Tag Archives: Glen Villa

The Spirit of Stone: A Book Review

April 10th, 2017 | 10 Comments »

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.

Gabion walls can be practical and aesthetically pleasing.
Gabion walls can be practical and aesthetically pleasing. A low pool can be attractive to a tiny granddaughter.


Two stunning moss-covered rocks in the woods dictated the route of a path that we installed shortly after we acquired the property in 1996. A rock only partly exposed became the centrepiece of a new shrub border when we uncovered more of it. And at the Skating Pond, smooth blue-toned rocks are a highlight, setting a colour palette for the plantings that surround them.


Lime green ninebark (Physocarpus Gold Nugget) is a sharp contrast to the smooth blue stone beside The Skating Pond. We had no idea such a gorgeous stone was hiding underground.
Lime green ninebark (Physocarpus Golden Nugget) is a sharp contrast to the smooth blue stone beside The Skating Pond. We had no idea such gorgeously coloured stone was hiding underground.


The Spirit of Stone looks at uses like these and more. The subtitle of the book is an accurate description of the contents: 101 Practical & Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden. I didn’t count the ideas but the book is full of them. In effect it is a primer on the multitude of ways in which stone can be, and has been, used in gardens.


The book is a useful primer on how to use stone in the garden.
The book is a useful primer on how to use stone in the garden. It also feels good in the hand.


Short sections give practical advice about using these natural treasures in rock gardens, walks, steps, walls and as accents in the garden. A final section is about plants that work well in combination with stones large and small.

Johnsen’s advice is helpful but for me the ‘spiritual’ aspects of the book are more interesting. Stone is revered in cultures around the world and understandably so. Beautiful in its variety of colours, shapes and textures, it conveys a sense of permanence that anchors us in a way that changeable plants do not.  A quote from the English artist Andy Goldsworthy underlines this point.

“A lone resting stone is not merely an object in the landscape but a deeply ingrained witness to time.”

A rock at Crawick Multiverse in Scotland shows the marks of time.
A rock at Crawick Multiverse in Scotland shows how beautiful the marks of time can be.


A number of the ‘spiritual’ uses Johnsen reviews, such as standing stones and stone circles, are familiar. Others are less so. I for one have never seen a split rock like the ones she illustrates, which apparently were regarded by Native Americans as doors to the underworld. Nor did I know that the continent’s indigenous people believed quartz contained supernatural power.


A vein of quartz forms a natural A on this rock at Glen Villa. I placed memory posts to my father and brother-in-law in this location to be near the A Rock. Does that testify to its supernatural power?
A vein of quartz forms a natural A on this rock at Glen Villa. I placed memory posts to my father and brother-in-law in this location to be near the A Rock which pulled me like a magnet.


I do know that using rock successfully requires paying close attention. Building the cascade at Glen Villa, one of the first things we did in the garden, took genuine patience. We had to examine each rock, find not only its best face but the face that it wanted to show to the world. Because, odd as it may seem, rocks will speak if you give them, and yourself, time to hear.

Rock art is one of the few rock-related topics Johnsen does not address. Perhaps this is understandable since few of us are about to use rock walls as canvases to tell stories. But since I love rock art and have ventured far into the Australian outback and other places to view it, I found the omission regrettable.


A strangely fingered figure is painted on a wall inside a cave-like overhang in the Kimberley area of West Australia.
A strangely fingered figure is painted on a wall inside a cave-like overhang in the Kimberley area of West Australia.


The Spirit of Stone is not a big book. It isn’t a philosophical tome and it doesn’t take long to read. But if you are looking for good ideas and practical advice about using stone in your garden, this is a helpful book to read.



Garden Plans: I’m Dreaming Again

March 27th, 2017 | 27 Comments »
You can see a bit of the trail on the left side of this photo, taken in 2009. We cleared brush from this area last fall. Some of the wildflowers have disappeared but the site still feels the same. Is this an example of unity persisting despite change?
Now that winter has dumped several feet of snow on a garden that was almost snow-free, I'm back by the fire, metaphorically at least, dreaming of the seasons ahead.   [caption id="attachment_5009" align="aligncenter" width="600"] I took this photo about ten days ago after a fresh snowfall. Today is grey. And maybe more snow will fall. I hope not.[/caption]   I'm dreaming about a trail that will lead around the property. I'm considering the route it will follow and what I will call it. I know the purpose of the trail -- it will connect art


