Bruce Cannon’s Mountainside Garden

  • Post published:08/17/2012
  • Post comments:2 Comments
Bruce Cannon's stone wall and shady bed

How long does it take for a vision to become flesh? Or in this case patios, stone walls, cool shady flower beds and a koi filled pond? For Bruce Cannon who found and bought a hilly wooded site on South Mountain in Northfield fifteen years ago, the vision was complete in only three or four years, but the building took a little longer.

The house came first, set on the only bit of flat land on this steep hill. Then came the main retaining wall that Cannon and two friends built the next year. He said there is never any shortage of stone. “I had the excavators who dug out the foundation and septic field lay all the stones they removed in a single layer. We had lots to choose from,” he said. Only the large flat stones for the patios came from a quarry in Goshen.

The gently curving dry fit stone wall is a work of art. At its base it is six feet deep tapering to the top which is only one stone deep. In front of it are an array of plants that don’t mind the shade, a Lavender Mist meadow rue, hostas, summer phlox.

Built into the stone wall are tiki torches that Cannon designed and made himself. Fire is a dramatic element in this garden at night. Tiki torches light the stone wall, and an occasional tree. Tiny torches are built into the stone patio surrounding a huge tree. There is also a large firepit. This is a garden designed for sociability at every hour.

Koi pond

While lots of seating has been provided in the shade that has been so welcome this summer, the pond sits in the sun. “I noticed a low spot when the septic field was laid out and thought then that it might be a good place for a pond,” Cannon said. He didn’t have too long to wait. Five or six years in he spent three months and built and planted the pond which is 5 feet deep and seems to be fed by small waterfalls, burbling their way down a small incline. The pond is actually fed from the well and the water is recirculated.


When I commented on the happy sound of the waterfalls Cannon said they were “tuned.” He was at the Big E where he happened to meet a friend who was there working for a company that installed water gardens. When he said he was building a pond and wanted to put in a waterfall, she said she’d help.

He learned that the sound of the waterfall can be controlled by designing the height of the water drop, the depth of the ‘cave’ behind the waterfall, and the kind of rocks that the waterfall hits. I have to say the waterfalls are a complete success.

The plantings around the pond took equal thought. Stella d’Oro and Happy Returns daylilies are happy in the wet spot as are the variegated water iris, arrowhead, porcupine rush, cattails, and waterlilies that are grown in pots. Pickerel weed is planted in a basket because the roots steal nutrients from the water that would encourage the growth of algae. The pickerel weed is just a part of the well-thought out system of filtration and circulation that keeps the water clean and healthy for the koi that live in the pond.

The waterfall originates under a graceful red Japanese maple and enters the pond amid a planting of miniature goatsbeard, astilbe, allium and heuchera.

Home for the garden dudes

The garden is beautifully thought out and arranged for strolling amid a variety of flowering plants as familiar as the fragrant lilies and as dramatic as the colocasia or elephant ears in a giant pot at the end of the pond. Cannon manages to combine the serenity and elegance of the garden with touches of whimsy like the hobbit-like door built into the base of a large tree “for the garden dudes,” and wooden fish that swim above the sea of woodland ferns.

Potting Bench

A beautiful garden like this is not made by sitting in the shade. Cannon has provided the garden with any number of practical items. I was particularly struck by the long steel sink and potting bench set at the edge of the woods. Cannon laughed as he showed me that it has running cold and cold water that just drains away onto the ground. He can keep a selection of pots here, and a bin holds rich potting soil. When the Boy Scouts come to camp in his woods every year he said the sink does get used for their washing up.

Water barrels

The pond and a new irrigation system are fed by his well, but he also has a system of three connected wooden rainbarrels that can feed the irrigation lines with the turn of a spigot.

Cannon talks about the balanced system that keeps his pond is good order, but as we strolled through the garden I couldn’t help thinking that skilled gardeners like him often balance a good sense of design, with extensive knowledge about plants. Cannon has added engineering and construction skill that make the garden not only beautiful, but practical as well.

I would be happy to hear about any practical elements that my readers have arranged in their gardens. Comments, questions and suggestions can be emailed to

Between the Rows   August 11, 2012

See you at the Heath Fair – at the Library Book Sale, and on Sunday, I’ll be reading and talking about my book The Roses at the End of the Road at 2 pm.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jason

    That is one of the most beautiful water features I have ever seen.

  2. Pat

    Jason – I am right with you. The waterfall and pond are so beautiful – and beautifully managed.

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