It is hard to believe that there is life outside on a day when your cheeks will freeze in five minutes! The birds are huddled in evergreens, the squirrels curled up in their leafy beds and the mice and voles are buried deep under their blankets of snow and soil. Only the pushy crows and hungry hawks can be seen cutting through the skies….
I lie on the couch in front of a gentle fire with my dog Scout curled on my legs. I’m half watching an impossibly young, blonde couple looking for a house in Goa, India, and in other moments, the unending and maddening political analysis on CNN.
What would be better than going back in time, back to the summer and to one of my favourite places, my friend Jeff’s house in the Quebec countryside. Come with me as I show you his place, with gardens that are now relatively mature. Jeff invites me annually so I can swish around the gardens, point here and there, saying this needs to go here and something else needs to go here instead. He is a very patient man.
If you’re interested in earlier visits to this garden, go here, here and here.
The house’s blue mirrors the colour of the lake below. Jeff is working on the forest that descends to the water, culling the diseased and dead ones, thinning some to maximize the view but still give privacy and encouraging the “keepers”.
The monumental thyme steps have grown in and beckon the visitor to follow….a path that leads to a grassy landing at the backside of the house, held up by another beautifully constructed stone wall that holds the hillside.
The multi-stemmed Amur maple (Acer ginnala), which turns a rich shade of red in the fall and is bullet-proof in terms of disease and insect damage, is surrounded by the species form of Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa macra. A few shaped golden cedars join the party but will likely be moved elsewhere as this form of forest grass grows quite tall and dwarfs them.
The dry-laid flagstone patio at the front of the house is a step down from the gravel road but is the perfect place to sit for tea or simply to enjoy the garden. Pots with bright annuals are perched about, lending the space intense colour. Indeed, primary colours abound in this new design — Jeff’s younger love of pastel colours has matured into a passion for depth and richness.
This raised bed, the first to be seen from the road, combines creeping sedums, Siberian cypress, Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea), among others. The idea is for the plants here to be low or diaphanous, so they do not present a visual barrier to the other plantings.
The bristlecone pine (at right; Pinus aristata) provides structure and interest. A slow growing, beautiful, unique and ancient evergreen, it will over time reach great heights — but long after Jeff has kicked the bucket (sorry Jeff!)
The solidity and gorgeous texture of these stones are in glorious contrast to the plants above and adjacent. The mounded shrubs that bracket this step are lace shrub or cut-leaf Stephanandra (Stephanandra incisa ‘Crispa’), which will over time tumble down over the edges. They produce delicate white flowers in the early summer which attract the hum of bees and wasps; in autumn, the foliage turns a brilliant gold. Jeff’s bold colour choices in this circular bed include lilies, beebalm, yarrow, geranium, garden phlox (yet to bloom), persicaria (the garden-worthy type!) and Calamagrostis. The staked tree at the corner of the house is a young fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), which will produce white filigree blossoms before it matures in late spring, early summer. Hardy to Zone 3, it will provide an interesting feature and a tree for visitors to talk about long after they leave.
Thank you Jeff for letting me be a part of your beautiful countryside idyll! I can’t wait for next year……….
….with colourful summer planters! But first, here I am with my big sister in the Gatineau hills. She’s holding the leaf; I’m eating an apple. My two loves: the outdoors and food.
Successful summer planters are full and lush. They are also fearless and creative….
This is the planter that undergoes seasonal changes at True Loaf bakery on Gladstone in Ottawa’s centretown. If you crave chewy, flavourful, delicious and inventive bread, both savoury and sweet, this is your destination!
This planter combines white cosmos, buttery yellow petunia, golden Carex, white Gaura, ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia, a hit of fire-y zinnia, ‘Tiger Eye’ sumac and the blades of Acidanthera. It probably didn’t need the orange-red zinnia, or else would have benefited from more plants of that colour. Oh well – live and learn.
As you can clearly see, I can’t get enough of yellow, chartreuse, green and white, so this is my garden in the early summer. Incorporating a large pot into a garden planting can be very rewarding and can afford a big statement, that can be changed according to the season.
This is a family garden, where kidlets enjoy the raised pond and lawn play area while the adults appreciate the colourful planters. Grouping smaller planters like this into a vignette makes a bigger statement than just one. As you can see, the blue-silvery planter is raised on a simple metal stand, giving it extra height and presence.
