Category Archives: Plants

The Upper Room Updated

August 7th, 2017 | 10 Comments »


Finishing The Upper Room, the area that honours my mother and her beliefs, was one of my goals for 2017.  I started work on the area last summer, hoping to finish then, but everything took longer than expected. This year, the sand-blasted panels that are the central feature were installed in the spring, the area was planted in early summer, and the final elements were added in July.

The dogwood screen remains the crowning glory. It stands at the uppermost of three levels, defining the space without closing it in. I’m particularly happy with the way the sand-blasted panels reflect what’s behind the viewer and simultaneously give a view through to the woodland beyond. Add the beauty of the dogwood tree and over-sized petals, drawn by Mary Martha Guy, and the skill of the sandblasting done by the Montreal company Vitrerie VM and you have something special indeed.


The spreading tree suggests Virginia and a mother's embrace.
The spreading limbs of a dogwood tree remind me of Virginia and my mother’s out-stretched arms.


I’m even happier with the way the different elements of The Upper Room work together to create a space that accomplishes everything I wanted.


An overview, looking towards the dogwood panels.
An overview, looking towards the dogwood screen, shows the benches I designed. Perspective distorts the relative size of the benches and the dogwood panels, making the benches look larger and the panels smaller than they actually are.


The plantings in and around the Upper Room are complete, for this year at least. In front of the dogwood panels is Gaultheria procumbens, a species indigenous to northeastern North America, also known as eastern teaberry, checkerberry, boxberry, or American wintergreen.  Boxwood is the primary plant, though, currently providing a backdrop to bleeding heart( Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’).


The boxwood came from the Egg, as this area used to be called. I will shape it into balls as it grows.
The boxwood came from the Egg, as this area used to be called. I will shape it into balls as it grows.


Surrounding the area I’ve used native ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) transplanted from the forest. These ferns, commonly called Christmas ferns because they remain green all year long, feel very comfortable in the space. I also like the evergreen symbolism — it seems appropriate for The Upper Room.


These native ferns are commonly called Christmas ferns because they remain green year round.
These native ferns grow abundantly throughout our woods. I plan to add more in the next few weeks.


About a month ago I added columnar yews (Taxus hicksii) to rise like pillars at the four corners of the ‘room’, and underplanted them with Waldsteinia fragaroides, or barren strawberry.  I didn’t plan to use yew since the deer like it, but no other plant offered as many of the qualities I was looking for. When I found four tall, handsome specimens, the choice was unavoidable.


Yews planted in boxes at the front and back of the central area will be pruned into columnar shapes.
Yews planted in boxes at the front and back of the central area will be pruned into columnar shapes. The barren strawberry plants will spread to cover the soil.


Choosing yews, though, meant we needed a fence.

We built the fence in June, following the style used at the shrub borders in the Upper and Lower Fields and in the Asian meadow. As they do elsewhere, these fences accomplish their purpose while almost disappearing. I wasn’t happy at first by the idea of a fence but I find I like it. It defines the space and sets it off from the surrounding woods, making the ‘room’ feel even more distinct and room-like.


Looking down on The Upper Room, the fence almost disappears.
This view from above The Upper Room shows how an almost invisible fence sets the area off from the forest around it.


As a final touch I designed two benches resembling church pews. They were beautifully made of white oak by a local craftsman, Mario Vaillancourt. Placed facing each other, the benches provide a comfortable place to sit. More significantly, their quiet dignity reinforces a sense of peace that permeates The Upper Room.


A friend suggested leaving the open space between the seat and the back rest of the bench, allowing a view of the woods behind. I happily used his suggestion.
We’ll probably bring the benches inside during the winter. If not, they will definitely be covered to protect them from snow and ice.


Depending how plants fare through the winter months, I may need to tweak the selection next year but for now this area is complete. I am very happy with the results, whether looking towards the dogwood screen or in the opposite direction.


A view towards the lake.
A view towards the lake shows how dense the forest around The Upper Room is — the lake itself can’t be seen.


Next week I plan to assess progress with the other goals I set for myself. But what about you? Are you achieving your garden goals or simply enjoying a summer break?

You are Invited!

