Creating a garden isn’t a quick and easy task, particularly a garden that grows out of personal memories and the history of the site.
The most prominent and visible piece of history at Glen Villa, the land where I live, is the ruin of a summer resort hotel named Glen Villa Inn. When it burned down in 1909, it left behind the stone wall that was its foundation. When we moved into Glen Villa in 1996, the wall was in a sad state, with stones falling down regularly.
Two years ago my husband and I decided that the wall was such an important remnant of the past that we couldn’t let it fall down entirely. So in November 2019, it was rebuilt.
In front of the wall was a stone circle where hotel guest got into a horse-drawn carriage that would take them to the nearby village of North Hatley, or to the train station to meet a guest arriving from one of the southern states in the U.S. For some years, that circular wall was home to the Yin Yang, where I planted perennials of contrasting colours, heights and textures intended to suggest the black/white contrast of the Asian symbol.
Ten or twelve years ago, we added a sleek stone coping to the top of that wall but by 2019, the original stones were falling down, creating gaps between the coping stones.
So in 2020, that wall was also rebuilt, using the same stones but adding a stronger foundation.
The two rebuilt walls threw this part of the garden out of balance. Before, it had been an almost neglected corner; now it was important, demanding something more than weedy grass.
The North South Arrow was the solution. I designed the Arrow to suggest the train trip taken by so many of the hotel guests as they came north for the summer. A long straight line oriented directly north-south, the new bed was a place to try new ideas and new plants. The plants had to be big — the arrow was over 100 feet long and 15 feet wide. The plants also had to be unappealing to the voracious deer that call Glen Villa home. This meant planting lots of shrubs along with deer resistant perennials. I chose plants with hot-coloured flowers or foliage at the southern end of the arrow and those with cool-coloured flowers or foliage at the north.
We dug the North South Arrow in 2019, shaping it with arrowheads at both ends and bringing in good soil to replace the sandy grit that was there.
The first plants went into the new bed in June, 2020.
Covid meant that many of the shrubs and perennials I’d chosen weren’t available so it was only this spring that the bed was fully planted. And my! How it has grown.
Here is one section of the Arrow on June 2, 2021. The line of Panicum ‘Northwind’ is meant to suggest the railroad tracks bring people north.
A month later, many of the shrubs were blooming and the columnar boxwood at the southern end of the Arrow were standing tall.
A different view, also taken on July 2 this year, shows the yarrow (Achillea ‘Sassy Summer Sunset’) and one of the Spireas (Spirea ‘Double Play Big Bang’) in bloom. Beyond the Arrow is the re-built circular wall with its new name and new plants: the Compass Rose. And beyond that is the rebuilt hotel foundation wall, with a bench giving a view onto the new beds.
By August 2, the Elderberry bushes (Sambucus ‘Laced Up’) were starting to gain height and the Russian sage (Perovskia Denim ‘N Lace) was blooming well.
And now, on September 2, the Panicum North Wind is showing off its stuff. As the seasons continue, its line that zig zags the length of the Arrow will become more prominent, tying the planting scheme together.
There are some unfortunate gaps and some plants that aren’t performing as well as I’d hoped. The mock orange shrubs whose fragrance was meant to suggest a clichéd southern sweetness are not pulling their weight, thanks to the deer, and I may have to replace them. The Artemesia ‘Silver Mound’ needs regular pruning to keep it from falling apart, but I still like the way its round form echoes the balls of boxwood.
I haven’t been as attentive to details this summer as I should have been and I’m trying to make up for that now, as summer turns to fall. The arrangement of plants that looked so good on paper isn’t as satisfying as I hoped it would be, so in a few weeks I’ll dig up and re-arrange the plants, softening the sharp zigzagging angles and joining the line of grasses to reinforce the idea of a train track. I’ll continue to enclose some sections, as shown above, making them into ‘compartments’ on the train but blocking as much as possible the view from one side of the arrow to the other.
It isn’t easy to re-work a planting as new as the North South Arrow. It takes courage — but I know it will be better if I do.
What projects do you have in mind for the fall?