Category Archives: Reviews

The Medicine Wheel and the Four Directions

September 20th, 2020 | 4 Comments »

Earlier this week I was fortunate to visit a new installation on the Tomifobia Nature Trail in the company of its creator, Paul-Conrad Carignan, and Paul’s partner, Sylvia Bertolini. Paul is a Metis Algonquin-Anishnabe Elder and the site he designed is dedicated to spiritual and healing teachings of the Indigenous Medicine Wheel and its four directions.

At a clearing beside the trail, located in Quebec’s Eastern Townships close to the border with the United States, large granite slabs, or stelae, rise up at the four directions. Each stone is engraved with an animal spirit and the teaching associated with that  direction.

The stone at the East depicts an eagle.

Paul-Conrad Carignan stands beside the eagle, the animal spirit that marks the East.
Paul-Conrad Carignan stands beside the eagle, the animal spirit that marks the East, the direction of new beginnings.


At the  South, the stone depicts a coyote.


The animal spirit for the South is a coyote.
The teaching for the south, the land of Coyote, is linked to adolescence and high energy.


That at the West shows a bear,


The bear is associated with
The bear is associated with middle age, quieter times and introspection.


… while that at the North shows a moose.


The moose is
The moose teaches about sharing knowledge and preparing for the end of the Earth Walk and the beginning of the Spirit Walk.


Together, the texts describe the Indigenous beliefs of unity and healing that make the experience of being inside the circle so powerfully positive.


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The circle is outlined with a variety of stones, each of which is interesting geologically, beautiful to look at and comfortable to sit on. The stones form the shape of a turtle, the ancient symbol for North America-Turtle Island; two distinctive stones suggest the turtle’s neck and head.


The white stone is the turtle's head. The neck stone is furrowed as the skin on the turtle's neck is.
The dark stone is wrinkled as a turtle’s neck is. The white stone is the turtle’s head.


During construction, Mr. Carignan performed various ceremonies, scattering sacred tobacco leaves at the base of the four Directional Stones and conducting a special Chanupa-Sacred Pipe inauguration ceremony when the last stone was installed.

Visiting the site with the designer and his partner was a special privilege. Paul explained the significance of the stones and the engravings and shared his personal stories about the inception of the project, its construction and installation. I sat on a stone as he and Sylvia drummed the turtle song, but I wasn’t simply a spectator. Instead I became a silent participant, feeling the drum beats as the turtle lumbered his way across the circle and into the woods.

Paul stretched the deer skin for his drum and holds workshops to teach others how to do the same. The colours represent the four directions: white for East, yellow for south, red for west and black (or dark blue) for north. The green earth surrounds them all.
Paul stretched the deer skin for his drum and holds workshops to teach others how to do the same.


The colours on Paul’s drum represent the four directions: white for East, yellow for South, red for West and black, or dark blue, for North. The green earth encloses them all.

The day we visited was bright and cool and cyclists and runners passed by regularly, using the trail as its owners, Sentiers Massawippi Inc., intended. One couple stopped to rest, another who had attended the opening ceremony stopped to offer congratulations and to praise the trail itself.

Two cyclists take a break, sitting on the stones that form the outline of a turtle.
Two cyclists take a break, sitting on two of the stones that form the outline of a turtle.


It is, indeed, a beautiful setting, on the edge of a forested precipice overlooking the river far below. The sense of peace and well-being I felt inside the circle tells me that the stones and their message is getting through as intended.

The new rest area opened on August 14. It is located 16.8 km. south of where the trail leaves Ayer’s Cliff, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. A second dedication ceremony will be held on September 30, when Mr. Carignan will be on site to explain the significance of the installation and share Drum songs.

If you are able to attend, I encourage you to do so. I hope you will experience, as I did, a moment of serenity in these troubled times.


A Three Part Garden

August 3rd, 2020 | 2 Comments »
Meagher, Timelines-010
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to visit a garden in the small village of North Hatley, Quebec, where I live, to see the work of garden makers Jane Meagher and Jean Vanaise. Here, over about ten years, they have transformed a one-acre town lot into a lushly varied garden. The transformation began when they decided to renovate and enlarge their house.  Before they began, the garden around the building was mostly grass plus a few bunches of flowers scattered more or less randomly. Not so today. Now their mini-paradise is set off from the street and


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.