July 23rd, 2017 | 6 Comments »
It's less than a week until our second annual Open Garden Day. I'm ready for it, bilingual volunteers are prepped, and the garden is looking fine. So I hope I'll see you here, next Saturday between 10 and 4. There's no need to reserve a spot, and all are welcome, with admission payable on site. (No dogs or picnics, please.) Here are the details.     And here's a preview of what you'll see. The Cascade by the house ...   [caption id="attachment_5399" align="aligncenter" width="1425"] The yellow Ligularia add a nice


What a Difference a Month Makes

July 17th, 2017 | 26 Comments »
Looking beyond the nepeta you can see how the Big Meadow is coming along.
Yesterday was Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. The 15th of the month is when garden bloggers from around the world post photos of what is blooming in their garden. (Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this meme.) I haven't been doing this, and I'm not sure I will in the future. But I can't resist showing off one particular bloom at Glen Villa, my garden in rural Quebec. The flower I'm showcasing is Nepeta recemosa 'Walker's Low.' It's a cliché to say that a plant is blooming its heart out,


Vancouver Gardens

July 10th, 2017 | 14 Comments »
this Japanese maple is in my brother-in-law's garden, a beautifully cool and shady spot.
I'm on my way back to Quebec now, after five days in Vancouver. It's been a terrific trip. The weather has been spectacular and the opening of my exhibition, Clichés to Live By, was a huge success -- lots of people of all ages and lots of positive feedback. Along with visits to the Winsor Gallery to see the show, I've been walking around Kitsilano, the area of Vancouver where I stayed. 'Kits' was named after a Squamish chief, August Jack Khatsahlano. Once it was a dense wildlife-filled forest; now Craftsman-style houses


Garden Visitors

June 27th, 2017 | 12 Comments »
I want to add a tall spiky plant that pops up through the Nepeta at occasional spots and tones in with the barberry and rusty steel.  I'm trying several possibilities this year, including early summer blooming Eremurus 'Cleopatra.' I've ordered the bulbs for fall planting.
This week the first group of gardeners will be coming to tour Glen Villa. Forty plus members of the Ottawa Garden Club will spend the morning  here, on what I'm hoping will be a sunny day. They are coming at a good time -- the garden is looking fabulous. I rarely write a blog post that's only about flowers, but this week the blooms are so spectacular that it's worth showcasing their beauty. The Aqueduct, where last year I added Nepeta 'Walker's Low', Ruby Carousel barberry and Porteranthus (formerly Gillenia trifoliata) to existing boxwood balls,


Garden Envy

June 20th, 2017 | 19 Comments »
The Upper Field at Glen Villa is a what dieticians argue against, butter spread thick on the ground.
Coming home from a tour of English gardens I felt a short, sharp shock. Everything in my garden looked inadequate, not up to the standard I had come to expect. I moped. I complained. Why can't I grow the hundreds of plants I saw and admired?  Some of them must surely suit my climate. So why don't the garden centres around Glen Villa stock them? Then I faced the facts. My garden will never match the perfection of an English estate that employs six or seven full time gardeners.  The garden centres will


The flowers that bloom in the spring, Tra-la

May 9th, 2017 | 8 Comments »
untitled (5 of 20)
Gilbert and Sullivan got it right when they wrote about spring flowers. The flowers that bloom in the spring, Tra la, Breathe promise of merry sunshine — As we merrily dance and we sing, Tra la, We welcome the hope that they bring, Tra la, Of a summer of roses and wine. Right now, I'm dancing and singing. Because everywhere at Glen Villa, spring flowers are blooming. Daffodils galore brighten the path to the China Terrace ....   [caption id="attachment_5129" align="aligncenter" width="1319"] We planted these daffodils about fifteen years ago. The


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


Looking Back and Forth

December 31st, 2016 | 10 Comments »
Since I didn't do anything about new pots, I shouldn't have a photo to illustrate this goal. But I did use Mandeville vines on the living room deck. I've had these same plants for ten years or so, and they continue to provide abundant blooms and colour.
Last December I took the risky step of setting goals for 2016. So as that year ends and 2017 begins, it's time to assess. How much of what I wanted to do did I actually accomplish? 1. The Cascade: As intended, I modified the plantings around The Cascade. I reduced the number of different types of plants, improved the drainage and the soil in the beds themselves. As a result, the plants flourished and I was content. But of course there are always reservations. The Weigela 'Wine and Roses' needs another year


When Less is More

December 5th, 2016 | 25 Comments »
water meadow clean up
Is less more? I associate the familiar phrase with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the founders of modern architecture and a proponent of simplicity of style. But when I went to confirm this, I found to my surprise that the phrase was first used in print in Andrea del Sarto, a poem by Robert Browning. Who strive - you don't know how the others strive To paint a little thing like that you smeared Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,- Yet do much less, so much less, Someone