By Deborah Rent – Halifax, NS
It seems apropos to be meeting with a landscape designer at Lion & Bright in the funky north-end of Halifax. It’s an urban hipster cafe with long slabs of communal natural slab wood tables. The place itself was named after the oxen that traditionally helped clear land. In this industrial/urban setting, Elizabeth Halley appears almost ethereal.
As we look through pictures of her work, it’s easy for me to imagine myself being transported to faraway lands and time. Loreena McKennitt’s hauntingly beautiful music is the backdrop of my imagination as I see in my mind’s eye, the mystical tour of properties touched by Halley’s artistic interpretations of the rolling hills, of her much loved meadows and gardens. Much like McKennitt’s lyrics, I viscerally feel Halley’s designs. ‘Passing through the lights and shadows, the soul dances.’ With her woodland borders, it’s easy to imagine that this talented landscape designer sees places where trees can communicate and forest spirits hide. Stone walls circle fire pits where I can imagine stories being woven and secrets shared. A blood red bench whispers your name as it appears at the end of path under a pergola made with the trunks of locust trees… a sanctuary that looks as if it’s been there since times long forgotten.
I liken great landscape designers to choreographers. It’s a delicate dance to be able to successfully manipulate the science behind gardening while still being artistic, all the while looking effortless. Halley does this brilliantly. Her designs have a tangible old world charm. “I like antiques. I like to borrow ideas from the French and Italian and rework them. British designers also inspire me,” she says. “I’m drawn to classic traditional designs that fit into the surroundings. I like to make a statement seamlessly, whatever the setting. You want your design to have movement that makes you want to go into every corner and space.”
She comes by her aesthetic sense naturally. Her father is an architect who regularly took his young daughter on tours of the beautiful homes he designed and built in Northwest Connecticut and throughout the wealthier areas of New England…homes with spectacular gardens that stirred her imagination and motivated a career. She spent summers working on a family owned nursery in Ontario. A love and passion was born. After learning about horticulture at the University of Massachusetts, Halley moved to London, England to study garden design at the Inchbald School of Design. She worked at a firm in New York City before finally moving to Nova Scotia where she is establishing her practice, Elizabeth Halley Landscape Design, in the seaside community of Chester. “It’s so romantic here. I love everything about it from the low growth heather to the bayberry that smells delicious,” she laughs. “I love grasses and greens…lots of greens with hints of more green.”
Her work is a labour of love. “After I design and install a garden I’m emotionally invested and I want people to fall in love.” And, as we cue the mystical Irish music, they do.