Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Lucy Maud Montgomery Garden– A Children's Garden of the Senses

Anne of Green Gables, written by Lucy Maud Montgomery and published in 1908, is the charming story of red-haired orphan named Anne Shirley. The backdrop for the classic children's book is picturesque Prince Edward Island, where the author herself grew up. In the novel, the gregarious Anne Shirley is adopted by Marilla and Mathew Cuthbert, a brother and sister who share the running of a small farm named Green Gables. A review at the time proclaimed the book "radiated happiness and optimism."

Movie stills from the Anne of Green Gables a film produced and directed by Kevin Sullivan in 1985 for the CBC.

It is very tempting to associate an author with the story and characters he or she creates, but in the diaries she kept from an early age, Lucy Maud described her own life as one "filled with shadows."

One of Lucy Maud's earliest memories was touching her small hand to the cold cheek of her mother as she lay in her coffin. After his twenty-three year old wife died of tuberculosis, Lucy Maud's grief-stricken father abandoned his two year old daughter to the care of her maternal grandparents. He moved to western Canada where he remarried and started a second family of children. Though an attempt was made to include Lucy Maud in this new household, she clashed with her father's second wife. In the end, Lucy Maud returned to Prince Edward Island and her aging grandparents.

Black and white photograph of Montgomery in front of her house in Norval dated September 18, 1932 Reference Code: F1075 Archives of Ontario, I0001763

In those days, marriage or teaching were a girl's main life choices. For a time, Lucy Maud taught in village schools in Belmont and Lower Bedeque, PEI, but after the death of her grandfather, she dutifully returned home to care for her grandmother. 

Writing was always a great solace for Lucy Maud. She wrote in her journals, "I cannot remember a time when I was not writing, or when I did not mean to be an author. To write has always been my central purpose around which every effort and hope and ambition has grouped itself." In 1908, Anne of Green Gables was published and was an instant success. 

Her grandmother passed away in 1911, and Lucy Maud was finally free to marry the Reverend Ewan MacDonald, to whom she had been secretly engaged to for five years. She was then 35 years old.

Sadly, marriage did not prove to be the escape from a lonely life that Lucy Maud had hoped. Shortly after taking up the ministry at the Presbyterian churches in Norval and a nearby Glen Williams, her husband Ewan began to suffer from recurring attacks of what was viewed at the time to be “religious melancholia." Convinced that he would be doomed to damnation for his mortal sins, Ewan was unable to sleep or to preach properly. He repeatedly tried to kill himself in a series of car accidents.

Keeping her husband's mental illness a secret from the congregations became a constant source of anxiety for Lucy Maud. Eventually it was necessary to have Ewan committed to a sanatorium. Hoping to avoid the scrutiny of a small town life, Lucy Maud moved to Toronto and a house which she called "Journey's End".

For years, it was thought that Lucy Maud Montgomery died of congestive heart failure at the age of 67. The need to maintain family secrets eased over time and in recent years Montgomery's granddaughter Kate MacDonald Butler spoke openly about the possibility that a deeply depressed Montgomery took her own life with a prescription drug overdose.

Montgomery managed to keep the long shadows of her depression a secret from the world until the posthumous publication of her journals in 1985. Her loyal readers were shocked to discover the deep sadness that pervaded the private life of their beloved author.

The house where Montgomery lived can still be seen in present day Norval. 

Yellow Rudbeckia and blue Russian Sage in the foreground.

Flowers were one of the few pleasures in Montgomery's life. In Norval, she had a kitchen garden where she grew lettuces, radishes, peas, carrots and herbs. After her writing and housework were complete, she often spent spring evenings working with gloved hands in her flower garden.

It seems only fitting a garden in honour of the famous children's book author has children at its heart. Located adjacent to the public school in the small village of Norval, the Garden of the Senses uses plants and other design elements to stimulate the senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. Designed by Eileen Foley, Landscape Architect, OALA CSLA, the garden features a woodland trail, log bridge, an analemmatic sundial, children's vegetable garden, butterfly and bird garden. 

Yellow Rudbeckia and several varieties of Echinacea.

A mix of shrubs, different ornamental grasses, Rudbeckia and Echinacea.

The Spiral Garden leads visitors to a sundial at the centre of a gravel pathway. Here, the tall grasses that sway in the wind and late summer flowers are meant to appeal to senses of sight and sound.

A few different varieties of Echinacea and a Maidenhair Grass, Miscanthus sinensis behind.

Switch grass, Panicum virgatum with Russian Sage in the distance.

Rudbeckia and a white Echinacea.

Yellow Rudbeckia and Northern Sea Oat Grass, Chasmanthium latifolium

The limestone patio and analemmatic sundial. The surrounding plantings appeal to our sense of touch and include soft foliage like Lamb's Ears.

An analemmatic sundial reveals the changing pattern made by the Sun in the sky as seen over a period of a year.

Lamb's Ears, Stachys byzantina has wonderful velvety-grey foliage.

Hydrangea paniculata

Daylily 'Frans Hals'

Hemerocallis 'Frans Hals' has golden yellow and rusty-orange flowers. Full sun.  Height: 55-60 cm (21-23 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

 The Scent Garden features two adjoining semi-circles and incorporates fragrant plants like lavender. 

 The bell from the town's original school.

I am not sure of the exact identity of this Veronica, so I will give you reference to one that is similar:

Veronica spicata 'Royal Candles' has spikes of bright blue flowers and a medium green leaves. Remove spent blooms to encourage a second round of flowers in late summer. Full sun or light shade.
Height: 20-30 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

A large pavilion provides shelter from the elements. 

A pond-less waterfall is a great option for a children's garden.

A Butterfly Bush

Raised beds in the children's vegetable and herb garden.


Colorful birdhouses and a bench from which to observe the birds 
making nests and raising their young.

The school children must have such fun in this garden. 

Despite her husband's illness, Lucy Maud wrote in her journal, "I never loved any place so well except Cavendish (her home in Prince Edward Island)". I think Lucy Maud Montgomery would be proud to know that she has inspired something else that children would love. 

More Information and Links:

Visiting the garden is free to the public. Here's a link to the Garden of the Senses website.


  1. Such a beautiful place for such a sad individual.

    1. There were certainly many sad aspects to her life. It is rather amazing that her stories were so joyful. Perhaps she a hopeful person.

  2. What a beautiful place, but oh such a sad, sad story.
    Thank you for sharing this here, Jennifer.

    1. Lucy maud had a number of romances. I think it was unfortunate that the man she chose to marry brought her such stress and unhappiness.

  3. This was such an interesting post. I never knew this about the author.
    Of course I loved the 1985 Anne of Green Gables series on TV and Prince Edward Island has long been on my list of places to visit because of it.

    1. Prince Edward Island is a beautiful place. If you ever get a chance it is a wonderful vacation destination Sarah.

  4. Such beauty and sadness. Thank you for sharing this moving post.

  5. I never knew most of those things about Lucy Maud Montgomery. What a sad life she led. I love those rudbeckia and echinacea. I was stopped in my tracks when I saw the pond-less waterfall! The place we've just moved into has a small waterfall almost identical but it has a pond which I would love to turn into pond-less. My husband wanted a photo of one and now I've actually found a photo for him!

    1. Great Diane! I am glad you found some inspiration you can use in your own garden.


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