Category Archives: Reviews

Malverleys: A Garden of Contrasts

November 27th, 2017 | 17 Comments »

Winter is almost here in Quebec, which means that not much is going on in the garden at Glen Villa. So instead of moaning about that, I’m remembering one of the gardens I visited in England last May.

Malverleys is a large private estate, rarely open to the public, so the small group of gardeners who were on the tour I was hosting was fortunate to be able to visit. We were doubly fortunate to tour the garden in the company of Mat Reese, the head gardener. Anyone who subscribes to Gardens Illustrated, or reads it regularly, may recognize his name — Mat writes ‘Plantsman’s Favourites’, several pages near the front of each issue in which he recommends special plants for each season.

The garden he is in charge of uses contrast as its central idea. Understandably, because Malverleys is a garden of extremes. Old trees tower over a new garden, and recently created views frame a countryside that seems to have existed forever.

Malverleys also shows what can be accomplished when talent combines with wealth.  Working in conjunction with the owners, in a few short years Mat has created a garden that celebrates traditional Jekyll-inspired plantings, a style  he believes best suits the English countryside. But not content with imitating the past, he is constantly experimenting, and the results of his experimentation show what can happen when contrasts are pushed to the limit.

Easiest to identify (and to photograph) in the ten intensely gardened acres are the contrasts in colour. These range from sharp contrasts within a single border …

 

Vivid colours appear in the hot border. Contrasts are more subtle in the cool-toned border but are still dynamic and inventive.
Vivid colours appear in the hot border. Contrasts are more subtle in the cool-toned border but are still dynamic and inventive.

 

… to contrasts within a single plant.

 

A splendid rose -- I wish I could remember the name.
A splendid rose — ‘For Your Eyes Only’.

 

Less obvious but equally effective are contrasts in texture and size.

 

Smooth and delicate white is set off by the big rough leaves in the pool garden.
Smooth and delicate white is set off by rough and pointed green in the pool garden.

 

When the owner acquired the property, none of the current gardens existed. Now open spaces are carefully balanced against closed ones, light against dark.

 

A sculpture by Mark Quinn provides a focal point to the open lawn and the fields beyond.
A sculpture by Mark Quinn provides a focal point for the open lawn and the fields beyond.

 

In contrast to open fields and a sunny lawn is a dark stumpery, full of mystery and ferns. Some forms are delicate …

 

I have no idea what kind of fern this is but I like it.
I have no idea what kind of fern this is but I like the sharp green frills of new growth.

 

…others bold.

 

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Tree trunks, tree roots and tree ferns line the crunchy gravel path.

 

Water is handled with equal care.  A large pot of water sits in a shallow pool, surrounded by beds thickly planted in cool colours.

 

A urn adds a focal point at the end of the path, one of four that centre on the circular pool.
A urn adds a focal point at the end of the path, one of four that centre on the circular pool.

 

A larger pool surrounded by more vibrant tones reflects the sky.

 

Reflections add another layer of enjoyment in the pool garden.
Reflections add another layer of enjoyment in the pool garden. Contrasts in colour, form and texture can’t be missed.

 

In a section of the garden still being constructed, water arcs from the sides of a rill to form circular patterns, while the sound of the splash adds a new note to the symphony of birds.

 

The temperature dropped noticeably once the water began to rise and fall.
The temperature dropped noticeably once the water began to rise and fall.

 

Throughout the garden, formality is contrasted with informality.  Beside the house a recently planted parterre combines yew, boxwood and hydrangea …

 

Annabelle hydrangeas will grow beside the yew columns that eventually will fill the boxwood circles.
Annabelle hydrangeas will grow beside the yew columns that eventually will fill the boxwood circles.

 

while in the walled garden there is a meadowy abundance.

 

A wonderfully informal planting in the white garden.
I liked this wonderfully informal planting in forms and tones of white.

 

Classically influenced statuary at the top of a low set of stairs sets one tone …

 

This pair of statues were typical of statuary that appeared in different garden rooms.
This pair of statues were typical of statuary that appeared in different garden rooms.

 

while designer chickens wandering through the garden set quite another.

 

King of the roost?
Whose garden is this anyway? The King of the Walk knows, and doesn’t mind telling visitors who’s the boss.

 

Mat Rees’s title is Director of Horticulture. This isn’t the title used in most gardens of this type, but at Malverleys, a title isn’t the only convention that has been given a twist. Topiary in a flowery meadow, for example. Christopher Lloyd’s garden Great Dixter famously had one, and Rees may well have worked on it when he was there. At Malverleys, the meadow combines the standard wildflowers with perennials and shrubs, and a topiary statue twists its way up amid the yews.

 

I failed to note the name of the sculptor. If anyone who recognizes the work, I'd like to know.
I failed to note the name of the sculptor. If anyone recognizes the work, I’d like to know.

 

A double border lining a bit of green lawn is a standard feature, a cliché too often made worse by unimaginative planting. Not so here.

 

Contrasts are everywhere.
The lawn is wider than most, and longer than many. The pool garden is at the far end.

 

An old stone path where cracks burst with thyme and self-sown plants is a commonplace that Rees has freshened, both with the variety and combination of plants he has chosen and with the broken pattern inserted in the walk.

 

This path looks as if it has been here forever but it was put in place only a few years ago.
The path may look as if it has been here forever but it was put in place only a few years ago.

 

And what self-respecting garden of this type excludes a white garden? The very name conjures romance in the moonlight, perfumed yet coolly restrained.

At Malverleys, the white garden is wild, unrestrained, punctuated with touches of colour, on the verge of tipping over into confusion.

 

White isn't the only colour that appears in the white garden but it dominates most beautifully.
White isn’t the only colour that appears in the white garden but it dominates most beautifully.

 

Can the same be said of the garden as a whole? Malverleys is a garden built on contrasts — between convention and experimentation, between restraint and lack thereof — and with contrasts as strong as these, finding a balance is essential. Establishing that balance isn’t easy; maintaining it is even harder. And I’m afraid that with the addition of one more thing, one more garden room, one more feature, the balance will be lost. A studied garden will fall over the top.

I hope I’m wrong, for the plans that Rees outlined for the future are exciting: a lake, an arboretum, a series of courses for those wanting to learn more. A few more years will tell the tale.

Michiko’s Garden

September 10th, 2017 | 4 Comments »
Striations in the rock suggest ripples in a stream.
Last week I visited a very special garden, where rock outcroppings enhanced with shade-loving plants create an atmosphere of deep serenity.   [caption id="attachment_5589" align="aligncenter" width="1425"] 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.[/caption]   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

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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

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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 »
north_5_small
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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