Category Archives: Quotations

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 can make an enormous difference. Properties with panoramic views rarely shut them out, particularly when they look out on a rural landscape.

St Pierre (1 of 1)
Sitting atop the hillside, residents of this house in Quebec’s Eastern Townships have a spectacular view across the countryside.


If the view is unattractive, however, the garden owner may want to block it out. Ugly walls, telephone poles, rooftops lined with satellite dishes: all interfere with a world view that excludes these urban elements.

Some gardens deliberately close themselves off from their surroundings, attractive or not, creating a private universe that holds the outside world at bay.


Other houses surround this densely planted Long Island garden.
From inside this densely planted garden, you’d never know that other houses are located close by.


Sometimes views are hidden, by accident or design.


Only the tiniest piece of the view here at The Fells, New Hampshire, is open.
Only the tiniest piece of the view here at The Fells, New Hampshire, is open.


Cutting the view of the surroundings turns the view in on itself. At Great Dixter, one of England’s finest gardens, the view of the surrounding fields is blocked by a line of cars.


Surely this isn't the only place to park a car!
Behind the cars is a quiet pastoral scene where sheep graze in green fields.


The effect of this is to turn the view and the viewer back towards the garden itself.


Hard to complain about having to look at a view
It’s hard to complain about having to look at a view like this.


The garden at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s house in Lennox, Massachusetts, exists in a bubble, disconnected from everything around it.


Tucked behind those tall trees at the end of the walkway is what could be a view of the surrounding landscape.
Tucked behind those tall trees at the end of the walkway is what could be a view of the surrounding landscape.


By hiding the view, the house and the people who live there take centre stage.


The house dominates the view from every part of the garden.
The house dominates the view from every part of the garden.


Contrast this inward-looking attitude with Sunnylands, the historic California estate of Walter and Leonore Annenberg. At Sunnylands, everything is directed outwards, across open lawns towards the towering, snow-capped San Jacinto mountains.


It would be impossible to hide the view of the mountains. And who would want to?
It would be impossible to hide the view of the mountains. And who would want to?


The difference in orientation reflects a difference in the spirit of the place and the spirit of the times. The names of the houses do the same. Following English and Italian models, The Mount stands above, expressing in its architecture Wharton’s ideas about order, scale and harmony. Sitting low to the ground and with glass walls that connect indoor and outdoor spaces, Sunnylands becomes an element of the landscape, one feature among many.

An openness to the surroundings characterizes many American gardens. Neighbourhood streets are lined with houses that may be divided, one from another, by hedges or low flower beds, as are these houses in Hanover, New Hampshire.


Several years ago, I was part of a small group from Montreal fortunate enough to visit several private gardens in New Hampshire and Vermont.
Several years ago, I was part of a small group from Montreal fortunate enough to visit several private gardens in New Hampshire and Vermont.


A different sense of neighbourliness can be found in British properties. This small town garden lies as close to its neighbour as the American garden does but separating the two English gardens is a tall stone wall.


The owners of this house are an artist and a photographer.
An artist and a photographer live here. Both are gardeners.


At Glen Villa, as in many larger properties, the view is open to the world in some spots and closed in others. For privacy, the view of our house from the lake is screened by trees planted many years ago by previous owners.


A few years ago we removed two pines that were dying and, as a result, opened up the view onto the lake.
A few years ago we removed two pines that were dying and, as a result, opened up the view onto the lake. But enough trees remain to provide privacy.


From inside the house and from most places in the garden, the view is open.


Lupin blooms wild on the bank of Lake Massawippi.
Lupin blooms wild on the bank of Lake Massawippi.


Historically, gardens were closed off from the outside world, for protection from animals or marauders. A change occurred in the 18th century in England, indicating a change in the way people related to their surroundings. Joseph Addison, writing in The Spectator in 1712, asked

“Why may not a whole Estate be thrown into a kind of garden by frequent Plantations, that may turn as much to the Profit, as the Pleasure of the Owner? … If the Natural Embroidery of the Meadows were helpt and improved by some small Additions of Art … a Man might make a pretty Landskip of his own Possessions.”

That’s what I’m aiming to do at Glen Villa, not to turn the landscape to profit but to turn it to art. I’ve written here about The Avenue, the allée of crabapple trees we planted last fall.  Public roads on two sides of The Avenue make the “pretty Landskip” visible to anyone passing by.


crabapples (1 of 1)
The snow has now melted, leaving the ground bare and very muddy.


