Category Archives: Plants

The North South Arrow, Year 2

September 3rd, 2021 | 1 Comment »

Creating a garden isn’t a quick and easy task, particularly a garden that grows out of personal memories and the history of the site.

The most prominent and visible piece of history at Glen Villa, the land where I live, is the ruin of a summer resort hotel named Glen Villa Inn.  When it burned down in 1909, it left behind the stone wall that was its foundation. When we moved into Glen Villa in 1996, the wall was in a sad state, with stones falling down regularly.


This is how the wall looked in 2007.
This is how the wall looked in the winter of 2007.


Two years ago my husband and I decided that the wall was such an important remnant of the past that we couldn’t let it fall down entirely. So in November 2019, it was rebuilt.


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In front of the wall was a stone circle where hotel guest got into a horse-drawn carriage that would take them to the nearby village of North Hatley, or to the train station to meet a guest arriving from one of the southern states in the U.S. For some years, that circular wall was home to the Yin Yang, where I planted perennials of contrasting colours, heights and textures intended to suggest the black/white contrast of the Asian symbol.


The un-repaired foundation wall is in the background.
The un-repaired foundation wall is in the background, the unplanted Yin Yang in the foreground.


Ten or twelve years ago, we added a sleek stone coping to the top of that wall but by 2019, the original stones were falling down, creating gaps between the coping stones.


The gaps were becoming dangerously wide.
The gaps were becoming dangerously wide.


So in 2020, that wall was also rebuilt, using the same stones but adding a stronger foundation.


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The two rebuilt walls threw this part of the garden out of balance. Before, it had been an almost neglected corner; now it was important, demanding something more than weedy grass.

The North South Arrow was the solution. I designed the Arrow to suggest the train trip taken by so many of the hotel guests as they came north for the summer. A long straight line oriented directly north-south, the new bed was a place to try new ideas and new plants. The plants had to be big — the arrow was over 100 feet long and 15 feet wide. The plants also had to be unappealing to the voracious deer that call Glen Villa home. This meant planting lots of shrubs along with deer resistant perennials. I chose plants with hot-coloured flowers or foliage at the southern end of the arrow and those with cool-coloured flowers or foliage at the north.

We dug the North South Arrow in 2019, shaping it with arrowheads at both ends and bringing in good soil to replace the sandy grit that was there.


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The first plants went into the new bed in June, 2020.


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Covid meant that many of the shrubs and perennials I’d chosen weren’t available so it was only this spring that the bed was fully planted. And my! How it has grown.

Here is one section of the Arrow on June 2, 2021. The line of Panicum ‘Northwind’ is meant to suggest the railroad tracks bring people north.




A month later, many of the shrubs were blooming and the columnar boxwood at the southern end of the Arrow were standing tall.


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A different view, also taken on July 2 this year, shows the yarrow (Achillea ‘Sassy Summer Sunset’) and one of the Spireas (Spirea ‘Double Play Big Bang’) in bloom. Beyond the Arrow is the re-built circular wall with its new name and new plants: the Compass Rose. And beyond that is the rebuilt hotel foundation wall, with a bench giving a view onto the new beds.


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By August 2, the Elderberry bushes (Sambucus ‘Laced Up’) were starting to gain height and the Russian sage (Perovskia Denim ‘N Lace) was blooming well.


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And now, on September 2, the Panicum North Wind is showing off its stuff. As the seasons continue, its line that zig zags the length of the Arrow will become more prominent, tying the planting scheme together.


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There are some unfortunate gaps and some plants that aren’t performing as well as I’d hoped. The mock orange shrubs whose fragrance was meant to suggest a clichéd southern sweetness are not pulling their weight, thanks to the deer, and I may have to replace them. The Artemesia ‘Silver Mound’ needs regular pruning to keep it from falling apart, but I still like the way its round form echoes the balls of boxwood.

I haven’t been as attentive to details this summer as I should have been and I’m trying to make up for that now, as summer turns to fall. The arrangement of plants that looked so good on paper isn’t as satisfying as I hoped it would be, so in a few weeks I’ll dig up and re-arrange the plants, softening the sharp zigzagging angles and joining the line of grasses to reinforce the idea of a train track. I’ll continue to enclose some sections, as shown above, making them into ‘compartments’ on the train but blocking as much as possible the view from one side of the arrow to the other.

