Category Archives: Art

My Favourite Gardens: the Reford Gardens and the International Garden Festival

July 26th, 2021 | 16 Comments »

I first visited the Reford Gardens when the government of Quebec was in charge, sometime in the 1980s, I think, when the gardens were not very interesting. I can’t count how many times I have visited since, though, and always with enormous pleasure.

Les Jardins de Métis are divided in two parts, a historic garden and an international garden festival. The historic garden is a testament to the ambitions and talents of Elsie Reford who began to create the garden when she was in her 50s. Working in a cold climate, she managed nonetheless to take advantage of micro-climates and heavy snow cover in winter to plant a garden in the English style of the times, with a double herbaceous border, a rock garden in a dell and woodland walks that continue to be a delight.


And seen from the other end


I enjoy the flowering abundance evident in the historic gardens but for me, the stronger attraction is the International Garden Festival. The first Festival was held in 2000 and I’ve visited regularly since then, always finding installations that make me think.

Some stand out in my memory. Hal Ingeberg’s plexiglass installation, Coloured Reflections, continues to confuse the relationship between inside and outside, creating an experience of constantly shifting perceptions.


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Courtesy of Nature by the Dutch designers Johan Selbing and Anouk Vogel, makes nature the centrepiece, giving it pride of place in an almost worshipful way.


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The garden’s signature flower is the Tibetan blue poppy.


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Claude Cormier took inspiration from the colours of the flower to create the Blue Stick Garden.


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It has been installed in various locations in Canada and in other countries, but when I last saw it, it was on the lawn in front of Estevan Lodge, the garden’s principle building and formerly Elsie Reford’s summer home.


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I’ve used this installation and several others from the International Garden Festival to illustrate talks I give. The Blue Stick Garden makes it obvious how important it is to see a garden from different points of view: from the outside, all is blue; from the inside, the predominate tones are those of orange and red that form the centre of the poppy.

Equally telling is Murray MacDonald’s installation, Nature morte de Métis, that illustrates subtly the movement that occurs in many gardens, from the fabricated garden to the natural world.


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Several playful installations stand out in my mind, in large measure because I visited them with two granddaughters. The Woodstock by the French firm Atelier Yok Yok offered a chance for the girls to work off some of their energy.


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The Vertical Line Garden by Julia Jamrozik and Coryn Kempster created a playground of colour and movement that amused all three of us, changing as it did with every shift of the wind.


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A favourite aspect of the site for me is the natural area that links the two parts of the garden. A stream whose name I’ve forgotten suggests a tended wildness …


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… and everywhere wildflowers abound.


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I also enjoy installations in the traditional garden that highlight the history of the area.  The leaping fish in Bal à la Villa, by Quebec artists Annie Ypperciel and Robert Desjardins, is a sparkling way to acknowledge the importance of salmon — Estevan was originally Elsie’s fishing camp. I particularly appreciate how the fish dance over the rounded boxwood in the same way they leap over rounded stones in the Mitis River, adjacent to the house.


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There are many installations that stand out in my mind: Afterburn by Civilian Projects …


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… Every Garden Needs a Shed and a Lawn by Deborah Nagan …


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… Pomme de Parterre by Angela Iarocci, Claire Ironside and David Ross, where potatoes were wired up to power a battery, and variations of Making Circles in the Water by Balmori Associates that I saw in different years.


This version appeared in 2011.


This second version appeared in 2015.


The list of firms and individuals whose projects have been featured at the Festival is stunning, including as it does some of the most noted designers in the world: Bernard Lassus from France, Christopher Bradley-Hole from the UK, Land-I from Italy, Michael Van Valkenburgh, Balmori Associates and Cao Perrot from the U.S., Taylor Cullity Lethlean from Australia and Topotek 1 from Germany. Not surprisingly, there are numerous Canadian firms and individuals but for me the stand-outs are Rosette Elkin’s Tiny Taxonomy 


Rosetta Elkin's Tiny Taxonomy showcases the plants of the forest, too often overlooked.


…and the many installations of the Montreal firm, NIP Paysage, including Floating Forest, installed off-site at the inauguration of the Chelsea Fringe Festival in London.


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One of the joys of the Reford Gardens is remembering the people with whom I shared the visits: children, grandchildren, in-laws, and my husband.  As I write, on what would have been her 82nd birthday, I’m remembering with particular joy the visit I made with my sister Nancie Kennedy in 2008. She and I visited many gardens together, but the visit to Métis is one of the highlights. By chance we bumped into Alexander Reford, the driving force behind the garden and the International Garden Festival. He took us ‘backstage,’ where the iconic blue poppies were being raised, and shared stories about some of that year’s installations, making the visit particularly memorable.

