Category Archives: People

Oudolf at Pensthorpe

September 16th, 2018 | 10 Comments »

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. Built on the site of former gravel quarries that left behind a patchwork of lakes, the watery location is designed to attract migrating and resident birds and to encourage families to  understand and enjoy nature.

 

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Since the most recent work in the Millennium Garden is now ten years old, I was eager to see how — or if — Oudolf’s approach to planting had changed from what I’d seen at other gardens in England. Would the early date and the location make a difference in the plantings, and if so, in what ways?

One difference was obvious as soon as I entered the area. A natural element — birch trees growing close together — marked the entry rather than a gate in a wall or a door into a courtyard.   

 

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But this was far from the only difference.

At Bury Court, Scamspston and Hauser & Wirth, you look at the plants. You observe their particularities — their colours, textures and growing habits. At Pensthorpe you are engaged with the plants, almost swallowed by them.

 

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The contrasts in colour and texture that you see at Bury Court, Scampston Hall and Hauser & Wirth are present at Pensthorpe, but added to these elements are the sounds of nature — birds calling, wind soughing through the trees.

 

The flowers on these Eupatorium purpureum were larger than any I've ever seen.
The flowers on these Eupatorium purpureum were larger than any I’ve ever seen.

 

Topography is also a factor. The other three gardens that Oudolf has designed in England are on flat land. At Pensthorpe, the land slopes down to a small lake, one of many that dot the nature reserve.

 

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Because of this difference in topography, I found Pensthorpe much more immersive than the gardens at Bury Court, Scampston or Hauser & Wirth.  Walking along a path that meandered down the slope, I sometimes felt like a giant Alice in Wonderland, looking down on the plants, and sometimes like a tiny Alice, with plants towering above me.

 

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I was aware, too, of the blocky nature of the planting scheme. In my memory, the plants at Hauser & Wirth intermingle. One block of plants oversteps its boundary and drifts into the block next door.  What I saw at Pensthorpe were big areas that contained a single plant, with each area or block an entity unto itself.

 

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What struck me most strongly, though, was how undesigned this garden felt in comparison to the others. This is not to suggest that Oudolf threw out seeds and plants willy-nilly. Far from it. But the overall atmosphere of the Millennium Garden is natural, as if all these plants just happened to be where they are.

Not so at  Hauser & Wirth where the circles of grass that are such a distinctive feature bring design to the fore. The same is true in the Walled Garden at Scampston Hall — a garden that I like very much. The five acres there are divided into nine garden rooms, each with its own character. There is a reflecting pond, a mount, semi-traditional borders and a circle where miscanthus explodes like fireworks. But most memorable for me are the curving drifts of Molinia, separated by curving strips of lawn, that Oudolf planted in one garden room, and the hedges that mimic that curving line in another.

At Pensthorpe, befitting a natural reserve, things are simpler. Plants are the focus. Big, blocky, glorious plants that rejoice in their autumnal colours.

 

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This is the first time I’ve seen one of Oudolf’s English gardens in the autumn, when the seed heads that are so important to him are prominent features. Seeing them, I think of the opportunities that were wasted for so many years, when seed heads were chopped off as soon as the flowers faded.

 

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Near the Millennium Garden, a children’s play area offers a fine contrast, as does the Corten Infinity Garden that follows, where a fence seems to open and close as you walked past. Neither was designed by Oudolf but both seemed to partake of his innovative spirit.

 

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Pensthorpe would be a great place to spend the day, with children or grandchildren, or simply on your own. I’d be happy to return.

 

 

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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The Best Egg Ever

April 3rd, 2018 | 6 Comments »
What's Easter without an egg or two?   With 18 family members around on the weekend, the eggs disappeared almost as quickly as they were found.   This most beautiful of eggs was a special treat... before,   during,     and after.     Thanks, Sandra!

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

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Congratulations!

March 5th, 2018 | 25 Comments »
A desire to recreate the sounds of the stream beside our old summer cottage was the initial inspiration for The Aqueduct.
I'm happy to share some very good news -- the Aqueduct at Glen Villa is the winner of the grand prize for design in the residential category at ADIQ, the Quebec industrial designers association.   [caption id="attachment_344" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] A desire to recreate the sounds of the stream beside our old summer cottage was the initial inspiration for The Aqueduct.[/caption]   This prestigious prize recognizes the work of designer and friend Eric Fleury, of the landscape architecture firm, Hodgins and Associates (HETA). The walls and landscaping were the work of  Oscar Hache

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Malverleys: A Garden of Contrasts

November 27th, 2017 | 17 Comments »
Vivid colours appear in the hot border. Contrasts are more subtle in the cool-toned border but are still  dynamic and inventive.
Winter is almost here in Quebec, which means that not much is going on in the garden at Glen Villa. So instead of moaning about that, I'm remembering one of the gardens I visited in England last May. Malverleys is a large private estate, rarely open to the public, so the small group of gardeners who were on the tour I was hosting was fortunate to be able to visit. We were doubly fortunate to tour the garden in the company of Mat Reese, the head gardener. Anyone who subscribes to Gardens Illustrated, or

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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

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Gardeners (and Gardens) to Remember

June 7th, 2017 | 14 Comments »
This garden by James Alexander Sinclair showed the relationship between sound and motion. Water gurgled and spouted in response to sound waves. Very ingenious.
I'm home again at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, after touring gardens in England. In ten days, the small group I was hosting visited 17 gardens, each special in its own way. Add in the Chelsea Flower Show and pre-tour visits to three other gardens and you can imagine the result: more photos and memories than a dozen blog posts can handle. Let me mention a few highlights. (More blog posts will come once I catch my breath and begin to assimilate all I saw.) The Chelsea Flower Show

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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

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North

February 27th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
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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

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