Category Archives: Reviews

Michiko’s Garden

September 10th, 2017 | 4 Comments »

Last week I visited a very special garden, where rock outcroppings enhanced with shade-loving plants create an atmosphere of deep serenity.


Polystichum, or Christmas fern, is found in shady woodlands throughout the Eastern Townships.
Polystichum, or Christmas fern, is found in shady woodlands throughout Quebec. Note the small patch of tiarella cordifolia, another indigenous plant, at the top of the photo.


Developed over the last fifteen years by designer Michiko Gagnon, the garden is at the end of a cul-de-sac in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, not far from the U.S. border. It’s an idyllic setting, with an old farmhouse that she and her husband, the artist Charles Gagnon, renovated some 40 years ago. Now, near the house at the edge of a sunny lawn, Michiko has placed two wooden chairs.


Who wouldn't want to linger in the shade here on a hot day, or in the sunshine when it is cool?
Who wouldn’t want to linger here in the shade on a hot day, or in the sunshine when it is cool?


The chairs face a typical Township’s view.  It isn’t grand or spectacular, rather it is gentle and comfortable, the sort of landscape you can relax into. But the view seems to stretch out forever, through farm fields to a dark green forest that merges seamlessly into rolling hills and shades of blue.


From Michiko's house the view extends for many miles.
From Michiko’s house the view extends for miles.


It’s hard for a garden to compete with that kind of pull, but Michiko’s garden succeeds. An intriguingly constructed fence is the first clue as to how it does this. Marking the division between domestic and wilder spaces and stopping the eye, the fence begs for closer inspection.


fence (1 of 1)
An irregular pattern of straight wooden sticks establishes a satisfying rhythm to this fence bult by local craftsman William Lucy.


And close inspection is key to the garden’s success. A fern placed in exactly the right spot draws the eye and enhances the beauty of a rippled rock.


Striations in the rock suggest ripples in a stream.
Striations in the rock suggest ripples in a stream. Who can explain what causes the different colours of rock, or why they are shaped as they are?


A sturdy tree growing on top of another rock appears even sturdier with a frothy green skirt of corydalis lutea at its feet.


Tall trees set off rocky outcroppings.
I was so intrigued by the plantings that I failed to note what kind of trees were growing.


Colour and texture provide subtle contrasts throughout. Set against the olive tones of a moss-covered rock is the fresher green of pennywort, or Cymbalaria muralis, one of many creeping plants that Michiko has used.


Who can supply the name of this lovely little plant?
Pennywort goes by many different names. It isn’t indigenous but has naturalized throughout most of North America.


The subtle coloration of Diervilla and its tiny yellow blossom add a point of light in the deep shade.


The tiny blossom of Diervilla, another indigenous plant, gives a point of light in the shade.
This is the straight variety of Diervilla, not one of the newer cultivars. It was planted by the invaluable Marie-Josée Laurin, Michiko’s knowledgeable assistant.


Dark mulch on planted areas allow subtle differences in shades of green to emerge.


Trees, rocks, carefully chosen plants: these make Michiko's garden special.
Geranium robertianum is one of many indigenous plants that make Michiko’s garden special.


Not all the plants are indigenous but all are chosen for their particular colour, texture or shape.


Saruma henryii feels right at home in Michiko’s garden. And don’t you love the heart-shaped leaves?


Tree stumps gathered from surrounding woods add a timeless quality to the garden. Were the stumps below once trees growing in place, or were they brought in from somewhere else? It’s hard to know. But whichever, their presence makes the garden feel as if it has always been here.


Were these stumps once trees growing in place or were they brought in from somewhere else? It's hard to tell.
By this time of year in Quebec, many plants have been cut back hard. But the maidenhair ferns in the background were still in their full glory.


Each season has its star performers — blue Siberian iris in early summer, Japanese anemones in late.


The light wasn't great when I took this photo -- but believe me, the anemones were a soft pink cloud rising above the hard grey stone.
The light wasn’t great when I took this photo — but believe me, the anemones were a soft pink cloud rising above the hard grey stone.


But the stars never throw the garden off balance. This is the second time I’ve visited Michiko’s garden, and on both visits I’ve been struck by its restraint. This isn’t an ‘in your face’ garden, it’s a garden of nuance, where subtleties have room to shine.

Both visits have been at the end of summer, when the garden isn’t at its best. Or so Michiko claims. I found it quite splendid both times, but next summer I vow to return earlier, to see if she is right. And to sit once again to enjoy the garden’s peace.


Michiko Gagnon relaxing in the garden.
Michiko Gagnon relaxing in the garden.




Metis International Garden Festival

August 22nd, 2017 | 6 Comments »
The optical illusion never fails to delight.
  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.   [caption id="attachment_5512" align="aligncenter" width="1425"] The festival gardens are adjacent to the St. Lawrence River in a part of Quebec that offers much to explore.[/caption]   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


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


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


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


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


Experimenting Landscapes: A Book Review

March 13th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
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



February 27th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
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


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,


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.