Autobiography of a Garden

First, I need to say that this book was written by a great and well loved friend. However, in spite of my obvious bias, I believe this is the book to buy for your Christmas holiday reading or present giving. And it may change your ideas about what a garden is and – dreaded word – inspire your own.

The book is broadly, but not exclusively, the history of the making of a garden full of art: the Glen Villa Art Garden   : “a 750-acre property in North Hatley, Quebec, that encompasses lakefront property, farm fields, woodlands and a section of old-growth forest.”

You needn’t imagine garden sculptures irrelevantly littered around the place, as in many ‘Sculpture Gardens’. Nor a garden full of obscure pieces that defeat and bewilder your brain: this is a book which gives you the genesis of all the pieces, together with the events, people or history which inspired them. And then the practicalities of making them, or having them made.

Sometimes they are directly inspired by someone else’s garden and work, such as one of my favourites: ‘The Writing is On The Wall, originally seen at Broadwoodside, cut into the plaster of (of course) a wall.

The Writing is on the Wall at Glen Villa Art Garden

Pat’s version.

Pat made the words blaze in neon light, on her own wall, as a gift for her husband on their fiftieth wedding anniversary: “The cursive letters …bring memories of the years that he and I and our still growing family lived in China during the Cultural Revolution”. And they acknowledge his life in words as editor and writer. 

The garden’s story begins from Pat’s beginnings as a slightly dissatisfied conventional garden maker who began to see the possibilities of expression in a garden.

Autobiography of a Garden Patterson Webster2

Pat and I had a moment of delighted recognition when we discovered that we had both been illuminated in our garden making by The Inward Garden by Julie Moir Messervy, which was published in 1995 and is, sorry about this, another essential book for your Christmas list.

Over Pat’s 25 years of discovering, thinking about, research, travelling and visiting gardens and working with willing and creative helpers has produced a garden full of meaning and excitement. The landscape had originally been walked and inhabited by the Abenaki and their place there is acknowledged with sensitivity:

Autobiography of a Garden by Patterson Webster.

Abenaki Walkers become entangled in barbed wire.

Inspiration comes from the banal: a catalogue –

Autobiography of a Garden by Patterson Webster

and life events, in this case, the death of Pat’s mother. As you see, Pat describes the struggle of attempting to realise a project:

Autobiography of a Garden Patterson Webster.

And then the result.

Autobiography of a Garden Patterson Webster.

The Upper Room


Autobiography of a Garden is about the garden making, Pat’s life, the history of the land, the ideas, the art, the plants and the devouring deer. And there are surprising and fascinating extras – as you can see by the titles of the chapters:

Autobiography of a Garden by Patterson Webster

This book is about radical garden making such as a garden designer or plant collector may never dream of, because it is rooted in the love and commitment to a particular place. To understanding, loving, connecting and conversing with a place, and bringing it to its greatest beauty and expression. It has its echoes in the love for a partner or a child – with times of joy, times of grief and frustration, memory, learning, growing and dying. 

Sadly, the garden and the book are likely to only reach gardeners and garden makers. Art ought to be accessible to everyone, but the gallery visitors, opera freaks, fiction fanatics, film goers, who may all dip into a variety of art forms, think of gardens as only for gardeners. Perhaps that’s a cue to buy the book for a Christmas present for such a person and confound their expectations.

Autobiography of a Garden.

Autobiography of a Garden by Patterson Webster