Kiftsgate Court: A Garden Review

October 21st, 2019 | 17 Comments »
Oh, my. Luscious.
Kiftsgate Court is one of those English gardens included on many garden tours, in part because it is so conveniently located, just down the road from Hidcote, the iconic garden created by the Anglo-American Lawrence Johnston. The gardens at Kiftsgate were created over the last hundred years by three generations of women -- grandmother, mother and daughter -- each of whom made her own contribution to the garden as it is today. Renowned for the Kiftsgate rose, the garden contains some wonderful areas and some fine plantings, with sumptuous flowers like this one that


Haseley Court and Making History Visible

January 22nd, 2019 | 6 Comments »
The topiary chess set at Haseley Court was one of many things I admired there.
My last blog post, about making history visible and listening to the land, struck a chord.  Many readers responded via the Site and Insight web page or commented on Facebook and on the blog itself, saying they were touched by the piece. Several described how experiences in their pasts affected their responses today, both to their own garden and to gardens they visited. I know that is true for me. I grew up in Virginia, in a house with a big back yard where I could hide under bushes and pretend to be an explorer


Houghton Hall: A Garden Review

January 6th, 2019 | 8 Comments »
Add something about building
England has many fine gardens. Houghton Hall in Norfolk is one of the finest, offering a stimulating combination of horticulture, contemporary art and history that is far too much to absorb in a single visit. The most popular part of the garden is the five acre Walled Garden. Divided into contrasting areas, the Walled Garden contains a double-sided herbaceous border, an Italian garden, a formal rose parterre, fruit and vegetable gardens, a glasshouse, a rustic temple, antique statues, fountains and contemporary sculptures. With so many aspects, the area could feel muddled or over-crowded,


Monuments and Memorials

November 20th, 2018 | 6 Comments »
This statue on Richmond's Monument Avenue shows Robert E. Lee astride his horse Traveller.
Paintings on rock made by indigenous people many years ago give us insights into their daily life and the events and objects they valued. (I wrote about rock paintings here.) Monuments and memorials serve a similar purpose. So what do they show about what we value today? Traditionally monuments were erected to great men and generals who led us in war, and to those who fought and died. I grew up surrounded by this type of memorial. The statues of Confederate leaders that lined Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia left no doubt about


Garden Hits and Misses

September 30th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
The fountain rises 70 feet into the air. On a sunny day it is beautiful to see. It works via a remote control!
At home after three marvellous weeks visiting gardens (and  friends) in England, I find much to criticize in my garden. After many years of travelling, I've come to expect this -- and to accept that a garden in Quebec's harsh weather conditions will never resemble an English garden, with its lush foliage and flowers, topiary and ancient walls. I've also come to expect that gardens other than my own will disappoint me. On every tour I've hosted, there has always been one garden I particularly looked forward to seeing. On


Garden Centres and Garden Reviews

September 24th, 2018 | 10 Comments »
Gardening in Canada can be frustrating. The range of plants available through nurseries or garden centres is minuscule compared with the number available in England. And seeing so many wonderful cultivars that won't survive in my Quebec garden makes me envious of England's more temperate climate. Still, for anyone who loves plants, a visit to a garden centre is always a treat. The group I was hosting on my final garden tour spent a few happy hours wandering around the Burford Garden Company, an Oxfordshire-based enterprise. At this time of year


Oudolf at Pensthorpe

September 16th, 2018 | 10 Comments »
Over the last half dozen years or so,  I've visited several gardens in England designed by the Dutch plantsman, Piet Oudolf. These include Bury Court in Hampshire, Scampston Hall's Walled Garden in Yorkshire and Hauser & Wirth in Somerset. Because I've seen and enjoyed these gardens, I was eager to see Oudolf's Millennium Garden at Pensthorpe Natural Park in Norfolk. (A review of Scampston Hall's Walled Garden is here.) Pensthorpe was Oudolf's first commission in the U.K. Planted in 2000 and up-dated in 2008, the Millennium Garden is part of a larger natural reserve.