Category Archives: People

A Memorial in the Garden

December 5th, 2021 | 12 Comments »

Memorials are not typically found in private gardens. Occasionally you see a marker for a well-loved pet, like the one below that I came across at Glen Villa Art Garden, my garden in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Stones like Goldie’s make a sorrowful statement about the past, but they also are aimed at the future, at preserving memories and transforming what used to be into a continuing part of the present.


Goldie was a dog. I’m guessing she was a Golden Retriever.


Memorials to individuals may be rare in private gardens but they are commonplace in the public sphere. Nowadays, however, the very existence of these public memorials raises questions.  Who should be memorialized, and who makes the decision? Choices that once were self-evident aren’t so any longer, now that public perceptions about right and wrong, good and bad, have undergone, and continue to undergo, dramatic shifts.

Yet memorials to individuals continue to be erected.  The design of some of recent vintage, like the monument to Martin Luther King, is clearly linked to the traditional ‘statue of the man’ approach.


Considering the choice of material, the quotation is apt.


The design of others, like the Princess Diana Fountain in Hyde Park, eschews the idea of representation in favour of abstraction.


Instead of representing her, the fountain draws on Diana’s love of children, offering them a place to play.


This minimalist approach is used much more frequently now for marking public grief, tribute and remembrance than the statues and obelisks of old. Think of Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial, or the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, or the 9-11 memorial in New York. This minimalist approach often uses quotations to highlight an individual’s ideas and ideals. As do many more traditional memorials. Quotations from Thomas Jefferson at his memorial in Washington play an important role in cementing the reputation of the man. Meant to be uplifting, they are as contradictory as the man himself, a slave owner who could write that  “all men are created equal…”  while trembling for his country because God’s “justice cannot sleep forever.”


This is a stock photo  of the Jefferson Memorial — I don’t have one of my own.


Memorials that mark school shootings and mass deaths appear with tragic regularity. So do those celebrating military victories — although like memorials to individuals, these monuments arouse mixed responses these days.


The statue of Samuel de Champlain in Quebec City memorializes an individual and, by extension, the arrival and dominance of Europeans in what used to be New France.


Occasionally, decision makers will deem a positive event worthy of remembering. Melvin Charney’s tribute to Human Rights and Barbara Paterson’s memorial to women’s suffrage, both located in Ottawa, are two that come to mind.

In a private setting, the choice about what to memorialize and how to do it becomes personal. At Glen Villa, I used painted posts to remember my father, a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law.


These two posts, in memory of my father and a brother-in-law, are cut from a single pine tree, a gesture that represents the closeness of their relationship. A third post in memory of a sister-in-law stands nearby.


I created a space on a wooded hillside as a memorial to my mother.


The screen at Upper Room was designed by Montreal artist Mary Martha Guy. It shows branches and flowers of a dogwood tree, the Virginia state flower.


Webster’s Column represents a different kind of memorial, one that honours my husband’s career as a journalist. For many months I planned to add the dates 1959-2009 to the front panel to indicate the fifty years that he worked as a reporter, columnist, commentator and editor. Sometime over the coming months I will finally do that.



But can I do more?

The question I’m asking myself now is, can I find a way for the land itself to celebrate a single life, to show grief, to pay tribute and to remember? I haven’t seen Maya Lin’s Wave Field at Storm King, the outdoor sculpture park in New York, but the idea behind it appeals to me. I imagine walking over a gently undulating field and the pleasure that gives me: then I imagine those undulations enlarged and exaggerated, more powerfully expressing the ups and downs of a life lived together, hikes that took us to wide open views from the mountain crests and to tense, constricted gloom in the depressing moments that every marriage must have.

There is an abstract quality to Lin’s landscape that allows each of us to see what we want to see, to project our own thoughts and experiences. Yet an individual is not an abstraction. So perhaps the view onto the linden tree at the end of the Big Meadow will suffice as memorial. It is a cliché but it brings comfort, nonetheless, to know that a tree which is leafless now will be green again in the spring. And it won’t be just any green but that wonderful spring green that promises renewal and continuing life. That may need to be enough.

