Category Archives: People

Malverleys: A Garden of Contrasts

November 27th, 2017 | 17 Comments »

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 reads it regularly, may recognize his name — Mat writes ‘Plantsman’s Favourites’, several pages near the front of each issue in which he recommends special plants for each season.

The garden he is in charge of uses contrast as its central idea. Understandably, because Malverleys is a garden of extremes. Old trees tower over a new garden, and recently created views frame a countryside that seems to have existed forever.

Malverleys also shows what can be accomplished when talent combines with wealth.  Working in conjunction with the owners, in a few short years Mat has created a garden that celebrates traditional Jekyll-inspired plantings, a style  he believes best suits the English countryside. But not content with imitating the past, he is constantly experimenting, and the results of his experimentation show what can happen when contrasts are pushed to the limit.

Easiest to identify (and to photograph) in the ten intensely gardened acres are the contrasts in colour. These range from sharp contrasts within a single border …

 

Vivid colours appear in the hot border. Contrasts are more subtle in the cool-toned border but are still dynamic and inventive.
Vivid colours appear in the hot border. Contrasts are more subtle in the cool-toned border but are still dynamic and inventive.

 

… to contrasts within a single plant.

 

A splendid rose -- I wish I could remember the name.
A splendid rose — ‘For Your Eyes Only’.

 

Less obvious but equally effective are contrasts in texture and size.

 

Smooth and delicate white is set off by the big rough leaves in the pool garden.
Smooth and delicate white is set off by rough and pointed green in the pool garden.

 

When the owner acquired the property, none of the current gardens existed. Now open spaces are carefully balanced against closed ones, light against dark.

 

A sculpture by Mark Quinn provides a focal point to the open lawn and the fields beyond.
A sculpture by Mark Quinn provides a focal point for the open lawn and the fields beyond.

 

In contrast to open fields and a sunny lawn is a dark stumpery, full of mystery and ferns. Some forms are delicate …

 

I have no idea what kind of fern this is but I like it.
I have no idea what kind of fern this is but I like the sharp green frills of new growth.

 

…others bold.

 

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Tree trunks, tree roots and tree ferns line the crunchy gravel path.

 

Water is handled with equal care.  A large pot of water sits in a shallow pool, surrounded by beds thickly planted in cool colours.

 

A urn adds a focal point at the end of the path, one of four that centre on the circular pool.
A urn adds a focal point at the end of the path, one of four that centre on the circular pool.

 

A larger pool surrounded by more vibrant tones reflects the sky.

 

Reflections add another layer of enjoyment in the pool garden.
Reflections add another layer of enjoyment in the pool garden. Contrasts in colour, form and texture can’t be missed.

 

In a section of the garden still being constructed, water arcs from the sides of a rill to form circular patterns, while the sound of the splash adds a new note to the symphony of birds.

 

The temperature dropped noticeably once the water began to rise and fall.
The temperature dropped noticeably once the water began to rise and fall.

 

Throughout the garden, formality is contrasted with informality.  Beside the house a recently planted parterre combines yew, boxwood and hydrangea …

 

Annabelle hydrangeas will grow beside the yew columns that eventually will fill the boxwood circles.
Annabelle hydrangeas will grow beside the yew columns that eventually will fill the boxwood circles.

 

while in the walled garden there is a meadowy abundance.

 

A wonderfully informal planting in the white garden.
I liked this wonderfully informal planting in forms and tones of white.

 

Classically influenced statuary at the top of a low set of stairs sets one tone …

 

This pair of statues were typical of statuary that appeared in different garden rooms.
This pair of statues were typical of statuary that appeared in different garden rooms.

 

while designer chickens wandering through the garden set quite another.

 

King of the roost?
Whose garden is this anyway? The King of the Walk knows, and doesn’t mind telling visitors who’s the boss.

 

Mat Rees’s title is Director of Horticulture. This isn’t the title used in most gardens of this type, but at Malverleys, a title isn’t the only convention that has been given a twist. Topiary in a flowery meadow, for example. Christopher Lloyd’s garden Great Dixter famously had one, and Rees may well have worked on it when he was there. At Malverleys, the meadow combines the standard wildflowers with perennials and shrubs, and a topiary statue twists its way up amid the yews.

 

I failed to note the name of the sculptor. If anyone who recognizes the work, I'd like to know.
I failed to note the name of the sculptor. If anyone recognizes the work, I’d like to know.

 

A double border lining a bit of green lawn is a standard feature, a cliché too often made worse by unimaginative planting. Not so here.

