colour that appears throughout the project.
I’ve used red along the Timelines trail as a unifying element. I I like the contrast here between the red letters and the grey concrete.


Looking out from the top of a rise, walkers will see a field crossed by a mown path with tall columns on either side.


The columns are striking in every season.
The columns definitely loom large. I took this photo early one morning in late summer, as the grasses in the field were beginning to change colour.


As they approach the columns, walkers are able to read the words on the bases: first Doric, then Ionic.


Doric and Ionic name types of Greek columns.
The words Doric and Ionic name two of the orders of Greek columns. The style of the capitals, the tops of the columns, are what differentiates one order from another. These columns do not have capitals, and never will.


Anyone who studied art history will know what word to expect next: Corinthian, the name of the third type of Greek column. But we aren’t in ancient Greece, we are in today’s world, where the past is an unreliable guide to the future.


The first column breaks expectation.
I used corrugated tin because it suggested the fluting that often appeared on Greek columns. .


Not far in the distance, a fifth column rises above an over-sized Adirondack chair whose dimensions illustrate again how large the past still looms.


Adirondack chairs are iconic symbols of summer in the northeastern part of North America.
Adirondack chairs are iconic symbols of summer in the northeastern part of North America. Fifth columns suggest more subversive possibilities.


The chair, designed by the Quebec landscape architectural firm Nip Paysage, marks a turning point. The path has climbed gently across the open field; now it begins to descend towards a backdrop of tall dark trees.


The path leads through what appears to be a natural opening between pairs of trees.
The path leads through an opening between maple trees towards an ancient apple tree. Two wooden stakes mark the location of the element we are working on now.


The next section of Timelines is unfinished, thanks to snow that came much earlier than usual — in terms of climate, the past is increasingly unreliable as a guide to the future.  Many months ago I determined that the final element in this section would be the façade of a Greek temple.  The trail would go through an opening between columns, as if the walker were entering an actual temple, but the façade would stand alone. I sketched possibilities, talked to architects and designers.

Using the internet as a guide, my friend and collaborator John Hay found the image of a temple that suited our purposes. He superimposed the image onto a photo of the chosen site.


John searched the internet and found an image of a temple that suited our purposes.
Neither John nor I remember where this particular temple was located. Nor does it really matter. We liked the proportions and the fact that it was partially ruined.


The image served as our guide. Should we have four full columns or should we include a broken one? How tall should the columns be? And finally, how could we construct the thing in the simplest way?

John made a model to scale and late in October we set to work with the help of Jacques Gosselin and Ken Kelso, without whom almost nothing at Glen Villa could be done.


John held the model in place while I took the photo.
The fifth column, located beside the Adirondack chair and shown in the model at the far right, gives a sense of scale and perspective. John didn’t add the chair.


The temple façade is like a billboard, a false front with construction details fully revealed.


Upright posts form a framework for the temple façade.
We put up scaffolding and the upright posts that will form the framework of the façade on a cold and sunny day.


By early November things were beginning to take shape. First two columns appeared …


The horizontal bar is only temporary, holding the posts in place during construction.
The horizontal bar that runs behind the corrugated tin is a temporary but necessary element, holding the upright posts in place during construction.


… then four.


The pediment is still to be added.
Scaffolding is still in the way, but the façade is getting closer to its final form.


It was very cold the day we added the broken pediment and the dentils underneath. We tied the pieces in place temporarily — the clamps that will hold them securely had not arrived.


The black I-beams will weather over the winter. In the spring we'll probably paint them silver.
This is not the final version of the façade but close to it.


And then the snow fell.

Over the winter the upright posts will begin to rust and the black I-beams will weather, softening the harshness of their lines. In the spring we’ll make whatever changes seem right.

But for now the work is done.




Autumn Colour

October 16th, 2018 | 12 Comments »
Maple trees gleam in the sunlight.
Autumn is spectacular in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Unfortunately I've had little time to enjoy it this year, because earlier this month we sold our condominium in Montreal where we've lived for the last 22 years. Cleaning and sorting and disposing of the contents has taken a lot of time and effort. In fact, it's been a real slog but thankfully I've had lots of help from family members. (Thank you, each and all!) Understandably, blogging has taken a back seat to household work. But this past weekend, I took a


Ends and Beginnings

September 3rd, 2018 | 6 Comments »
Spirea japonica 'Crispa'
I head to England today, where I'll be hosting my final garden tour. I'm sad about this ending, but at the same time, I'm happy to remember the people and places that have formed such a rewarding part of my life. And as I keep reminding myself, ends are also beginning. Before leaving for England, I took a walk around  the garden at Glen Villa to see what's in bloom and to assess what needs to be done when I return. Generally, things are looking pretty good.   [caption id="attachment_6668" align="aligncenter" width="4272"] The deer



September 2nd, 2018 | 9 Comments »
untitled (1 of 5)
This is a bumper year for mushrooms. On a short stretch of path in the woods, I spotted six different types. I didn't pick any or examine them carefully, and without noting the specifics of their gills and stalks, I can't identify them with certainty. Mushroom identification is tricky in the best of cases, and without being sure what each is, I definitely won't eat them. But the differences in colour and shape are interesting.   [caption id="attachment_6660" align="aligncenter" width="1543"] Is this one of the edible puffballs?  Maybe, maybe not.[/caption]   [caption id="attachment_6661" align="aligncenter" width="1444"]


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


The Skating Pond, August 2018

August 19th, 2018 | 16 Comments »
A side view of the new bench shows how simple it is -- two rocks and two planks.
Sometimes small changes make a huge difference, or as I wrote last fall, Little Things Mean a Lot.  I was writing then about some small changes I'd made at the Skating Pond at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec. Later in the fall, after I wrote about the changes, I made one more. I added a bench.   [caption id="attachment_6599" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] The slate under the bench was left over from a previous project.[/caption]   My sister immediately said the bench looked wrong -- and she was right.   [caption id="attachment_6600" align="aligncenter"


The Middle of August

August 13th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
The Big Meadow
In the middle of August the garden at Glen Villa is just beginning to emerge from an unusually long dry spell. A few days ago we had rain -- buckets of it that washed out our driveway and threw a section of bank into Lake Massawippi. (We repaired the driveway; the lake itself may take care of the landslide.) Before the rain, plants were wilting badly. The leaves on a catalpa tree we planted years ago first drooped, then began to curl up and turn brown; thankfully they are now starting to recover.


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


Midsummer Medley

July 23rd, 2018 | 14 Comments »
nepeta (1 of 1)
Mid-July is truly the middle of summer in North Hatley, Quebec, when both the flowers in the garden at Glen Villa and the wildflowers in the fields strut their stuff. The Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low' at The Aqueduct is still blooming, a month after it began. The Eremurus 'Cleopatra' that provided such a wonderful vertical accent has faded now, but its candles remained lit for several weeks. Only in the last few days  have they been extinguished.     Nearby, a clematis (Clematis 'Inspiration') with the same colour tonality as the


Open Garden Day and Garden Talks

June 29th, 2018 | 5 Comments »
If we open the garden next summer in mid-June, we might see this field of buttercups.
Many people have asked when we will be opening the garden to the public this year. The sad news is, we won't.  This summer we are working on various garden projects that need time to settle in. But I hope that in 2019 we will have one -- or maybe two -- open garden days.   [caption id="attachment_6418" align="aligncenter" width="3586"] If you visit the garden next summer in mid-June, you may see this field of buttercups.[/caption]   Many people have also asked about where and when I'll be speaking. Coming up on July