Planters can be anything — this one uses an antique bucket to great effect and is very much a part of the garden display in a plant nursery in Hudson, NY.
The same nursery, this time with a large copper tub acting as planter, along with a vintage red truck. Such whimsy! When you’re building your arrangements, think about coloured foliage as much as you think about flower colour….
This mirrored planting shows the value of both scale and foliage. Palms provide bulk and height, massive ‘Gryphon’ begonias (large, palm shaped leaves) provide texture and a metallic quality, ‘Bonfire’ begonias shout red and English ivy trail. This is the perfect combination for a sheltered, shady porch.
Another entrance planter enthralls in the sunshine with luscious chartreuse, yellow and black….
I can’t wait to create some new combinations in 2017…..
Christmas is coming and so is our opportunity to do something festive and special. A tree, yes, but also a planter outdoors that allows us to be as flamboyant or as natural as we like.
The folks at Mill Street Florist in Manotick always mix the unexpected: in this outdoor display, cut red roses are paired with winterberry (Ilex verticillata) to produce an undeniable punch of red. Of course, red roses will not survive sub-zero temperatures for long, so this combination is best for indoors, perhaps a cool vestibule, or outdoors during mild weather.
My planter a few years ago was simple: imported cedar from British Columbia (much softer and greener than ours here), snipped wild rosehips and large pinecones. Simple but effective, at least before it was covered with snow!
A small yet jewel-like basket from Mill Street Florist. Bark, cones, grapevine and greens combine with colourful berries, a rich rose and demure, artificial apples.
Simple, natural displays can be all you need or want.
Consider that if you want red, winterberry and rosehips are entirely different in their effect…
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While winterberry (left) is bold and lush and can be seen from a distance, rosehips (right) are much smaller and present a looser, more natural and spare effect.
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Whatever you do, keep scale in mind. A small arrangement is best reserved for the mantle or table-scape, while a large (weatherproof) urn works best next to your entry.
Stuff, stuff, stuff; think about texture, movement and colour; and ensure it has impact.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money.
Search the woods for different conifers and snip branches selectively.
Use dried flowers like hydrangea and seedheads like those from sumac and wildflowers.
And don’t forget to add height with dogwood, curly willow, birch branches or whatever you fancy.
Make something special and enjoy your creation through the holidays and beyond.
Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of visiting Kristin Kendall’s garden in an old central neighbourhood of our city. Tucked next to the Rideau River, and surrounded by other charming homes of similar vintage, the Kendall home is full of character and style. And so is the garden.
Barely large enough to swing a cat, the natural paving stone patio nonetheless is furnished with a small teak table and two wicker viewing chairs. The secateurs and trowel on the table are not props; Kristin and her husband Bill (my old high school teacher no less!) are active workers in this jewel of a garden and keenly choreograph the plants and keep them happy and healthy. There is not a weed to be seen!
Of course, there is no swinging of cats here. Sorry, didn’t mean to offend.
The colours in this half and half sunny/shady garden are hot and luminous. The brights include Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’, as well as a scarlet coleus, a lupin, Japanese blood grass, a dark border sedum and monarda in the rear. A weeping hemlock on the right, Virginia creeper on the fence and a Serbian spruce on the left all provide a green backdrop for this brilliant canvas.
A stone water bowl with rhythmic striations provides a feature in the garden as well as a drink for wildlife. These grooves are mimicked by the shadows of the iris growing alongside.
Kristin would have me tell you that the garden is impeccable at this moment because it is post-tour. But I’m not so sure — I think the stylish gardener and homeowner is detail oriented every day.
On this day the hyssop was absolutely covered in buzzing bees; a sound that complemented that of the gently bubbling fountain…
The weeping larch cascades to the ground alongside the giant boulder, bubbling constantly. Everything is compact in this garden, but every inch has been thoughtfully filled.
Non-living details in this garden are chosen with style and taste. Kendall’s brother is the owner of Balleycanoe & Co., a business that sells 19th century architectural salvage pieces in Mallorytown.
This garden is truly a labour of love and the owners appreciate what they have helped to create. You may even find one of them sitting, every once in a while, appreciating the view…
Many of us already know the dioramas at Canada’s Museum of Nature in Ottawa: the grizzlies, the caribou, the pronghorns and even the dinosaurs. As a child, I would gaze at these immobilized animals behind glass and imagine living among them, either in the distant past or in the wilds of today.
