Tag Archives: Glen Villa

As the Garden Turns

April 22nd, 2018 | 4 Comments »

Does your garden turn its face to the world or does it veil it off?  The difference says a lot, about you and the style of your garden — and about the spirit of the times.

Recently I spoke to several groups about how to get the most out of garden visits.  Learning to Look: the Art of Garden Observation considers what it takes to really see a garden. A handout for the talk asks some key questions, starting with the garden’s context.  How does it relate to the world around it? Is it open to its surroundings or closed off?

Topography can make an enormous difference. Properties with panoramic views rarely shut them out, particularly when they look out on a rural landscape.

St Pierre (1 of 1)
Sitting atop the hillside, residents of this house in Quebec’s Eastern Townships have a spectacular view across the countryside.


If the view is unattractive, however, the garden owner may want to block it out. Ugly walls, telephone poles, rooftops lined with satellite dishes: all interfere with a world view that excludes these urban elements.

Some gardens deliberately close themselves off from their surroundings, attractive or not, creating a private universe that holds the outside world at bay.


Other houses surround this densely planted Long Island garden.
From inside this densely planted garden, you’d never know that other houses are located close by.


Sometimes views are hidden, by accident or design.


Only the tiniest piece of the view here at The Fells, New Hampshire, is open.
Only the tiniest piece of the view here at The Fells, New Hampshire, is open.


Cutting the view of the surroundings turns the view in on itself. At Great Dixter, one of England’s finest gardens, the view of the surrounding fields is blocked by a line of cars.


Surely this isn't the only place to park a car!
Behind the cars is a quiet pastoral scene where sheep graze in green fields.


The effect of this is to turn the view and the viewer back towards the garden itself.


Hard to complain about having to look at a view
It’s hard to complain about having to look at a view like this.


The garden at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s house in Lennox, Massachusetts, exists in a bubble, disconnected from everything around it.


Tucked behind those tall trees at the end of the walkway is what could be a view of the surrounding landscape.
Tucked behind those tall trees at the end of the walkway is what could be a view of the surrounding landscape.


By hiding the view, the house and the people who live there take centre stage.


The house dominates the view from every part of the garden.
The house dominates the view from every part of the garden.


Contrast this inward-looking attitude with Sunnylands, the historic California estate of Walter and Leonore Annenberg. At Sunnylands, everything is directed outwards, across open lawns towards the towering, snow-capped San Jacinto mountains.


It would be impossible to hide the view of the mountains. And who would want to?
It would be impossible to hide the view of the mountains. And who would want to?


The difference in orientation reflects a difference in the spirit of the place and the spirit of the times. The names of the houses do the same. Following English and Italian models, The Mount stands above, expressing in its architecture Wharton’s ideas about order, scale and harmony. Sitting low to the ground and with glass walls that connect indoor and outdoor spaces, Sunnylands becomes an element of the landscape, one feature among many.

An openness to the surroundings characterizes many American gardens. Neighbourhood streets are lined with houses that may be divided, one from another, by hedges or low flower beds, as are these houses in Hanover, New Hampshire.


Several years ago, I was part of a small group from Montreal fortunate enough to visit several private gardens in New Hampshire and Vermont.
Several years ago, I was part of a small group from Montreal fortunate enough to visit several private gardens in New Hampshire and Vermont.


A different sense of neighbourliness can be found in British properties. This small town garden lies as close to its neighbour as the American garden does but separating the two English gardens is a tall stone wall.


The owners of this house are an artist and a photographer.
An artist and a photographer live here. Both are gardeners.


At Glen Villa, as in many larger properties, the view is open to the world in some spots and closed in others. For privacy, the view of our house from the lake is screened by trees planted many years ago by previous owners.


A few years ago we removed two pines that were dying and, as a result, opened up the view onto the lake.
A few years ago we removed two pines that were dying and, as a result, opened up the view onto the lake. But enough trees remain to provide privacy.


From inside the house and from most places in the garden, the view is open.


Lupin blooms wild on the bank of Lake Massawippi.
Lupin blooms wild on the bank of Lake Massawippi.


Historically, gardens were closed off from the outside world, for protection from animals or marauders. A change occurred in the 18th century in England, indicating a change in the way people related to their surroundings. Joseph Addison, writing in The Spectator in 1712, asked

“Why may not a whole Estate be thrown into a kind of garden by frequent Plantations, that may turn as much to the Profit, as the Pleasure of the Owner? … If the Natural Embroidery of the Meadows were helpt and improved by some small Additions of Art … a Man might make a pretty Landskip of his own Possessions.”

That’s what I’m aiming to do at Glen Villa, not to turn the landscape to profit but to turn it to art. I’ve written here about The Avenue, the allée of crabapple trees we planted last fall.  Public roads on two sides of The Avenue make the “pretty Landskip” visible to anyone passing by.


crabapples (1 of 1)
The snow has now melted, leaving the ground bare and very muddy.


Last week I made a short video about The Avenue that is now being shown on Garden Design’s Instagram page. As I write, almost 12,000 people have watched the 1 minute video. I hope you’ll join them, and join me as a subscriber to the magazine. It is an ad-free bundle of information, presented along with beautiful photographs.

I hope, too, that you’ll think about how your garden turns, to the world or away from it. Does it send the message you want it to send?

