Category Archives: Quotations

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.

The Past as Prelude

February 1st, 2021 | 1 Comment »
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,

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Ruins and Recoveries

December 30th, 2020 | 7 Comments »
What can we say about 2020? Queen Elizabeth's Annus Horribilis comes to mind. So does the subject of ruin -- personal and business ruin, political ruin and the final ruin, death, which came this year for hundreds of thousands of people, more than we imagined possible when the pandemic began. But, Janus-like, ruins have a positive as well as a negative face. It may seem contradictory but history and the evidence of my own eyes tell me that to contemplate ruins is to contemplate the future as well as the past.

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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.

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Continuum

October 27th, 2020 | 12 Comments »
"There is often a huge difference between an idea and its realization. Ideas must be put to the test. That's why we make things, otherwise they would be no more than ideas." Andy Goldsworthy's words ring true for me. I have more ideas than I can realize, certainly more than I can act on in my lifetime.  Folders splitting at the seams contain scribbled thoughts and doodles, pages torn from magazines, projects detailed but never executed. So when I begin to translate an idea into the reality that Goldsworthy speaks

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Bosco della Ragnaia: A Garden for the Mind

July 13th, 2020 | 6 Comments »
Gardens and the peace they can bring are much on my mind today, as the number of people infected with COVID-19 continues to grow.  It is a fact that gardens can heal the body as well as the mind. Research from around the world tells us that even brief contacts with nature are beneficial, lowering blood pressure and reducing stress as effectively as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression. Almost any reconnection with nature has a powerful physical and mental healing effect, even something as simple as weeding a flower bed.

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Plus ça change…

April 9th, 2019 | 11 Comments »
This winter feels interminable. Surely in earlier years daffodils have been blooming by now, snowdrops long gone. Well, no. It's true that in some years snowdrops have appeared by this date.   [caption id="attachment_7384" align="aligncenter" width="1353"] These snowdrops were shivering in the cold on April 1, 2016.[/caption]   Crocus have bloomed.   [caption id="attachment_7387" align="aligncenter" width="3648"] These crocus were lighting up the hillside on April 4, 2010.[/caption]   Pulmonaria have added their touch of colour.   [caption id="attachment_7394" align="aligncenter" width="2384"] This pulmonaria or lungwort was blooming on April 4, 2010.[/caption]

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Listening to Winter

January 30th, 2019 | 8 Comments »
On a winter day when temperatures throughout Mid and Eastern North America are plummetting, it is difficult not to project human emotions onto the landscape.  How can winter be so cruel and miserable? A poem by the American poet Wallace Stevens suggests we should think more objectively about what we see outside our door. The Snow Man One must have a mind of winter To regard the frost and the boughs Of the pine-trees crusted with snow; And have been cold a long time To behold the junipers shagged with ice,

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Topiary for the Holidays

December 14th, 2018 | 8 Comments »
Do Christmas trees qualify as topiary? We never think of them as such but they fit the definition -- the Oxford dictionary calls topiary the "art or practice of clipping shrubs or trees into ornamental shapes." And surely Christmas trees don't grow naturally into the perfect cones commonly seen but have been pruned and clipped to shape them.   [caption id="attachment_5888" align="aligncenter" width="2099"] This cone-shaped spruce tree is attached to the chimney stack at Glen Villa. It hangs right outside our front door.[/caption]   As a young gardener, I disliked topiary, thinking that it was a distortion

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As the Garden Turns

April 22nd, 2018 | 12 Comments »
Does your garden turn its face to the world or does it veil it off?  The difference says a lot, about you and the style of your garden -- and about the spirit of the times. Recently I spoke to several groups about how to get the most out of garden visits.  Learning to Look: the Art of Garden Observation considers what it takes to really see a garden. A handout for the talk asks some key questions, starting with the garden's context.  How does it relate to the world around it? Is it open to its surroundings or closed off? Topography

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