An overview, looking towards the dogwood panels.

The Upper Room Updated


Finishing The Upper Room, the area that honours my mother and her beliefs, was one of my goals for 2017.  I started work on the area last summer, hoping to finish then, but everything took longer than expected. This year, the sand-blasted panels that are the central feature were installed in the spring, the area was planted in early summer, and the final elements were added in July.

The dogwood screen remains the crowning glory. It stands at the uppermost of three levels, defining the space without closing it in. I’m particularly happy with the way the sand-blasted panels reflect what’s behind the viewer and simultaneously give a view through to the woodland beyond. Add the beauty of the dogwood tree and over-sized petals, drawn by Mary Martha Guy, and the skill of the sandblasting done by the Montreal company Vitrerie VM and you have something special indeed.


The spreading tree suggests Virginia and a mother's embrace.
The spreading limbs of a dogwood tree remind me of Virginia and my mother’s out-stretched arms.


I’m even happier with the way the different elements of The Upper Room work together to create a space that accomplishes everything I wanted.


An overview, looking towards the dogwood panels.
An overview, looking towards the dogwood screen, shows the benches I designed. Perspective distorts the relative size of the benches and the dogwood panels, making the benches look larger and the panels smaller than they actually are.


The plantings in and around the Upper Room are complete, for this year at least. In front of the dogwood panels is Gaultheria procumbens, a species indigenous to northeastern North America, also known as eastern teaberry, checkerberry, boxberry, or American wintergreen.  Boxwood is the primary plant, though, currently providing a backdrop to bleeding heart( Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’).


The boxwood came from the Egg, as this area used to be called. I will shape it into balls as it grows.
The boxwood came from the Egg, as this area used to be called. I will shape it into balls as it grows.


Surrounding the area I’ve used native ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) transplanted from the forest. These ferns, commonly called Christmas ferns because they remain green all year long, feel very comfortable in the space. I also like the evergreen symbolism — it seems appropriate for The Upper Room.


These native ferns are commonly called Christmas ferns because they remain green year round.
These native ferns grow abundantly throughout our woods. I plan to add more in the next few weeks.


About a month ago I added columnar yews (Taxus hicksii) to rise like pillars at the four corners of the ‘room’, and underplanted them with Waldsteinia fragaroides, or barren strawberry.  I didn’t plan to use yew since the deer like it, but no other plant offered as many of the qualities I was looking for. When I found four tall, handsome specimens, the choice was unavoidable.


Yews planted in boxes at the front and back of the central area will be pruned into columnar shapes.
Yews planted in boxes at the front and back of the central area will be pruned into columnar shapes. The barren strawberry plants will spread to cover the soil.


Choosing yews, though, meant we needed a fence.

We built the fence in June, following the style used at the shrub borders in the Upper and Lower Fields and in the Asian meadow. As they do elsewhere, these fences accomplish their purpose while almost disappearing. I wasn’t happy at first by the idea of a fence but I find I like it. It defines the space and sets it off from the surrounding woods, making the ‘room’ feel even more distinct and room-like.


Looking down on The Upper Room, the fence almost disappears.
This view from above The Upper Room shows how an almost invisible fence sets the area off from the forest around it.


As a final touch I designed two benches resembling church pews. They were beautifully made of white oak by a local craftsman, Mario Vaillancourt. Placed facing each other, the benches provide a comfortable place to sit. More significantly, their quiet dignity reinforces a sense of peace that permeates The Upper Room.


A friend suggested leaving the open space between the seat and the back rest of the bench, allowing a view of the woods behind. I happily used his suggestion.
We’ll probably bring the benches inside during the winter. If not, they will definitely be covered to protect them from snow and ice.


Depending how plants fare through the winter months, I may need to tweak the selection next year but for now this area is complete. I am very happy with the results, whether looking towards the dogwood screen or in the opposite direction.


A view towards the lake.
A view towards the lake shows how dense the forest around The Upper Room is — the lake itself can’t be seen.


Next week I plan to assess progress with the other goals I set for myself. But what about you? Are you achieving your garden goals or simply enjoying a summer break?

  • Gill Sayer

    Quiet and dignified perfectly describes the mood that permeates the installation, Pat; as perfectly as it describes your mother, who was like a second mother to me in the way she welcomed me wholeheartedly as another daughter 57 years ago.

    It also perfectly captures her serene beauty and her spirit. It is a loving, personal tribute to a very special and much-loved woman. Moving, tender, exquisite. Beautifully realised.


    • siteandinsight

      Reading your comment makes me very happy, Gill. I wish you could see it in person…. Any chance of a visit?

  • T W Blue

    Really nice, Pat. I hope to see your creation(s) one day. Maybe sooner than later. Tommy

    • siteandinsight

      You are always welcome.

  • Jean Potuchek

    What a gorgeous, contemplative space! Congratulations on this creation. I love the view from above — and I’ve fallen head over heels for those sand-blasted panels.

    • siteandinsight

      Thank you, Jean. The panels are truly wonderful.

  • I am pursuing my goal of doing nothing! I love your screen and the entire Upper Room. I love how big and significant your art is. Our gardens should always connect us to something greater, whatever that may be.

    • siteandinsight

      Gardens connecting us to something greater… love that idea, Tammy.

  • Jason

    A lovely spot. I don’t think the fence detracts from it at all.

    • siteandinsight

      Thanks, Jason. I’m liking the fence more each day.