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.

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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.

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The China Terrace, in a small clearing in the woods, refers back to the history of the place.

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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.

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In the center of the clearing, a table set formally with relics from the Glen Villa Inn.

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Here’s a closer look. Chair skeletons, broken crockery and candlesticks with actual sticks instead of candles.

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Here’s a “bed” of moss installed on a bed frame left over from the old hotel.

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Concrete pavers inset with broken crockery suggest doors and hallways.

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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.

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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.

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This sculpture in wood is another reference to the Abenaki.

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Another sculpture references the somber fate of the original Abenaki, their descendents decimated by smallpox and restricted to reservations.

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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.

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Here in the Asian Meadow, these fish are intended to represent the Webster family, with Norman as the Daddy fish.

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This beautiful picnic area sits between the woods and the Asian Meadow. Chinese tiles are built into the fence that surrounds the area.

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Here’s a close up of one of those tiles.

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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.

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On one side of the column there are some of Norman’s favorite quotes about journalism.

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The names of places from where he reported stories are carved on the base.

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Another side has some piquant remarks and epithets that have been aimed at journalists over the years.

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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.

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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.

38 Comments on “A Garden That Tells The Story of a Place and a Family

  1. Just incredible!! This really affected me because I am convinced our gardens tell our stories. Pull out those dinos, Jason. Add them to your story. 🙂

  2. Phenomenal! What imagination. Loved the way Pat Webster has depicted her family’s life and the history of her piece of Mother Earth. The stick figures and the metal tree rings had a particular appeal to me.

  3. I think we all install pieces of our hearts in the garden whether it is a plant or an object. Sometimes ‘things’ depict a feeling or event the easiest.

  4. Jason, thank you for such a fine piece about Glen Villa and the garden Norman and I are creating there. Judy’s photo of Tree Rings is fascinating. Readers may want to know that this is the mock-up for the sculpture that I hope to finish within the next few weeks. The rings shown here are made of tin; in the finished version they will be stainless steel that doesn’t ‘wrinkle’ the way tin does. The upright posts will also be metal and some of the rings will be laser cut to give a message about the life of the tree. I’ll write a post and show photos of the finished version of Tree Rings and will let you know as soon as it is complete.

    Comments from your readers make me very happy. I’m delighted that they are able to see and enjoy the garden through your eyes and Judy’s images.

    • Thanks for clarifying about Tree Rings. Very eager to see the final article. And again, thanks for letting us experience your garden.

  5. You’ve got me thinking too now, Jason! I like those quotes, and the table full of broken crockery…. some nice ideas there.

  6. What a garden! And, yes, a garden can certainly include ornaments and sculpture that reflect the land, the people, and the gardeners.

  7. Thanks for such a thought provoking post…and what an imaginative way to record the history of the family and the land they live on.

  8. I really enjoyed this post. I would say that Glen Villa is definitely “haunting.” The stories are fascinating. I love the grass snake! Your comments about dinosaurs made me smile. I have my son’s “dinosaur egg” elevated on a post at the entrance to my woodland garden, and I always have to tell its story to garden visitors.

    • “Haunting” is a good word for some of the art there. I don’t think I know the story of the dinosaur egg, I’m sure it’s a good one.

  9. Toy dinosaurs–now that would be worth seeing. 😉 Seriously, though, that must have been a fascinating tour. At each turn, something more unique than the last. Thanks for sharing the highlights!

  10. Amazingly, Jason. This garden of Glen Villa with broken crockery, skeletons of chairs, bed, candles, etc scares me a bit. Some sculptures are interesting, especially I liked Chinese tiles.

  11. Wow, what an incredible place! I admit to being rather intimidated by modern art, but the story and symbolism behind each of these pieces makes them very special indeed. Toy dinosaurs sound pretty cool, Jason; I think maybe I should add some of my kids’ old farm toys to the garden. Or better yet, scrounge through our sheds for some old farm equipment pieces, since both my husband’s and my family have been involved in farming for over 100 years.

    • Old farm toys and tools sound like an excellent idea. I bet people are spending real money at antique stores for exactly that sort of thing. I also feel a little intimidated by “art” in general, but I still find it interesting.

  12. Webster’s column is such a great statement describing a career, very impressive. Love the moss bed and set table that speak of the land’s past life as a hotel, but my favorite by far is the grass snake. The ribbon of turf going up and the curtain of grass hanging down combined with the aged wood is awesome!
    The ceramic dragon is something as well 🙂

    • I kind of agree about the grass snake. It doesn’t have a deeper meaning, just a fun play on words, but I think it’s really brilliant.

  13. I am almost speechless! So many poignant works of art, all relevant to the history of the land and those who have and do dwell upon it. What thought they have put into their art! I simply loved it all, especially the table, the bed and the Grass snake. That mosaic of the land really is a special touch. How I would have liked to have visited here in person. Yes….you must add your pieces, looking forward to what you come up with. xxx

  14. Since I began reading Pat’s blog, I’ve been fascinated with her use of art in the garden. Thanks for giving me a more complete picture.

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