But I was also always mesmerized by the scenes that surrounded these beasts: the painted flora, the cliffs, the expansive plains….all landscapes that seemed to have disappeared along with the animals that populated them. Not only the scenes but the dried plants and paintings of plants that dressed the landscapes…
As I grew up, I longed to see these distant landscapes as they lived and breathed, rather than preserved …. and this is probably why I became a gardener. And if I couldn’t always go to these far away landscapes, I could try to grow the plants that inhabited them.
* * * * * *
The western edge of the Canadian Museum of Nature in downtown Ottawa has been park-like for as long as I can remember. And by park-like, I mean predominantly lawn and shade trees….a perfect complement to the early 20th century “Scottish Baronial” structure, designed to reflect the centre block of the Parliament Buildings. To understand the history of the lawn, read this. To be entertained by the concept of the lawn, read Michael Pollan’s wonderful book Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, particularly Chapter 3, where he talks about our cultural imperative of mowing (courtesy the 1830 invention of the lawnmower).
This western side of the Museum was also home most recently to a family group of woolly mammoths. It was a striking sight to pedestrians, dog-walkers and lunch-time loiterers and a portend of what visitors would find inside the historic building: giant animals from our past.
In late 2011 and early 2012, plans began to take shape for the new appearance of this piece of green space. It would represent the last stage of renovations to the building and its surroundings that began in 2004. According to the Museum’s Advisory to the neighbourhood:
“This plan is one that will ultimately result in restoring more than half of the existing west side property into parkland for the enjoyment and benefit of the community.”
Happily, the result of this design is not simply a “parkland” but a carefully designed microcosm of Canada’s main four eco-zones, each with their own distinctive plant species: namely, the boreal forest, prairie, tundra (Arctic) and steppe grassland (this last area was included primarily to embrace our old friends, the woolly mammoths).
So in June 2015, the Museum made public their concept for fully Canadian-izing this public space and issued a press release that included this announcement:
“A living outdoor botanical exhibit will soon enliven the grounds of the Canadian Museum of Nature. Starting the third week of June, the museum will begin landscaping the west side of its property to develop the Landscapes of Canada Gardens.”
A full year later in June 2016 the new landscape of Canada will be unveiled to the public. There will be the usual benches, pathways, signage and light standards, but there will also be some things that are very unusual….
Starting with the iceberg.
Glistening stainless steel. Monumental. Interactive. Stunning. And designed by Father Goose, William Lishman. Of course it represents Canada’s North in a very modern way, but also hearkens back to the paintings of Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris who travelled to the Arctic in the 1930s aboard the government supply ship “Beothic.”
The vegetation around the sculptural highlight of this garden mimics the tundra, with plants that are indigenous to the Arctic. They have also been chosen according to what will potentially thrive in Ottawa’s sweltering summers and unpredictable winters. This was largely Paul Sokoloff’s job: he is the Museum’s Senior Research Assistant with the Botany Department and he wrote about the gardens here. In preparation for the installation, Paul worked with the team at CSW Landscape Architects, namely Martha Lush, and came up with a list of plants that would suit this planting. And here they are:
The Arctic planting will essentially be low-growing, because that’s the way things grow up there, and include novel plants (to you and I, anyway) like Betula nana ….
This is Betula glandulosa, which the experts will tell you differs from B. nana in that it exhibits glandular warts on the shoots and longer leaf petioles — alrighty then. Betula nana, which will be planted in this garden, is a monoecious shrub (that is, having both male and female parts – making reproduction a snap in its challenging native habitat) growing upwards to 1 or 1.2 metres high. Its growing habit is low and spreading, with leaves that are shiny and diminutive and it produces catkins that stand upright, awaiting the wind to help with pollination.
Russet sedge, botanically called Carex saxatilis, grows up to 80-90 centimeters high in a dense, well-behaved tuft. This sedge grows in northern regions around the earth, preferring wetlands but also grows on ridges or ledges, shores of rivers or lakes and wetland margins.
This brings me to moisture. The water loving plants in the Arctic garden at the Museum are being given a helping hand through the installation of a drip irrigation system, and the area is being mulched with granite rubble.
