The China Terrace is my way of representing the past in the present, of giving a new life to memories of the years when Glen Villa Inn welcomed summer guests from near and far. According to a local newspaper of the time, Canadians and American visitors “from every state in the Union” came to spend their holidays here in North Hatley, Quebec. The hotel’s life was brief, though. Built in 1902, it burned to the ground in 1909, shortly before opening for its eighth season.
Not long after moving into Glen Villa in 1996, I discovered an enormous cache of broken china from the hotel, and over the years I incorporated those shards into the design of a space that remembered the hotel. The broken china pieces composed a mosaic at the entry to the Inn.
They formed a rug under the dining room table.
They became part of bricks that divided the space into ‘rooms.’
I set the dining room table with plates that our children had used when they were growing up. Before embedding them in the wet cement table top, I deliberately broke the plates into large pieces to suggest that the past did not tell a single, unbroken story but one that was fragmented, that varied according to your point of view. I added cutlery, goblets and napkins that I made with the help of Lucy Doheny, a talented local potter.
Over the years, with the freeze and thaw of winter, the plates broke into smaller and smaller pieces. The wooden goblets made by Greg Hirtle, a local woodworker, began to rot and the pottery napkins began to crumble.
By this spring, the whole table was a mess. This state of affairs left me in two minds. I could leave things as they were, allowing each element to deteriorate further, or I could set the table anew. I decided to do the latter. Because while I liked the sense of change that the broken plates and rotting goblets suggested, the disintegration was so complete that it made it difficult to tell a comprehensible story.
Renewing the dining room table was one of my goals for this year, and I’m pleased to say that the job is now almost complete. Using a grinder, Ken Kelso removed the shattered plates and deteriorating cutlery that I originally embedded in wet cement .
Once he had finished and the table top was washed and dried, I was ready to put the new plates and cutlery in place.
Using plates with the same pattern I’d used before was important to me — that pattern was the connection between the history of our family and the history of the site. It took me several months, but by searching on line, I finally found eight plates with the same design. To make them last longer, I decided not to break the plates but to leave them whole, trusting that the weather will break them soon enough.
Now, with new goblets and with the plates and cutlery glued in place, all that is missing is the centrepiece and the napkins which I will make later this fall, again with help from Lucy Doheny.
I know that for a while the table will look as raw as it did when it was brand new. I also know that with time, the wooden goblets will begin to rot and the plates to crumble. And that the moss will also grow again on the sides and top of the table, giving the impression of age that makes the China Terrace feel so ghostly.
The original motivation for the China Terrace was my desire to recognize the history of the site. I wanted to mark the passage of time and the changes that occurred, and will occur, that register that movement. The table, the moss-covered bed and the outline of chairs do that. So does the katsura tree that I planted along one ‘wall.’ It was a tiny shrub when I bought it in 2003. Now, seventeen years later, it is is a full-grown tree.
Its growth provides a counterpoint to the deterioration of the man-made elements on the China Terrace. Its life underlines a contrast between what grows towards the future and what looks to the past. Finding that balance is what makes the China Terrace a significant element in the garden at Glen Villa. Pondering that balance adds substance to the garden itself.