A Garden That Tells The Story of a Place and a Family
This is our second post about Glen Villa, which Judy and I visited at the very end of August. Glen Villa is the garden of Pat Webster, located in Quebec about 90 minutes southeast of Montreal. Pat writes the blog Site and Insight, which recently received a Silver Award from the Garden Writers Association.
The last post focused on how water was integrated into the landscape at Glen Villa. With this post we want to concentrate on how garden art and hardscape is used to tell the story of both the land and of Pat’s family. This is just a partial overview, for greater depth you should check out Pat’s blog.
We can start with the dragon above. Pat and her husband Norman lived in China for several years and brought this fearsome fellow back with them. Norman is retired from a renowned career as a journalist, and one of his first major stories was about the visit of the US ping pong team to Beijing in 1971. More on this later.
The China Terrace, in a small clearing in the woods, refers back to the history of the place.
This land was once part of a popular resort that attracted well-to-do vacationers from Montreal, Boston, and New York. The hotel burned down in 1909. The China Terrace is what Pat calls a re-imagining of the hotel.
Why is it called “China Terrace”? Because china left over from the hotel has a significant presence there – much of it broken in pieces, as with this mosaic.
In the center of the clearing, a table set formally with relics from the Glen Villa Inn.
Here’s a closer look. Chair skeletons, broken crockery and candlesticks with actual sticks instead of candles.
Here’s a “bed” of moss installed on a bed frame left over from the old hotel.
Concrete pavers inset with broken crockery suggest doors and hallways.
Moving on. This sculpture memorializes an old beloved tree. The strips of metal suggests the rings of the tree. The strips vary in width, just as tree rings widen or shrink during years of faster or slower growth.
Long before the Glen Villa Inn, the Abanaki were the original human inhabitants of this land. This artwork refers to the Abanaki creation myth, in which a great turtle emerges from the water and becomes the land on which the people live.
This sculpture in wood is another reference to the Abenaki.
Another sculpture references the somber fate of the original Abenaki, their descendents decimated by smallpox and restricted to reservations.
This sculpture is inspired by more recent history. The steel girders above are the remains of a bridge that Norman remembers from his youth. When the bridge burned down, Pat and Norman offered to take much of the debris, saving the town the cost of its disposal. Friends then converted the rusted steel into a sculpture they call “Bridge Ascending”. Unfortunately, the light was not ideal for this photo, so it is not as sharp as Judy had wanted.
Here in the Asian Meadow, these fish are intended to represent the Webster family, with Norman as the Daddy fish.
This beautiful picnic area sits between the woods and the Asian Meadow. Chinese tiles are built into the fence that surrounds the area.
Here’s a close up of one of those tiles.
Webster’s Column is Pat’s monument to Norman’s 50-year career in journalism. Norman eventually became editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail (Canada’s largest national daily newspaper) and then The Montreal Gazette.
On one side of the column there are some of Norman’s favorite quotes about journalism.
The names of places from where he reported stories are carved on the base.
Another side has some piquant remarks and epithets that have been aimed at journalists over the years.
And now we move from the professional to the whimsical. This is called “The Grass Snake”, and I think it’s wonderful. I love the red apple hanging from the top of the snag. It has to be recreated every year with fresh turf.
After walking around the grounds of Glen Villa we returned to the house. Resting on a patio outside, we admired this tabletop mosaic map of the property.
I was deeply impressed by how Pat used garden art to tell the story of her land and her family. What we’ve shown here is not exhaustive, just some of the items that struck Judy and I most deeply.
As a plant-oriented gardener, I admit that Glen Villa made me think about using objects to tell more of a personal story in our own garden. Perhaps not in the front, but in the back garden, where the plant palette is more subdued.
What would we use? Maybe some of the kids’ old toy dinosaurs, since dinosaurs seemed to be at the center of our lives for a number of years. This will require more thought.