It isn’t easy to re-work a planting as new as the North South Arrow. It takes courage — but I know it will be better if I do.

What projects do you have in mind for the fall?


Trees in the Garden

April 5th, 2021 | 2 Comments »
Autumn colour is more intense some years than others.
Trees are an invaluable part of a garden, so important that they are sometimes called its bones because they hold the other parts of the garden together. They are slow to grow and consequently are often the first thing planted in a new garden or one undergoing renovation. Trees do more than hold a garden together, though. They are miracle workers, cleaning the air, providing protection against wind and rain, focusing our view and, in northern regions at least, providing splendid colour in the fall.     At Glen Villa, they add privacy to a picnic


The Past as Prelude

February 1st, 2021 | 1 Comment »
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The great English landscape architect Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe got it right. What's past is past. But while it is over and done with, the past can't be ignored. Instead, Jellicoe said, we should "ponder on the past not as the past but as a pointer to the future." In troubled political times, this sounds like good advice.  It's equally good advice when applied to the land. When I began to work on the garden at Glen Villa some twenty years ago, history was the principle that guided me and it continues to be a powerful element,


Goals and Resolutions

January 7th, 2021 | 10 Comments »
Chinook Sunrise is from the  Canadian-developed 49th Parallel series of roses.
In January last year, I laid out six garden goals for the year ahead, never believing I'd be able to achieve them all. I put them on paper nonetheless to give myself something to aim for and, to my surprise, I find that over the last twelve months I completed five of the six. This may be due to Covid-related restrictions that kept me closer to home, or it may be because I was intent on using the time well, but regardless of why, I'm pleased with what I managed to do. So, what


Tree Hugging for Tree Huggers

December 21st, 2020 | 16 Comments »
Seen at the botanical garden in Sydney, Australia
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.


Autumn Leaves

October 12th, 2020 | 11 Comments »
The Forms are one installation on Timelines, the trail at Glen Villa that explores ideas about history, memory and our relationship to the land.
Walking through the woods recently, I passed this installation, called The Forms.   [caption id="attachment_9253" align="aligncenter" width="3728"] The Forms represent the basic building blocks of the constructed world. They are one part of Timelines, the trail at Glen Villa that explores ideas about history, memory and our relationship to the land.[/caption]   The colours of the plexiglass shapes stood out from the muted tones around them, attracting me like a magnet. Closer, I noticed leaves scattered on top of them, some haphazardly, some artfully arranged.     The contrast in colours atop


Autumn Colour Brings Joy

October 6th, 2020 | 4 Comments »
The colour of this sourgum is quite different from the one next to it -- this one a fruit salad of peach and apricot, the other a fire of red-hot apple.
The autumn colours seem particularly intense this year at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec's Eastern Townships. Leaves started to turn earlier than usual and the height of the season has almost come and gone. But what a season it has been! It started early, when a small horse chestnut tree (Aesculus pavia) began to turn.   [caption id="attachment_9230" align="aligncenter" width="2541"] This photo was taken in mid-September[/caption]   It continued as the sourgum trees (Nyssa sylvatica) nearby began to change colour. First one tree caught fire ...   [caption id="attachment_9228" align="aligncenter"


The Yin Yang is Remade

August 10th, 2020 | 10 Comments »
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You know how one thing leads to another? That's what is happening this year at Glen Villa. Last November we began to rebuild the foundation wall of the old Glen Villa Inn.  Once the job was complete and I saw the impressive wall, I knew it needed a garden to complement it. The result is the newly planted area, the North South Arrow, now beginning to grow in. Between the hotel wall and the Arrow is a low circular stone wall. Its original purpose was to provide a turn-around for horse-drawn carriages bringing


A Three Part Garden

August 3rd, 2020 | 2 Comments »
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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


The Upper Room in 2020

July 6th, 2020 | 19 Comments »
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The Upper Room is the memorial I created to remember and honour my mother. Designed to reflect the things most important to her -- her family, her religious beliefs and her dedication to Virginia and its institutions --  the Upper Room is a small formal area set amidst a natural forest on a hillside above our house. I wrote about its creation in a post you can find here, gave an update on the project here and showed how it looked in winter in a post here. Although my mother died in 2010, it wasn't until