This sign seen at the wonderful Italian garden Bosco della Ragnaia, created by Sheppard Craige, says it all: If not here, where?

Thinking about Gardens

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?


  • Janet Davis

    I will look forward to reading your post on Anne’s site. And yes, winter builds character…. I suppose. Can you tell we haven’t travelled anywhere this winter?

    • siteandinsight

      We are staying put this year, too — except for our very brief FL break. I’m not sure if a week in the warm built character or only made the cold feel colder.

  • Sieglinde Anderson

    I very much enjoyed “Words” on Anne’s site and yours. Particularly liked the tree “2 roads” but I am not sure that sign would have the same meaning if one doesn’t know Frost’s poem. Even before reading the text in the blog, the minute I saw the photo, the poem jumped into my mind. Wonderful writing – thank you!

    • siteandinsight

      I agree, the sign Two Roads would most likely have different meanings if the poem wasn’t familiar and I’d very much like to know what that someone would think, seeing the it. But whether you know the poem or not, the notion of having to make a choice is there.

  • Amy Murphy

    How very exciting! I’ve been a big fan of ThinkinGardens for years – I’m headed there now to read your article

    • siteandinsight

      ThinkinGardens is a great spot for garden thinking. You may want to read another piece of mine published there, about Througham Court, a garden that raises many questions.

  • No snow on the lake?

    • siteandinsight

      What can I say, Robert… an old photo. Yes, snow on the lake and lots of it.

  • John

    Stunning photo, Pat

    • siteandinsight

      The sunrise one? Not new… but the best I could find to illustrate dreaming.

      • John

        It works!

  • annewareham

    Thank you! For that piece and this piece! Xxxx Anne

    • siteandinsight

      You are more than welcome.

  • Jason

    I’ve been frustrated by the inability to go outside and get my hands dirty. Counting down the days to spring. We are having some nice fires in the fireplace, though.

    • siteandinsight

      better fires in the fireplace than in the political arena. That place is threatening to overheat. Or am I simply mouthing alternative facts?

  • Jean Potuchek

    I think we’ve had bits of this conversation before. So much of my life as an academic has been an intellectual activity, that I think of gardens as a balance to that, a sensory/sensual experience. I’ve never had any desire to put words in my garden, perhaps because there are so many words in the rest of my life. On the other hand, I’m ready to think about gardens. After 5 snow storms in 9 days, I’m heartily sick of thinking about snow. 😉

    • siteandinsight

      Yes, I agree, we have had this conversation before. And I also am ready for spring… but we have to survive March before we can reasonably think about that. It is warm here now — almost summer-like — but we can count on another dump or two of snow before it finally disappears.