Tag Archives: garden design

The North South Arrow

June 15th, 2020 | 10 Comments »

Months ago, when we were rebuilding the foundation wall of Glen Villa Inn, the huge resort hotel that once stood on our property, I began thinking of a new planting area to complement the new wall. A photo taken shortly after the hotel burned down in 1909 showed plants arranged around the low stone wall in front of the hotel, where horse-drawn carriages circled to pick up and drop off hotel guests.

The planting around that circular wall prompted me to consider a similar arrangement.

The grassy path around the stone circle would be about 10 feet wide and the planting beds roughly the same.
The grassy path around the stone circle would be about 10 feet wide and the planting beds roughly the same.


A partial wall coming out from the hotel foundation suggested creating a square to surround the circular wall which I designed a dozen or so years ago to represent the yin yang symbol.


Another rough design idea.
Another rough design idea.


An asphalt walkway leading from the lake to the front of the hotel suggested designing a long double herbaceous border to flank the asphalt path.


Another possibility?
Another possibility?

In mid February I sat down with my old friend, the Montreal landscape architect Myke Hodgins, to consider these ideas. They’re fine, he said, but a bit static. Why not do something dramatic? It’s a big space, there’s room for a big gesture.

The idea appealed to me. But what kind of gesture?

I like conceptual gardens and regular readers will know that I often use the history of the site as a basis for design. What link could I make between a dramatic design and the history of the hotel? Myke and I threw ideas back and forth. Was there something about the boats that plied the waters of Lake Massawippi? One was called the Pocahontas, suggesting a link to my native Virginia. What about the fire that destroyed the hotel? Or the man who created it, G.A. LeBaron? He had purchased a farm in North Hatley and had created a housing development. He had a store in nearby Sherbrooke that sold pianos, organs and sewing machines — popular items that were on their way to replacing the buggies and buggy whips which he also sold. His entrepreneurial spirit was consistent with a big splashy design.

But what should it look like?


G.A. LeBaron used this business card -- an early example of salesmanship that goes some way to explain why he was so successful.
G.A. LeBaron knew that a pretty face attracted  customers.  This business card goes some way to explain why he was so successful.


It was Myke who came up with the idea that clicked: a design based on the guests who came north by train to stay at Glen Villa Inn to avoid the heat and humidity of the southern states where they lived year round. A garden oriented north-south would mimic their travel. And it would get the maximum sunlight, broadening the choice of plants I could use.

I liked the idea and immediately began to call the garden by its new name, the North South Garden. That orientation would form the basis of the design. But would it work on site?

In late February, when snow was still deep on the ground, Jacques and I went out with a compass to see where a north-south line would run and staked out a possible placement.


Staking out a design wasn't easy when you sank mid calf at every step.
Staking out the ground wasn’t easy when you sank up to mid calf at every step. And this orientation turned out to be totally wrong.


As the snow melted, we corrected the orientation and considered the placement from every angle: from the house, from the driveway and from the top of the hotel foundation wall.


The asphalt path runs from the big rock beyond the yin yang towards the lake.
The asphalt path runs towards the lake, starting at the big rock barely visible beyond the circular wall.


As spring approached, I sketched out possible dimensions. How long could the North South Garden be? How wide? How should it end? I thought of the compass needle marking north and in a flash, the straight line acquired arrow points, first at the north end only, then at both north and south ends. Those points gave the garden its final name: the North South Arrow.


North South border




With a shape and tentative dimensions in mind, I began to focus on the choice of plants. I knew I wanted them to reflect the idea of north and south. That suggested hot colours in the south  shifting gradually towards cool colours in the north. The southern plants that immediately sprang to mind included boxwood, a staple of many southern gardens, and sweet smelling plants —  lilacs and mock oranges that reminded me of grandmothers, perspiring just enough to set off the smell of their face powder. Plants for the north were less obvious. Cooler colours might include silvery greys but colours could also be darker to echo the north’s shorter days and longer nights.

Were these stereotypes? Of course they were. And for all the turns my imagination could take, the most important consideration remained the deer. I didn’t want to fence the Arrow so every plant I chose had to be deer-proof, or as deer-resistant as possible.

Gradually I developed a list of possible plants, focused around two relatively new varieties of spirea, Spirea Double Play Big Bang and Spirea Double Play Blue Kazoo. Along with the small green leaves of boxwood, I envisioned touches of dark-leafed shrubs, plants like Diervilla ‘Nightglow’ and the feathery elderberry, Sambucus ‘Black Lace.’ Perennials for consideration included baptisia, echinacea, helenium, Russian sage and Achillea, all in a mix of shades of blue and sparks of fiery orange. Ornamental grasses were also a possibility.

