Category Archives: Reviews

Veddw House Garden

May 22nd, 2017 | 6 Comments »


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 for what came before. And significantly, that respectful attitude, felt throughout the garden, highlights the design talents of its creators.

English gardens that nod to the past are a commonplace but Veddw is no ordinary garden. A bench at the entry to the garden announces the difference, first in its shape and colour and then in the words that appear on the back, names used for the property over several centuries.


Veddw, Vedda, Fedw: from 1534 to 1947, the spelling has changed but the sound has remained much the same.
Vedow,, Veadow, Fedw, Vadda, Veddw. From 1569 to 1947, the spelling has changed but the sound remains much the same.


At the edge of  a wild garden, headstones give alternate names for people and areas nearby.


Barely visible is a wonderfully evocative name: Belchey Bernard. Not sure I'd want him as a neighbour.
Barely visible is a wonderfully evocative name: Bulchey Bernard. And why Hatter’s Patch? Were hats made there by Mr. Bernard?


Veddw and its designers do more, though, than show respect for the past. The garden they have created is very much of the present, yet it draws on ideas of time and change that are common to gardens everywhere. Attention to detail is evident throughout… not in the ordinary ‘garden variety’ way where all is neat and tidy, with no weeds apparent, but in the subtlety with which design creates meaning and significance.

Every garden design manual will advise repeating plants, colours and shapes, stressing that repetition holds a garden together, gives it coherence. And I agree. But too often, repetition of the sort advised hits you in the face, as if carbon paper had been pressed over a good idea and then imprinted mindlessly from one area to another.

Not so at Veddw. Here, the garden coheres through a more nuanced approach.  The curve of hedges is repeated in the roofline of what once was a tiny stone house.  The curve of the entry bench is echoed in the curves of a bench by a reflecting pool, but here the curve is modified with a dip that suggests what is about to come.


Black water reflects an overcast sky.
Black water reflects an overcast sky. Water features, each different in size and shape, repeatedly bring the sky onto the ground, another subtle repetition.


For me, the marvel at Veddw is the Hedge Garden. Designing interlocking hedges that appeal from every direction is a challenge that designer Anne Wareham has met, seemingly with ease. At the entry to the garden, a visitor encounters a genuine Wow! moment. Stretched across the valley below are scalloped-topped hedges set against flat-topped ones. Shades of green repeat and shift, balanced with touches of maroon and rust. Cones in the foreground are echoed by square columns in the distance. And all this energy is anchored by a calm backdrop of trees that promise a garden of a different sort.


Intricately interwoven of shapes, with flat and scalloped tops, cones and columns, are made even more intricate with different plants and colours.
Intricately interwoven shapes, with flat and scalloped tops, cones and columns, are made even more intricate with different plants and colours. While they are barely visible in this photo, the yew columns on the far hillside to the left were one of my favourite features.


To create a view this satisfying from one angle isn’t easy. To make it equally satisfying from the opposite direction adds another level of difficulty. Wareham has met the challenge and succeeded.


A view from the hillside opposite the entry shows a tiny entry into the Pool Garden.
A view from the hillside opposite shows the bench listing Veddw’s various names at the top of the photo. In the foreground you can see a tiny entry into the Pool Garden.


In the Pool Garden, the interwoven hedges become a complex play of curves. Do they rise and fall like waves on a distant sea or do they mimic the rising and falling hills that surround Veddw?  No matter. Their reflections in the dark water form an inverted goblet that spills out an invitation to enter the underwater world beyond.


These hedges were tiny when planted. Very tiny -- about ankle high. Getting the proportions right must have been a nightmare.
These hedges were tiny when planted. Very tiny — about ankle high. Getting the proportions right must have been a nightmare.


A path continues around the reflecting pool to enter the Hedge Garden. Turning a corner, waves appear again, this time in a contrasting colour — the fresh green of boxwood set against the darker tones of yew.


The curving waves appear again on a side hedge.
The curving waves appearing on a side hedge draw you into the garden world beyond.


The magic of Veddw continues in the adjacent woods …


A twisted tree watches over a peaceful fern-filled valley. The bluebells were past their peak but still gave off a hint of blue.
A twisted tree watches over a peaceful fern-filled valley. The bluebells were past their peak but still gave off a hint of blue.


… where the ruins of an old farm building, once in the middle of an open field, have become a mysterious shrine.


A utilitarian hut changes its character when softened and romanticized with moss. The columns hint at some grander past, now cloaked with mystery.
A utilitarian stone hut changed its character when softened and romanticized with moss. The columns hint at some grander past, now cloaked in mystery.


There is much more to Veddw than hedges and romantic woods. There are open sunny borders, a delightful garden stuffed with cardoon and shaped boxwood, a meadow walk and a white Clematis montana so tall it might almost be visible from outer space.

But for me, a highlight was the use of words throughout the garden. (Those of you who read this blog regularly, or who read ThinkinGardens, Anne Wareham’s internationally acclaimed blog, will be familiar with this quirk of mine. You can read A Matter of Words here.)

Hatter’s Patch and Bulchey Bernard are only two of many ways that words are used to link the garden to a wider world. A quotation from Wordsworth’s poem about nearby Tintern Abbey appears on a wooden bench, connecting the garden to the fields around. (“These hedgerows, hardly hedgerows, little lines of sportive wood run wild…”)  T.S. Eliot is quoted on an irregular stone, the words suggesting the progression that occurs when past and present, repeated, are brought together in new ways.


New timbers, new buildings, new ideas.
Old stone to new building: a repurposed stone provides a suitable place for a repurposed  quotation from “East Coker,” one of Eliot’s Four Quartets.


A small, weathered plaque attached to a tree speaks to what a garden is, or can be. At Veddw, the words articulate what the garden says: past is present, present, past. The future is still becoming.


This quotation from .S. Eliot encapsulates a crucial component of the garden at Veddw.
This quotation from Burnt Norton, the first of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, encapsulates a crucial component of the garden at Veddw. And of every garden worth its name.


Veddw is open on Sunday afternoons in June and July and from August 2-5. Groups of ten or more are welcome by prior arrangement from May to September.

If you have the chance, go. This is a garden worth the detour.


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.


Reading the Garden

January 17th, 2017 | 15 Comments »
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


Melvin Charney’s Garden in the City

November 28th, 2016 | 10 Comments »
A grassy meadow abuts a busy Montreal street.
Melvin Charney’s garden made for the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal is firmly and unequivocally a city garden. It is surrounded by traffic on all sides, rising up from a piece of land lost between the entry and exit ramps of a busy expressway. It is composed of elements found in many gardens -- plants, sculptures and the fragments of buildings -- yet it combines them in a way that makes this garden unlike any other I know.   [caption id="attachment_4713" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] A grassy meadow abutting a busy Montreal street


Ascott: A Garden Review

October 25th, 2016 | 11 Comments »
The hours are shown in Roman numerals, the text in block letters circling behind.
Note: Recently I became aware of a technical glitz that was causing problems with the delivery of this blog. It has now been resolved. To those of you reading a blog post for the first time, even if you subscribed many months ago -- my apologies for the delay and welcome to the Site and Insight blog! I welcome your comments.   "It is magnificent. It is what God would have done if he had the money."   I don't know whose garden Noel Coward was describing when he penned those words, but you


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"]