The Upper Room in Winter

March 25th, 2018 | 16 Comments »
The Upper Room is pristine in the morning light.
The Upper Room is as glorious in winter as it is in spring, summer and fall. The highlight in every season is the beautiful screen outlining the bare branches of a dogwood tree.   [caption id="attachment_6101" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] The Upper Room stands tall in the morning light.[/caption]   Drawn by the Montreal artist Mary Martha Guy, the tree branches become more starkly striking with the late afternoon sun shining through.   [caption id="attachment_6092" align="aligncenter" width="2862"] The screen is a symphony of blacks, whites and shafts of light.[/caption]   A close-up of four


Special Trees

January 14th, 2018 | 10 Comments »
This maple tree was planted over 100 years ago, as part of the landscaping for the resort hotel, Glen Villa Inn. The hotel burned to the ground in 1909.
A piece about specimen trees in the on-line magazine Gardenista started me thinking about trees and how special they are to me. Having recently planted a long allée of crabapple trees at Glen Villa, (and having written about it here) where the impact stems from the sheer number of trees and the precision of their placement, my mind swung to the opposite end of the spectrum, to individual trees that make an impact on their own. The most important tree at Glen Villa, my garden in rural Quebec, is the basswood, or linden as I


Garden Paths

December 28th, 2017 | 14 Comments »
Ragged robin, lupins and buttercups edge the path that leads to the China Terrace, the re-creation of Glen Villa Inn.
As the end of the year approaches, I'm thinking about transitions. In  the context of gardens, transitions are often linked to paths. Paths lead you somewhere, either literally or metaphorically. They take you through different landscapes -- meadows, forests, open fields -- whose settings evoke different moods. They come in all shapes and sizes -- grassy and gravel, broad and narrow, straight and curved. One path may lead to a specific place, another to nowhere in particular and yet a third to someplace unknown, a future waiting to be discovered. Anyone visiting Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec,


Art in Winter

December 11th, 2017 | 18 Comments »
The shape of the crabapple tree becomes dramatic when outlined with snow.
I woke yesterday to a fine dusting of snow, and during the day more snow fell. Today it outlines the branches of the big oak tree by our boathouse and the old crabapple trees by the drive, emphasizing the contrast between rough bark and soft fluffy white.   [caption id="attachment_5887" align="aligncenter" width="3888"] The shape of the crabapple trees becomes dramatic when outlined with snow.[/caption]   The forecast calls for more snow to come, and as confirmation, the sky is grey. But once the snow stops and the barometer rises, the sky will be a clear, bright blue


Planting for Spring

November 14th, 2017 | 11 Comments »
Empty boxes and bags are proof that all the bulbs are now in the ground.
Last week my computer went on the blink and for three whole days, my typing fingers had a rest. The days off-line gave me time to do other things, but instead of using the time wisely, I wandered around feeling bereft. So it was only yesterday, when all was once again well on the computer front, that I ventured outside to plant bulbs. I should have done this weeks ago but the weather had been so fine, almost summer-like, that I kept putting it off. Until the snow fell.   [caption id="attachment_5837" align="aligncenter" width="3888"] Snow


The Straight and (not very) Narrow

November 1st, 2017 | 23 Comments »
These crabapple trees in front of my daughter's house are Malus 'Dolgo.'
  When is a straight path not straight enough? When is it too narrow? Last March, I decided to transform an unused farm field into something spectacular by lining the path that ran through it  with crabapple trees. When the ground was barely thawed, I paced out the length to determine how many trees to order.   [caption id="attachment_5771" align="aligncenter" width="5169"] This path was a convenient short cut across a flat farm field.[/caption]   I was taken aback. We needed 100 trees, 50 each side, planted at 18 foot intervals. The number made me


The Grandchildren Trees

October 24th, 2017 | 12 Comments »
One grandchild stands next to her tree along with her father.
The year after our first grandchild was born, we planted a maple tree in her honour. A few years later when our second grandchild was born, we did the same. We continued to do this. After each birth, another tree was planted. We planted the trees in a straight row, on the slope of an old farm field where the growing conditions were right -- plenty of sunshine and soil that wasn't too wet or too dry.  When the fifth grandchild was born, there wasn't enough room in the row, so we


Giving Thanks

October 9th, 2017 | 15 Comments »
The foliage of this tree (Nyssa sylvatica) is always colourful in autumn but this is the first time I've seen it with two distinct colours.  Can anyone explain why this happens?
  Today is Thanksgiving day in Canada, and there is much to be thankful for. In the garden, colours are bright.   [caption id="attachment_5729" align="aligncenter" width="2820"] Sedum 'Autumn Joy' lives up to its name.[/caption]   Even when the flowers have faded, I'm thankful for work that's been done.  At the Aqueduct the catmint ( Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low') has been cut back, making the bed look more like a monk's shaved head than the overgrown mop of foliage it was only days ago.   [caption id="attachment_5743" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] Those stubs of nepeta between


The Big Meadow, 2017

September 25th, 2017 | 8 Comments »
I took this photo near the end of July. The mown path remained green all summer, thanks to the amount of rain we received.
Is it accurate to call The Big Lawn at Glen Villa The Big Meadow? If you use an American definition, the answer is yes.  If you consult an English dictionary, the answer is less clear. Webster's Dictionary defines a meadow as a tract of low or level land producing grass which is mown for hay,  and that definition fits precisely. Allowing the sweep of grass beside our house that was tended for decades to remain untouched produced six large bales of hay last year, the first year we didn't mow regularly.  Those bales were