This new “park land” replaces turf grasses with native grasses. Grasses like these:
The prairie eco-zone in this garden will showcase plants that are familiar to many of us: Echinacea, Achillea, Aster, Rudbeckia and Liatris, and they will mingle with prairie grasses. However, these are not the showy cultivars you’ll see at the nursery, but rather the native species that you may see at Fletcher Wildlife Garden at the Central Experimental Farm.
Indeed, the folks at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden have provided many of the plants that have already been put in place or seeded in the sunny prairie garden, which will over time look quite like this:
A circular area will be mown in the centre of the prairie garden to allow a space for contemplation and for educational opportunities where students can learn about native Canadian wildflowers and meadow ecology.
Calamagrostis stricta (Slim stem small reed grass)
Deschampsia caespitosa (Tufted hair grass)
Much of the seed mix in the prairie garden has come from the Living Prairie Museum in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This city-run nature preserve comprises 12 hectares (30 acres) in the middle of the city of Winnipeg and protects 160 species of prairie plants and wildlife. The Living Prairie Museum is a virtually untouched tall grass prairie, an eco-system that once covered one million square kilometres from Manitoba to Texas. Seeds that are native to the tall grass prairie were sent to the folks here in Ottawa and planted in the prairie garden in the spring of 2015. I’m sure the spring and summer of 2016 will see a glorious display!
The boreal forest will be a shady retreat for visitors to the Landscapes of Canada gardens. Healthy existing trees have been supplemented with sympathetic native species like Sugar maple, red oak and trembling aspen, alongside some iconic evergreen species like Jack pine, hemlock, white spruce, black larch and balsam fir.
And finally, the mammoths have been moved but they have not been forgotten…
No longer next to the rushing traffic on O’Connor Street, they have been shifted to their new north-facing home next to McLeod Street. And rather than a bed of gravel, they will graze in a planting of shrubs, grasses and perennials that would have been around when they traveled across the Bering Strait into our northern landscape.
MAMMOTH STEPPE PLANTING
Shrubs and Grasses
The final plantings of this series of gardens will be in the Arctic Garden this spring. By Saturday June 18th, the gardens will be open to the public and are invited to come and enjoy this spectacular botanical display. Go to http://www.nature.ca for updates on this launch.
I really look forward to being one of those visitors who sit, saunter, eat, read, listen to the birds and watch the butterflies in this new space. The garden will be such a joy in the middle of town, just one mile south of the Parliament Buildings.
I was reminded by a reader the other day that I had promised an additional entry on this iconic garden. I had visited it way, way back in 2013 but somehow my second installment never made it onto the page….
Let’s try again.
Time and space made me realize I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was left unsettled by this garden.
It is perched high above the surrounding valley, with views reaching down to the St. Lawrence in what was, and remains for many, the playground of the well-heeled.
When the gardens at Les Quatres Vents were created in the last quarter of the 20th century, Francis Cabot’s horticultural, historical and architectural aspirations were reflected through these landscape expressions. This level of excellence was made possible through wealth and high-society connections and Cabot’s creations mimicked the famous gardens in England, France and Japan, drawing upon (literally, physically and ideologically) the most influential gardeners, artisans and horticulturists of the day.
All this was taking place during the gardening boom in North America, when the work of contemporary British gardeners like Rosemary Verey, Penelope Hobhouse, Christopher Lloyd and Graham Stuart-Thomas were being heralded for the first time to us colonials. More than this, the historical gardens of British icons like Gertrude Jekyll, Vita Sackville-West and Russell Page were being documented in lush picture books that beginner gardeners began to devour (much to the delight of the big publishing houses in New York and London). Cabot’s hedges channeled those in almost every English estate garden, while his languorous half-circle stone staircases reflected those designed by the famed British architect and “taste-maker” Edwin Lutyens.
He sought their advice and held to it strictly …..
…witness the rose garden under-planted with pinks (Dianthus), a la Russell Page’s instruction.
There are allees, precisely clipped hedges and regimented sight-lines galore, which in my mind are a stereotypical fetish of the male gardener. Think Lawrence Johnston of Hidcote Manor fame.
But I ask you, when is rigidity visually pleasurable and when is it claustrophobic?
When is repetition satisfying and when is it predictable and formulaic?
And when is monumentalism awe-inspiring and when is it simply exhibitionism?
There were moments in this garden when I couldn’t help wondering, “Where is the authentic spirit of the place? Where is the place I can sit and feel at peace near the mouth of the St-Lawrence, without feeling the uncomfortable imposition of prestige and power?”
