Tag Archives: Bosco della Ragnaia

Thinking about Gardens

February 13th, 2017 | 17 Comments »

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?


The angle of this photo tells you how hard I was working at leaning back and doing nothing.
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.)


It is cold here. And it keeps on snowing, making thoughts of winter gardens a mockery. Not that cold is bad. In some ways of thinking, cold temperatures build character. They generate activity where warm climates generate sloth.

Don’t believe it. Cozying up by the fireplace is my favourite winter activity. It’s where I can focus on plans for the year ahead, considering plants I want to add or subtract, or simply dreaming of projects I’ll never even start.


Sunrise at Glen Villa... a good time for dreaming.
Sunrise at Glen Villa… a good time for dreaming.


Recently I’ve been doing more than dreaming, though. I’ve been focusing on a topic that engages my brain, my heart and my (metaphoric) pen.

Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I care about words and use them carefully. I try to avoid clichés and code phrases that hide what is really being said. (Hmmm… interesting.)  So when Anne Wareham, the editor of the challenging and entertaining English website ThinkinGardens, asked me to write about using words in the garden, I jumped at the chance.


This sign seen at the wonderful Italian garden Bosco della Ragnaia, created by Sheppard Craige, says it all: If not here, where?
Bosco della Ragnaia, a wonderful garden in Italy created by Sheppard Craige, uses words extensively. This sign in the garden says it all: If not here, where?


A Matter of Words is a lament. It is also a call to action. Words are rarely used in gardens today, and to my way of thinking this is a great loss. I’ve written about how I’m using words in the garden at Glen Villa (you can read that piece here) but the article in ThinkinGardens takes a longer, broader view.

I’m delighted that this provocative English blog has given me the chance to share my thoughts with a geographically wider audience. I’m pleased, too, at the reception the article is getting, and I say thank you to the many people who, having read my ideas on the subject, have subscribed to this blog.

ThinkinGardens is a garden website that I recommend whole-heartedly. It provides a matchless forum for exchanging ideas with people around the world who care about gardens and believe they are, or can be, about more than plants. As the website’s manifesto states,

“… today most people enthusiastically take gardens for granted, regarding them as an anodyne balm for the pressures of modern life and certainly not as a source of mental or artistic provocation. It is the object of the thinkingGardens group to reinstate gardens as a stimulus to pleasurable and productive debate and to foster gardens that offer deeper artistic expression.”

If you aren’t a subscriber to ThinkinGardens, I encourage you to subscribe. I think you’ll be pleased with the breadth and depth of the commentary. And if you disagree with what I’ve written in A Matter of Words, say so, on the ThinkinGardens site or here, on Site and Insight.

I welcome your reactions and your ideas. Do you believe that gardens ‘mean’ something and that words can enrich that meaning? Or do words in the garden distract?


Visiting Gardens: Nine Do’s and a Don’t

April 20th, 2016 | 10 Comments »
John Coke, owner of Bury Court in , has a wealth of knowledge about the plants in his garden which he freely shares.
Visiting gardens is one the joys of my life. For the last four years, I've been hosting small group tours to gardens in Britain and Italy, working alongside an outstanding professional travel agent based in Vancouver. Julia Guest at Travel Concepts does the detailed planning that is essential to ensure a good garden tour. Without her work, the tours couldn't happen. Without the cooperation of individual garden owners, the tours wouldn't be as inspirational. And without the companionship of the men and women who have been part of the tours, they


Allusions in the Garden

April 12th, 2016 | 13 Comments »
This statue of Hercules dominating his surroundings is at the entrance to Kykuit, the country house of the Rockefeller family. Allusions to power and dominance are obvious.
The most recent post on the excellent British website ThinkinGardens is about the use of allusions in gardens. Noel Kingsbury, one of three people taking part in the conversation, suggested that allusions were all well and good in gardens from other times and places but that in today's gardens, they are outmoded. "Allusion in the West which previous generations of artists and garden makers used was based on Classical and Christian mythologies. Very few of [us] are now conversant with either. So – first question – how do we create and use


Glass, Metal and Shadows

November 24th, 2014 | 2 Comments »
A shark flies through the air at Hatfield House in England.
Water and mirrors are probably the most common reflecting surfaces in a garden but glass, which shares many characteristics with them, is another source with additional possibilities. Unlike mirrors, glass is both reflective and transparent. Webster's Column, a glass and stainless steel sculpture I made to commemorate my husband's long career in journalism, both reflects the surrounding trees and gives a glimpse of the newspapers stacked inside. [caption id="attachment_1462" align="aligncenter" width="683"] Webster's Column, 2010, by Patterson Webster[/caption]   Frequently, the image given back by glass is distorted or broken into segments, whether


Bosco della Ragnaia

May 25th, 2014 | 6 Comments »
From Roman times, the contrast between sun and shade has played a major role in Italian garden design. Understandably so, in a country where people search for shade in the summer and for the warmth of sun in winter.This traditional feature is a major design element in a contemporary garden near Siena, Bosco della Ragnaia. Two parts form this garden: a shady woodland,This is the central area of the woodland garden.and a former field, now opened to sunlight and the distant view.An overview of the sunny garden shows how Bosco