Category Archives: Reviews

Metis International Garden Festival

August 22nd, 2017 | 3 Comments »

 

Recently I visited the International Garden Festival at Metis, Quebec. I’ve attended the Festival many times since it first opened in 2000, but in previous years I’ve gone with adults. This year was special — I went with two teenage granddaughters.

 

The festival installations are adjacent to the St. Lawrence River.
The festival gardens are adjacent to the St. Lawrence River in a part of Quebec that offers much to explore.

 

Playsages, the theme for this year’s Festival, was a good fit for the three of us. The word is a mash-up of languages, blending ‘play’ with the French word for landscape (paysage). While I’d happily attend the festival any year, this theme told me to make the trip this year, and to take along some younger eyes.

It was a great decision. Six of the 25 gardens on view are new this year, and of these our joint favourite was The Woodstock. This interactive installation is simple in concept and engaging in practice. Both girls climbed up and down the tree stumps, playing a teenage version of King Queen of the Castle. I admired the way the stacked stumps of varying heights defined the space, creating a playground that simultaneously provoked exploration and contemplation.

 

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Designed by Atelier Yok Yok, this installation was inspired by the stacks of wood gathered by loggers. Pushing the idea, the installation can be seen as an echo of the life cycle of a forest as it is affected by human beings.

 

Not surprisingly, the girls liked the interactive projects the best. They liked splashing around in a shallow pool, wearing the rubber boots provided (Se Mouiller (La Belle échappé) by Groupe A/Annexe U.)  They liked walking through the woods to the quiet spot where a swing hanging from a tree gave a nod to solitary enjoyment (Haiku, by Francisco A. Garcia Pérez & Alessandra Vignotto.) They liked making patterns in the gravel (Around-About, by Roy Talmon & Noa Biran) and loved lying flat on their backs, looking up at the trees and listening to the sound of bells ringing in the wind.

I was equally enchanted by Soundcloud, where the mixed music of the wind and the bells established a dialogue between natural and artificial sounds. The bell-shaped flowers planted around a white cloud-like pouf added a visual element that mirrored this mix.

 

Soundcloud, by , combined natural and created sounds. A round puffy white cloud offered a comfortable place to relax.
Soundcloud, by Johanna Balhaus and Helen Wyss, used ‘bell flowers’ planted in the ground and hung on branches. Each bell produced a different sound.

 

I was less enthralled by I Like to Move It. The girls had fun with this garden, pushing a full-sized tree back and forth along a trench. (The best part, they said, was leaving the tree smack in the middle of a path, forcing people either to walk around it or to move it back into its ‘proper’ place.) For me, though, this installation was a disappointment, despite the fact that the idea of moving trees around and forming different relationships is appealing.  Reasons for my reaction are easy to identify. This installation is in its third year and the wear and tear is showing. One of the original three trees is dead and what used to be a seemingly wild meadow is now a platform covered with wood chips, with the mechanics too obviously visible.

 

Pushing a full-sized tree along a track was fun. Leaving the full-grown tree in the middle of the path was the best bit, according to the girls.
Pushing a full-sized tree along a track was fun but you really need three trees to set up design relationships.

 

We all liked Making Circles in the Water, by Balmori Associates, now in its 7th year. This series of circles leading towards the St. Lawrence River is a successful experiment in seeing, focusing the view and visually connecting the forest to the water. The installation engages the body as well as the eyes and mind; almost no one can resist walking through the circles, skipping and laughing as they do.

 

The optical illusion never fails to delight.
Now an eye-popping black and white, the panels were originally painted in shades of grey, less dynamic but more subtle. I’m not sure which I prefer.

 

Courtesy of Nature was another garden we all liked, not for its playful qualities but for the direct simplicity of its concept and the sense of reverence it established. This garden by Johan Selbing and Anouk Vogel encloses three tall trees in a black box open to the sky. The effect is to focus attention on what could easily be overlooked, to set apart a tiny piece of nature and thereby to transform it into a jewel-like work of art.

 

The black exterior walls blend into the forest; the white interior walls present the trees like works of art.
The black exterior walls blend into the forest; the white interior walls present the trees like works of art in a museum. Not surprisingly, the small evergreen has grown a foot or so since I saw this installation in 2013.

 

A perennial favourite is Hal Ingeborg’s Reflexions colorées, where semi-reflective tinted plexiglass confuses inside and outside views that change seasonally and with the time of day.

 

Which birch tree is where?
Which birch tree is where?

 

For sheer delight, though, our joint favourite of all the gardens was Vertical Line Garden, by Julia Jamrozik and Cory Kempster. I’m told that in previous years the streamers were black and white. While that choice may have been striking, the multi-coloured streamers were pure joy. Sitting on one of the pink chairs beneath was like being in the midst of a gentle hurricane, exciting but non-threatening. It helped that the wind was blowing regularly on the day we were there, but even with the lightest breeze, the streamers would have blown and flown.

 

Some answer must be blowing in the wind.
Was an answer blowing in the wind?

 

Some people question whether installations like these can be called gardens. Perhaps instead they should be asking how these installations modify our ideas about what a garden is, or can be. After all, who would have thought that rubber boots could make you think of bouquets of flowers,

 

Boots of all colours and sizes encouraged people to wade in the pool of Se mouiller.
Boots of all colours and sizes encouraged people to wade in the pool of Se mouiller.