There were moments when I thought I had found that place …. but the question remained: were these choreographed moments where the garden designer had anticipated the blurring effects of time or simply nature triumphing over artifice …? And did it matter?
In this new 21st century world where we are loosening our grip around nature, letting plants be what they intrinsically are without shaping, coddling, orchestrating and overseeing, it was the moments where wildness seemed to win where I found the most pleasure…
But there were also dream-like “garden” moments that were clearly the result of intensive construction projects. The relative instant gratification they must have provided Cabot is almost breath-taking. Take his homage to the Japanese garden.
Cabot’s Japanese garden, like its inspiration on the other side of the world, combines stone, water, temple and plants. There is no question that it creates a place of contemplation where the furthest thing from your mind is artifice or incongruity (if this Asian art is new to you) …… and yet, in this Quebec countryside, it is exactly that. It tries but it is not an authentic Japanese garden experience. But, isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery?
And then there were the plants….
As Cabot himself characterized it, his garden had to be a “greater perfection.” A skilled stonemason constructed the terraces, walls and stairs; a craftsman borrowed from Japan built the tea house; visiting professionals were asked for input on the plants and gardens. Cabot sought instruction from the very best and when he couldn’t do some of the practical stuff himself, he hired those who could.
Many of these plants are moisture lovers that require cool summers and humous-rich soil. And so, in order to grow these spectacular Asian beauties (Rodgersia, Primula, Lilium, Iris, Meconopsis), soil was moved, trees were planted, water was directed and misters were rigged. It is the perfect man-made environment.
So isn’t that what a garden is anyway?
Perhaps it’s just sour grapes.
Still, I choose imperfection. Because I am.
I will visit what is presented as perfection, with my eyes gazing up and down in awe and my mind overwhelmed with the logistics. But I will feel at home with much less.
I have written about my friend Jeff’s garden before, first here and then, here. It has been a work in progress for several years now and just this summer, the work will finally be completed.
And the front of Jeff’s country ‘estate’ will have gone from this:
This garden has been a labour of love by three people: the homeowner, Jeff, of course who had high standards of excellence and a very clear vision of how he wanted his garden to look and feel; Jo Hodgson, who excels at making stone do exactly what she wants, in a way that is durable, beautiful and totally sympathetic to the landscape around it; and me, who just wanted to play with plants and be a part of this garden creation in paradise from Day 1.
The house and garden in question are on a hill overlooking a lake in the Quebec hills.
The slope from back to front is substantial, necessitating not only a tall wall but also a considerable staircase from the front road to the back door of the house.
This curved stone wall is one of the masterpieces of the project, with monumental stone steps alongside it.
The stairs are now how Jeff envisioned them: wide, generous and planted with mother of thyme and taller scented thymes, so that the progression downward is a sensory experience.
There are chairs placed here and there so that Jeff can come out with his morning coffee and experience the garden from different angles….
The gravel driveway is bound by large stones that hold a series of garden beds. This raised one holds a tapestry of ground hugging sedums, Siberian cypress, creeping phlox and then diaphanous grasses — these are Molinia caerulea (Moor grass) that will throw up wands of waving seed heads in the late summer….
This highest bed, closest to the road, includes a Bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata), which although slow-growing, will act as an evergreen anchor to this entry garden bed.
The lower bed closest to the entry patio sports classic perennials like catmint, Siberian iris and more…
…and the bed against the sunny side of the house sports beebalm, achillea and other hot plants, with morning glory climbing up the blue walls.
The bed next to the front door is Jeff’s Ode to Tom Stuart-Smith and his love of juxtaposition: here we have used the species Hakonechloa macra alongside Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’ and a central pivot provided by an Acer ginnala (a multi-stemmed Amur maple) — as the Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ expired the year before from the harsh winter conditions.
A beautifully large and lusciously chartreuse pot holds a spectacular petunia cultivar called ‘Phantom’, along with an Angel’s trumpet (Datura cv.) Despite being nipped by the frost in late spring, the display is lush and striking.
The last frontier is the retaining wall at the rear of the house — certainly not a highly visible location but nevertheless, the same attention to detail and precision is going into the construction of this wall.
It is a spectacular project that is coming to a close. I hope to return in the fall to take some more shots of this beautiful house with its developing garden in the fiery autumn colours. Stay tuned…