In May we marked out the arrow on site and, based on practical considerations, determined the dimensions:  a bed 15 feet wide and  110 feet long, with wider triangular arrowheads at both ends.


untitled (6 of 11)


The next steps included finalizing the choice of plants and preparing the ground for planting. I’ll continue that story in my next post.

In the meantime, here’s a glimpse of what’s to come!

rock (1 of 1)


Crabapples in Bloom!

June 4th, 2018 | 20 Comments »
In just over a year, the Crabapple Allée, aka the Avenue, has gone from dream to dirt, to bloom and gone. We started with this, a dull bare field.   [caption id="attachment_6400" align="aligncenter" width="4272"] I took this photo on April 24, 2017, when I became serious about planting a long allée of trees,. The walk through the trees is part of a larger project I'm still working on.[/caption]   Four months later, The Avenue was beginning to take shape.   [caption id="attachment_6399" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] August 8, 2017[/caption]   By mid-November, the


Terracing the China Terrace

May 29th, 2018 | 15 Comments »
One of the first projects I undertook at Glen Villa was the China Terrace, a contemporary folly that honours an old resort hotel that once stood on the property. I first wrote about it as a conceptual garden. Following that, I wrote about it sporadically, focusing on the changes I made --  the bed that shook off its annuals in favour of a moss quilt,   [caption id="attachment_1565" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Moss forms a quilt on an old iron frame bed.[/caption]   and the staircase leading to the imaginary second and third story that changed, from


The Grandchildren Trees

October 24th, 2017 | 12 Comments »
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


Now for a Rest!

July 31st, 2017 | 14 Comments »
The last few weeks have been busy. Preparing the garden for visiting groups and getting everything in place for Saturday's Open Garden Day has been fun, but also a lot of work. And now that August is here, I'm ready to put my feet up -- for a day or two, at least. But first, I want to thank the 20 volunteers who worked at the Open Garden Day. They made the day a success, and I couldn't have done it without them. The weather cooperated beautifully, and the day


Defeating the Deer

August 12th, 2013 | 2 Comments »
How hard can it be to build a fence around some shrubs in a field? Not very, you'd think. You'd be wrong. Or you would be if you did it the way I have. Which definitely isn't the way to go. In 2008, I planted a few flowering shrubs along the fence that separates the road from what I call the upper field (because it is higher in elevation than the lower field. Duh.) I wanted to add colour and vitality to an area that offered little visual interest. I


Circles in the garden

August 5th, 2013 | 3 Comments »
Does nature abhor a straight line?  Writing about triangles at Througham Court made me think about shapes and the effects that different shapes create. Looking through my photos, I noticed lots of rectangles. Squares appeared, but less often, and usually in formal settings. And then there were circles. They were used frequently in some gardens, not in all in others. I started to wonder why. The circular mound at Througham Court Traditionally, the circle is a symbol of unity and perfection. Since all points of a circle are equidistant from


The Aqueduct, Part 2: Building It

July 8th, 2013 | No Comments »
In my last blog post, I wrote about why we decided to build The Aqueduct (The Aqueduct, Part I: Why We Built It). I explained that we wanted to see and hear the stream that ran down the hill near the house, to replace some dangerous steps, and to create a water feature that harmoniously linked disparate elements in the house and landscape around it. I started planning this project in April 2011, but for various reasons the shovel didn't go into the ground until September 2012, almost a year


The Aqueduct, Part 1: Why We Built It

July 2nd, 2013 | 2 Comments »
When my husband and I bought Glen Villa in 1996, we moved from a little lakefront cottage into the house next door. We acquired a property that had been loved and looked after beautifully. We counted ourselves lucky indeed. We often sat on the deck looking out towards the magnificent linden tree at the end of the big lawn. We ate breakfast and lunch there, entertained friends, enjoyed the view. Sometimes, in the background, we could hear water trickling over rocks, but we couldn't see the water. And most of


Petworth: A ‘Capability’ Brown landscape

June 10th, 2013 | 2 Comments »
I'm in England for the next few weeks, visiting a friend before setting out on a tour of English gardens. On the weekend I spent a glorious afternoon walking through a landscape designed and constructed in the 18th century by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. Brown created an estimated 170 landscapes in England, many of which remain. Petworth in Sussex, is one of these, and it shows all of Brown's characteristic trademarks. First of these is the broad lawn that sweeps from the house down to an artificially created lake. This simple