Garden Goals for 2017

January 9th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
The tin maple leaves hung in November 2016 are now coated with snow, making the scene even more evocative.
Setting annual goals for the garden keeps me on track and helps me avoid jumping from one thing to another, something I'm all too prone to do. Last year I set 10 goals for myself and discovered, looking back in last week's post, that ten was too many. So in 2017 I'm cutting my ambitions in half and setting five goals for the year ahead. 1. Finish The Upper Room The bare bones of The Upper Room, the new area in the garden that honours my mother and her beliefs, have


Looking Back and Forth

December 31st, 2016 | 10 Comments »
Since I didn't do anything about new pots, I shouldn't have a photo to illustrate this goal. But I did use Mandeville vines on the living room deck. I've had these same plants for ten years or so, and they continue to provide abundant blooms and colour.
Last December I took the risky step of setting goals for 2016. So as that year ends and 2017 begins, it's time to assess. How much of what I wanted to do did I actually accomplish? 1. The Cascade: As intended, I modified the plantings around The Cascade. I reduced the number of different types of plants, improved the drainage and the soil in the beds themselves. As a result, the plants flourished and I was content. But of course there are always reservations. The Weigela 'Wine and Roses' needs another year


A Recklessly Record-less Year

December 19th, 2016 | 14 Comments »
This album will be arranged by project, not chronologically.
For the last sixteen years I've kept a record of what happens each year in the garden. I've conscientiously photographed each project I've undertaken, each border as it changed from season to season, each modification I made or was thinking about making. I've stuck these photographs into albums and written comments --  about my intentions for a project, or the weather, what I was wanting to do next -- in effect, about anything that seemed relevant at the time. These albums are immensely helpful. They are a record of how the garden has developed. They both show and tell


A Doorstep for Orin’s Sugarcamp

December 12th, 2016 | 15 Comments »
Jacques and Ken are skilled workers who can operate almost any piece of equipment, even under difficult conditions.
On the weekend we installed the granite slab that marks the 'front door' of Orin's Sugarcamp, my latest art installation at Glen Villa. (You can read about the project here.) Doing this was tricky. It involved transporting an 800-pound slab of rock across a snowy field and a partially frozen stream on the back of an open wagon. That takes skill, particularly since the snow is very slippery right now. But Jacques Gosselin and Ken Kelso, the talented men who work for me at Glen Villa, managed the job with ease.   [caption id="attachment_4767" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]


When Less is More

December 5th, 2016 | 25 Comments »
water meadow clean up
Is less more? I associate the familiar phrase with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the founders of modern architecture and a proponent of simplicity of style. But when I went to confirm this, I found to my surprise that the phrase was first used in print in Andrea del Sarto, a poem by Robert Browning. Who strive - you don't know how the others strive To paint a little thing like that you smeared Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,- Yet do much less, so much less, Someone


Orin’s Sugarcamp

November 21st, 2016 | 12 Comments »
The distorted the shape of the leaf to suggest how the shape changes in the fall. l
Just over a year ago I began work on a project in the woods at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec. I was inspired by an exhibition I saw at The Mount, Edith Wharton's home in western Massachusetts. One piece in particular caught my eye, a collection of oddly shaped pieces of wood that contrasted in an interesting way with the straight vertical tree trunks around them.   [caption id="attachment_4682" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Cognito, a sculptural installation by William Carlson[/caption]   I knew almost immediately that I wanted to do something similar and


Repairing the Dam(n) Damage

November 14th, 2016 | 10 Comments »
Water thunders over the enormous boulders left here when the glaciers melted.
No, this isn't a political post, although governments are involved. The non-political damage that needs to be repaired involves the dam at Glen Villa, my garden in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, and the pond the dam created. The pond dates back well over 100 years, to about 1870 or so, when a stream was dammed to provide power for a sawmill. In the days of Glen Villa Inn, the grand resort hotel that stood on the property from 1902-1909, hotel guests fished for trout in the pond. That's when they


Remembering the Dead

November 6th, 2016 | 22 Comments »
My father's post is in the foreground, my brother-in-laws in the background.
With Remembrance Day fast approaching, I'm remembering people who were important in my life and looking at how the Memory Posts I painted in their honour are faring. The inspiration for my Memory Posts came from a visit to the National Gallery of Australia and its Memorial Hall.  Created by indigenous artists from Central Arnhem Land in Australia's Northern Territory, The Aboriginal Memorial is an installation of 200 hollow log bone coffins.   [caption id="attachment_4600" align="aligncenter" width="1600"] Photo courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia. The curving path represents the Glyde River in