Tree Hugging for Tree Huggers

December 21st, 2020 | 16 Comments »
Do you know when the phrase 'tree hugger' was coined? I didn't, so I looked it up. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the first known use of the term dates from 1965. Other words coined that year: jet lag, mini dress, pop art, teach-in, doo-wop and time traveller. Reading these words, I felt like a time traveller myself. In part this is because those words are so familiar now but also because the connotations of 'tree hugger' have changed so much. In 1965,  tree hugger was a derogatory term. Not so today.


Visitors at Glen Villa

September 29th, 2020 | 11 Comments »
Last week was very unusual -- after a summer of isolation, living inside a family-only bubble, two groups of visitors came to tour Glen Villa. One group came from NIP Paysage, a landscape architecture firm in Montreal whose name reflects its approach to every project it undertakes. To understand, you need to know that NIP is the French acronym for a PIN, or Personal Identification Number. So, as its website states, "NIP aims to reveal the true character of the environments upon which it intervenes." I first met two of the principals


The Medicine Wheel and the Four Directions

September 20th, 2020 | 4 Comments »
Earlier this week I was fortunate to visit a new installation on the Tomifobia Nature Trail in the company of its creator, Paul-Conrad Carignan, and Paul's partner, Sylvia Bertolini. Paul is a Metis Algonquin-Anishnabe Elder and the site he designed is dedicated to spiritual and healing teachings of the Indigenous Medicine Wheel and its four directions. At a clearing beside the trail, located in Quebec's Eastern Townships close to the border with the United States, large granite slabs, or stelae, rise up at the four directions. Each stone is engraved with an


Marian Coffin, Landscape Architect

August 24th, 2020 | No Comments »
In this year, the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment that gave women in the U.S. the right to vote, I'm thinking about American women from that era and the gardens they created. Marian Coffin (1876-1957) was one of the most sought-after of these women, particularly in the years before World War II. Trained at MIT between 1901 and 1904, one of only four women in the landscape architecture program, she went on to design over 50 significant estate gardens, mostly for wealthy clients on the East Coast. Her most important commission was


A Three Part Garden

August 3rd, 2020 | 2 Comments »
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to visit a garden in the small village of North Hatley, Quebec, where I live, to see the work of garden makers Jane Meagher and Jean Vanaise. Here, over about ten years, they have transformed a one-acre town lot into a lushly varied garden. The transformation began when they decided to renovate and enlarge their house.  Before they began, the garden around the building was mostly grass plus a few bunches of flowers scattered more or less randomly. Not so today. Now their mini-paradise is set off from the street and


Kiftsgate Court: A Garden Review

October 21st, 2019 | 17 Comments »
Kiftsgate Court is one of those English gardens included on many garden tours, in part because it is so conveniently located, just down the road from Hidcote, the iconic garden created by the Anglo-American Lawrence Johnston. The gardens at Kiftsgate were created over the last hundred years by three generations of women -- grandmother, mother and daughter -- each of whom made her own contribution to the garden as it is today. Renowned for the Kiftsgate rose, the garden contains some wonderful areas and some fine plantings, with sumptuous flowers like this one that


Open Garden Day Success

July 22nd, 2019 | 18 Comments »
On Saturday July 20, over 300 people visited Glen Villa to view the garden and walk Timelines, the 3km trail that opened for the first time. The day was exhausting because of the heat and humidity but it was exhilarating to welcome so many people to the garden and to hear how much they enjoyed the experience. Many visitors commented on how well organized we were. For this, I have to thank the 24 volunteers who worked at the registration desk and at various spots around the garden. Of all the volunteers, I want


Haseley Court and Making History Visible

January 22nd, 2019 | 6 Comments »
My last blog post, about making history visible and listening to the land, struck a chord.  Many readers responded via the Site and Insight web page or commented on Facebook and on the blog itself, saying they were touched by the piece. Several described how experiences in their pasts affected their responses today, both to their own garden and to gardens they visited. I know that is true for me. I grew up in Virginia, in a house with a big back yard where I could hide under bushes and pretend to be an explorer


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.