Last week I made a short video about The Avenue that is now being shown on Garden Design’s Instagram page. As I write, almost 12,000 people have watched the 1 minute video. I hope you’ll join them, and join me as a subscriber to the magazine. It is an ad-free bundle of information, presented along with beautiful photographs.

I hope, too, that you’ll think about how your garden turns, to the world or away from it. Does it send the message you want it to send?

Veddw House Garden

May 22nd, 2017 | 18 Comments »
These hedges were tiny when planted. Very tiny --
 about ankle high. Getting the proportions right must have been a nightmare.
  I'm in England now, about to start on a ten-day garden tour. With my co-host Julia Guest of Travel Concepts in Vancouver, I will take a small group of women to the southwest of England.  But before hitting the road, let me whet your appetite with a review of an extraordinary garden I visited pre-tour. Veddw is the garden of Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes. Located in Wales, just across the border from England in an area of outstanding natural beauty, Veddw pays homage to its surroundings in ways that show respect


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"]


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


The Colours of Autumn

October 31st, 2016 | 12 Comments »
What an array of colours! The view looking out over the Big Meadow never fails to excite me.
I missed the peak of autumn colour this year in the Eastern Townships of Quebec -- where colours are as good as (or better than?) any place in North America -- because of some trips that took me away from home. So when a friend sent me a photo he took a week or so ago of the hills behind our house, I was delighted.   [caption id="attachment_4579" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Our house and boathouse on Lake Massawippi are dwarfed by the hills that rise behind.[/caption]   What a spectacle it was. Friends who were


Prospect Cottage: A Garden Review

October 12th, 2016 | 12 Comments »
The cottage retains its original strongly contrasting paint colours.
  The garden at Prospect Cottage, located in Kent on England's east coast, was created by the late Derek Jarmon, a filmmaker, diarist and early advocate of gay rights. It is a garden that sits lightly on the land while simultaneously conveying a powerful sense of place. It is also one that elicits a strong response from visitors. Either they like it or they don't, are intrigued by it or walk through quickly, dismissing what they see as a collection of rubbish with some flowers thrown in.   [caption id="attachment_4107" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]


Framing the View

August 16th, 2016 | 10 Comments »
A pair of trees frame a view. The mown path  directs your eye and your feet.
"No matter how panoramic its scope, a view of surrounding countryside becomes a genuine garden picture only when it has been framed." - Penelope Hobhouse Recently I came across this statement from the English garden writer and designer Penelope Hobhouse. I read it quickly, nodded in agreement, then paused and read it again. Did I agree? Does a view have to be framed in order to create a 'garden picture'? And what is a 'garden picture' anyway? a photograph of the garden or the picturesque scene itself? The more I considered the statement, the


The Kennedy Memorial at Runnymede

May 30th, 2016 | 13 Comments »
A river of cobblestones surrounds an uneven, curving path.
Memorials are tricky things to get right. In the past, when heroes were celebrated and the power of rulers was exalted in monuments that forced ordinary people to crane their necks skywards, understanding a memorial was easy. A man on horseback was a triumphant military leader. A statue elevated on a Greek-style plinth was a politician, or perhaps a king or queen. When the statue was part of a fountain or surrounded by figures of reclining women in various stages of undress, the message was probably one that celebrated the achievements of a country


Can spring be far behind?

April 5th, 2016 | 12 Comments »
Ice covers this stream in the woods.
Percy Bysshe Shelley knew a thing or two about spring. His Ode to the West Wind ends with a hopeful phrase: Be through my lips to unawakened Earth The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? At Glen Villa, the answer seems to be yes, it can be. Far too far behind. Is this April unseasonably cold? Perhaps not. But after a mild winter, and a few days of beautifully warm sunshine, my hopes were high. It seemed that the unawakened earth was awakening,


Is a Clearing in the Woods a Garden?

September 27th, 2015 | 13 Comments »
The trees were well identified.
"A natural clearing in a wood is a glade. But a perfectly round clearing the same size, in the same wood, becomes a garden."                                             ... Juan Grimm, Chilean landscape architect   Ten years ago, in March 2005, we planted a ring of trees in a clearing in the woods. The clearing had been used as a staging area the previous winter, a place where the trees we were selectively cutting were