 

Contrasts are everywhere.
The lawn is wider than most, and longer than many. The pool garden is at the far end.

 

An old stone path where cracks burst with thyme and self-sown plants is a commonplace that Rees has freshened, both with the variety and combination of plants he has chosen and with the broken pattern inserted in the walk.

 

This path looks as if it has been here forever but it was put in place only a few years ago.
The path may look as if it has been here forever but it was put in place only a few years ago.

 

And what self-respecting garden of this type excludes a white garden? The very name conjures romance in the moonlight, perfumed yet coolly restrained.

At Malverleys, the white garden is wild, unrestrained, punctuated with touches of colour, on the verge of tipping over into confusion.

 

White isn't the only colour that appears in the white garden but it dominates most beautifully.
White isn’t the only colour that appears in the white garden but it dominates most beautifully.

 

Can the same be said of the garden as a whole? Malverleys is a garden built on contrasts — between convention and experimentation, between restraint and lack thereof — and with contrasts as strong as these, finding a balance is essential. Establishing that balance isn’t easy; maintaining it is even harder. And I’m afraid that with the addition of one more thing, one more garden room, one more feature, the balance will be lost. A studied garden will fall over the top.

I hope I’m wrong, for the plans that Rees outlined for the future are exciting: a lake, an arboretum, a series of courses for those wanting to learn more. A few more years will tell the tale.

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 »
north_5_small
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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A Doorstep for Orin’s Sugarcamp

December 12th, 2016 | 15 Comments »
Jacques and Ken are skilled workers who can operate almost any piece of equipment, even under difficult conditions.
On the weekend we installed the granite slab that marks the 'front door' of Orin's Sugarcamp, my latest art installation at Glen Villa. (You can read about the project here.) Doing this was tricky. It involved transporting an 800-pound slab of rock across a snowy field and a partially frozen stream on the back of an open wagon. That takes skill, particularly since the snow is very slippery right now. But Jacques Gosselin and Ken Kelso, the talented men who work for me at Glen Villa, managed the job with ease.   [caption id="attachment_4767" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]

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Melvin Charney’s Garden in the City

November 28th, 2016 | 10 Comments »
A grassy meadow abuts a busy Montreal street.
Melvin Charney’s garden made for the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal is firmly and unequivocally a city garden. It is surrounded by traffic on all sides, rising up from a piece of land lost between the entry and exit ramps of a busy expressway. It is composed of elements found in many gardens -- plants, sculptures and the fragments of buildings -- yet it combines them in a way that makes this garden unlike any other I know.   [caption id="attachment_4713" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] A grassy meadow abutting a busy Montreal street

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Orin’s Sugarcamp

November 21st, 2016 | 12 Comments »
The distorted the shape of the leaf to suggest how the shape changes in the fall. l
Just over a year ago I began work on a project in the woods at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec. I was inspired by an exhibition I saw at The Mount, Edith Wharton's home in western Massachusetts. One piece in particular caught my eye, a collection of oddly shaped pieces of wood that contrasted in an interesting way with the straight vertical tree trunks around them.   [caption id="attachment_4682" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Cognito, a sculptural installation by William Carlson[/caption]   I knew almost immediately that I wanted to do something similar and

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Remembering the Dead

November 6th, 2016 | 22 Comments »
My father's post is in the foreground, my brother-in-laws in the background.
With Remembrance Day fast approaching, I'm remembering people who were important in my life and looking at how the Memory Posts I painted in their honour are faring. The inspiration for my Memory Posts came from a visit to the National Gallery of Australia and its Memorial Hall.  Created by indigenous artists from Central Arnhem Land in Australia's Northern Territory, The Aboriginal Memorial is an installation of 200 hollow log bone coffins.   [caption id="attachment_4600" align="aligncenter" width="1600"] Photo courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia. The curving path represents the Glyde River in

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The Big Meadow in August

August 25th, 2016 | 19 Comments »
The mown path makes this work. Showing a human intervention is essential.
  This summer I've been watching what used to be a manicured lawn turn into a meadow.  Seeing the changes month to month has shown that what pleased me in June ...   [caption id="attachment_4073" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] The view from the driveway gives some idea of the size of the Big Meadow.[/caption]   became even better in July.   [caption id="attachment_4203" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Grasses on the prairie used to be called oceans of grass. Now I know why.[/caption]   I was thrilled. Was the transformation from lawn to meadow going to be as

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