Category Archives: Quotations

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, generating ideas and actions. If looking back were my only motivation, though, I doubt I’d be satisfied. Looking forward matters. And the question I’ve been asking myself more and more often in recent days is this:  how has the past shaped the present landscape at Glen Villa — and perhaps more sigificantly —  how do my actions today shape its future?

Several decades ago, my sister-in-law arranged through a  government program to have trees planted on land that once had been farmed. Remnants of that farming history remained then, and still remain today. Most prominent is the foundation of a building, tilting earthwards more and more each year.


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I remember only vaguely the barn it was part of. I don’t remember at all the other sign of the farm-that-was, a moss-covered stone wall, now collapsing and overgrown with trees, that once divided two plowed fields.


Once I dreamed of exposing the length of this wall and planting sunny spots with lilac bushes. I doubt this will ever happen. but wouldn't it be beautiful?
Once I dreamed of exposing the length of this wall and planting sunny spots with lilac bushes. I doubt this will ever happen. but wouldn’t it be beautiful?


Sometime in the 1980s, the fields were harrowed and prepared for trees to be planted. Spruce and pine seedlings were mechanically added in tidy rows in one area, and oaks and a few black walnut trees in another. Over the years the hardwoods have grown tall and thin.


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The oaks look like they’ve been iced with snow. Scenes like this are typical of Quebec’s Eastern Townships in the winter.


The softwoods have branched out. Now they are a forest, beautifully atmospheric in some lights …


Believe it or not, this photo was not taken in winter but in mid summer.
Believe it or not, this photo was not taken in winter but in mid summer.


… and simply dark in others, even when shafts of light struggle to break through.


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Branches that scratch and catch on clothes make it difficult to walk through the spruce trees except on the path we cut.


Over the years I’ve walked this land hundreds of times, by myself and with others.


This photo of my husband and our oldest grandchild was taken 11 years ago. I love looking at it and remembering that particular day.
This photo of my husband and our oldest grandchild was taken 11 years ago. I love remembering that particular day and the people we were then.


The trees were planted to be cut and this year, for the first time, we began to do that. We aren’t clear-cutting the area but removing selectively, taking down dead trees along with the largest of the living. Jacques Gosselin and Ken Kelso, the two men who I consider my right and left hands, choose which trees to cut, limbing them up and burning small side branches as they go.


Once Jacques and Ken remove the side branches, they cut the trunk into the 8 or 12 foot lengths that sawmills are looking for.


The fire is a nice source of warmth on cold days …


The fire never gets out of control and the surrounding woods are not threatened.
The fire never gets out of control and the surrounding woods are not threatened.


… and the smoke it produces streaks the air.


Smoke from the fire is transformed by sunbeams.
Smoke lit by the sun transforms darkness into romance.


Cutting these trees is not a money-making project. By the time salaries are paid and the cost of equipment and transport to the sawmill are taken into account, we barely break even. But making money isn’t the purpose. Making the forest a more beautiful and more usable space is.

The rows that were planted 30 or 40 years ago are still visible in most areas, and loosening that straitjacket is one of my aims.


Another summertime photo that looks like it was taken in winter.
Straight rows are unnatural in a forest.


Removing even a few large trees lets in more light which means that smaller trees will grow more quickly. And because the light is uneven, some will grow more quickly than others, beginning the process of letting the woods find their own way forward.


More trees have been cut in this section than in most, to allow access for the tractor that pulls the limbed-up trunks to a central collection point.
More trees have been cut in this section than in most but even here, trees will begin to fill in the gaps in a year or two.


Jacques and Ken drag the bare tree trunks out of the woods and divide them into piles by length, 8 or 12 feet long. In a week or two the wood will be at the sawmill where it will be sawed into boards.


Snow caps the piled up tree trunks.
Snow caps the piled up tree trunks.


Seeing the tidy stacks, I ask myself a variation of the question I started with.  What effect do my actions have on the future? Am I making the land more usable by cutting these trees?  Am I making the forest more beautiful? Biologists say that the forest knows how to take care of itself, but this isn’t a natural forest, it is an artificial construct.  So I hope the effects of my actions will be positive. Only time will tell.


Ruins and Recoveries

December 30th, 2020 | 7 Comments »
A triumphal arch, Roman style, was part of the landscape at Painshill, an early 18th century garden in England.
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.


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.



October 27th, 2020 | 12 Comments »
This is how the rock looked in 2013, before I started on the trail extension.
"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


Bosco della Ragnaia: A Garden for the Mind

July 13th, 2020 | 6 Comments »
This overview of the sunny side of Bosco della Ragnaia illustrates how the garden maker has played with perspective and historic precedence.
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.


Plus ça change…

April 9th, 2019 | 11 Comments »
April 1, 2016 (1 of 1)
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]


Listening to Winter

January 30th, 2019 | 8 Comments »
The Abenaki were the original inhabitants of the Eastern Townships of Quebec. This part of my installation, Abenaki Walking, shows the period after the arrival of Europeans, when barbed wire impeded the movement of Abenaki across the land.
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,


Topiary for the Holidays

December 14th, 2018 | 8 Comments »
Each bird is slightly different, and each has its own personality.
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


As the Garden Turns

April 22nd, 2018 | 12 Comments »
This garden in the Eastern Townships has a splendid view out over the countryside.
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


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