 

or that elastic ribbons could create cat’s cradles in the sky?

Le bon arbre au bon endroit is another long-time installation, by NIP Paysage.
Le bon arbre au bon endroit is another long-time installation, by NIP Paysage.

 


Getting to the International Garden Festival at les jardins de Métis takes time — it is a 6 hour drive from Montreal or a 90-minute flight to the nearby town of Mont Joli. But it is well worth the effort. And in addition to the Festival, there is an historic garden that provides a richly traditional garden experience. I highly recommend both.

An Exchange of Views

June 23rd, 2017 | 9 Comments »
Topiary at Allt-y-bela was stunning.
What happens when two opinionated garden makers visit the garden of a Chelsea award-winning garden designer? Last month, Anne Wareham, Charles Hawes and I visited Allt-y-bela, the home of Arne Maynard, an author and prominent UK garden designer.  We spent several hours wandering around the impressive garden, located in Monmouthshire, Wales; Anne and I spent even more time several weeks later exchanging ideas and responses to what we had seen. Along with running her own garden, Veddw,  (in case you missed my review of Veddw, you can read it here), Anne edits the internationally

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Gardeners (and Gardens) to Remember

June 7th, 2017 | 14 Comments »
This garden by James Alexander Sinclair showed the relationship between sound and motion. Water gurgled and spouted in response to sound waves. Very ingenious.
I'm home again at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, after touring gardens in England. In ten days, the small group I was hosting visited 17 gardens, each special in its own way. Add in the Chelsea Flower Show and pre-tour visits to three other gardens and you can imagine the result: more photos and memories than a dozen blog posts can handle. Let me mention a few highlights. (More blog posts will come once I catch my breath and begin to assimilate all I saw.) The Chelsea Flower Show

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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

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The Spirit of Stone: A Book Review

April 10th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
The book is a useful primer on how to use stone in the garden.
I share something with Jan Johnsen, author of The Spirit of Stone -- a respect for stones and the qualities they bring to a landscape. At Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, I've used stones in paths, steps and walls. I've used them more unusually in the gabion walls of The Aqueduct and in the parking area in front of the house. [caption id="attachment_5034" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Gabion walls can be practical and aesthetically pleasing. A low pool can be attractive to a tiny granddaughter.[/caption]   Two stunning moss-covered rocks in the woods

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Experimenting Landscapes: A Book Review

March 13th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
This
Experimenting Landscapes: Testing the Limits of the Garden is the newest book about the International Garden Festival at Métis, Québec. Full of helpful insights from  the author Emily Waugh, the book presents photos and essays analyzing some of the Festival's experimental gardens. Focusing on a selection of gardens from the last ten years, the book suggests five categories or methods of investigation that help readers position the gardens within a larger context.   [caption id="attachment_4966" align="aligncenter" width="300"] This cover photo shows Courtesy of Nature, by Johan Selbing and Anouk Vogel. It is one of

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North

February 27th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
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North is a direction, an idea, an experience. North as designed by the architects Suresh Perara and Julie Charbonneau of the Montreal firm PER.CH is a triumph. Using familiar materials, PER.CH turns the idea of north on its head. Literally. Thirty-nine fir trees hang upside down from a metal framework, their soft green triangles pointing down to a bare Toronto beach.   [caption id="attachment_4945" align="aligncenter" width="2000"] Photo courtesy of Suresh Perara.[/caption]   North is one of eight installations that make up Winter Stations, an exhibition on the shores of Lake Ontario. Now

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Thinking about Gardens

February 13th, 2017 | 17 Comments »
This sign seen at the wonderful Italian garden Bosco della Ragnaia, created by Sheppard Craige, says it all: If not here, where?
After a short but enjoyable holiday in Florida, I'm back in Quebec. Moving from one weather system to another that is radically different strains the body and provokes obvious questions. Why leave ocean breezes for frozen lakes, or blue skies and green palm trees for white snow and grey skies?   [caption id="attachment_4918" align="aligncenter" width="600"] The angle of this photo tells you how hard I was working in Florida. Don't laugh: leaning back and doing nothing takes some doing. (Ok, not much.)[/caption]   It is cold here. And it keeps on snowing,

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Do You Care about Garden Trends?

January 30th, 2017 | 23 Comments »
I lifted from this photo from an on-line article in the English newspaper, The Telegraph. The cut-line that ran with the photo reads "This year, look out for cacti, price wars and carrot yoghrt," says Matthew Appleby.
Do you pay attention to garden trends or do you think they are a pile of baloney? Every year about this time, I read an article telling me what's in and what's out. Hot new plants are described. I read that there's a colour I can't live without, or that shrubs are making a comeback. (When did they ever go away?) These articles appear in magazines, newspapers and on-line sites in countries around the world.  Sometimes they are based on surveys, sometimes on opinions, sometimes on catchy phrases. Alliteration abounds. As do odd conclusions.

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Reading the Garden

January 17th, 2017 | 15 Comments »
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Those who can't garden, read. On grey winter days, nothing beats sitting by a fire and reading garden books. For the last few days, I've been devouring Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change. This 2016 publication by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher was top of my Christmas wish list; I'm only partway through but I'm enjoying every page. The book lays out sensible ways to garden ecologically, and, as it turns out, I was already applying its principles of natural evolution to guide the transformation of  the Big Lawn

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