The Reford Gardens and the International Garden Festival combine in a thoroughly satisfying way two aspects of gardens and garden design. They showcase plants arranged traditionally in the garden …


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… and more inventively in the festival, as seen below in Round Up by Legge Lewis Legge.


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The Festival stretches the boundaries of what a garden is, or can be, pushing us as observers to examine — and possibly to rethink — our preconceptions.


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The festival gardens I’ve seen at Métis have inspired me to broaden my approach to gardening, pushing me to test the limits of what a personal garden can do. No wonder the Reford Garden and the International Garden Festival are on the list of my all-time favourites.

Continuum, Part Three

June 27th, 2021 | 6 Comments »
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In 2005, I started to cut a trail at Glen Villa; that trail became Timelines, the walk through fields and forests where art installations explore ideas about history, memory and our relationship to the land. I've written about this trail in many blog posts; I wrote about Continuum, one part of the trail, in two posts last fall. (You can find those posts here and here.) This large rock outcropping is what prompted me to first begin thinking about how to give voice to the land and the ideas and emotions it evoked. When I


My Favourite Gardens: Veddw

May 31st, 2021 | 6 Comments »
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Why do some gardens appeal to us while others leave us cold or indifferent? Is it something in us, in the garden, or in the interaction between the two? Veddw is a garden in Wales, created over the last 33 years by Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes. It is a garden that touches me deeply, and I've spent many hours examining my memory and the photos I've taken there trying to understand why. I know that the connection between the site and its history is one reason. Acknowledging and highlighting that type of


My Favourite Gardens: Villa Lante

April 22nd, 2021 | 14 Comments »
This fountain stands in the wooded area that once formed part of the garden.
Yesterday I gave an on-line talk about Glen Villa to a group of well-informed, well-educated women, many of whom attended the same single sex college I attended years ago. (What used to be Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia is now the co-ed Randolph College.) In the question period afterwards someone asked if I had a favourite garden. It took me only a moment to respond. Not one, I said, but several. I named four or five gardens, and today as I think back, I am struck by  how different those gardens are


Trees in the Garden

April 5th, 2021 | 2 Comments »
Autumn colour is more intense some years than others.
Trees are an invaluable part of a garden, so important that they are sometimes called its bones because they hold the other parts of the garden together. They are slow to grow and consequently are often the first thing planted in a new garden or one undergoing renovation. Trees do more than hold a garden together, though. They are miracle workers, cleaning the air, providing protection against wind and rain, focusing our view and, in northern regions at least, providing splendid colour in the fall.     At Glen Villa, they add privacy to a picnic


Borders, Boundaries and Beds

March 21st, 2021 | 4 Comments »
This crumbling stone wall once separated two farm fields at Glen Villa.
One year ago, almost to the day, the border between Canada and the U.S. closed. The closing didn't end all movement back and forth but for all practical purposes, for most of us it put an end to easy crossings. Today, no one knows when the border will re-open, and wondering about that unknown date set me thinking about borders and boundaries as they relate to gardens and landscapes. What is the difference between a border and a boundary, and what impact, if any, does a verbal distinction make on the ground? Thinking


The Value of Criticism

February 22nd, 2021 | 6 Comments »
Many people walking the trail ignored the sign pointing to Mythos and continued along the main trail.
Recently an article titled "Gardens Need Criticism" was posted on the garden website Veddw. Written by Veddw's garden maker Anne Wareham and originally published in Garden Design Journal in 2002, the article prompted me to think about the art of critiquing gardens and the art of receiving critiques. Last year a well-informed group of landscape architects and designers visited Glen Villa. I invited comments, and at the end of the visit one person quietly made a suggestion about a section of Timelines, the trail I've been working on for the last few years. His comment concerned


Continuum, Continued

November 23rd, 2020 | 4 Comments »
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Over the last few weeks, while the weather was remarkably kind, I've continued to work on an extension to Timelines, the trail that explores ideas about memory, history and our relationship to the land. I wrote about the initial work on Continuum in my last blog post, almost a month ago.  Since then, lots has happened. We added a wonderful tree trunk bench alongside the stream, right next to the old lid from a sap bucket that was used, who knows how many years ago, when maple syrup was being made at Orin's Sugarcamp.



October 27th, 2020 | 12 Comments »
This is how the rock looked in 2013, before I started on the trail extension.
"There is often a huge difference between an idea and its realization. Ideas must be put to the test. That's why we make things, otherwise they would be no more than ideas." Andy Goldsworthy's words ring true for me. I have more ideas than I can realize, certainly more than I can act on in my lifetime.  Folders splitting at the seams contain scribbled thoughts and doodles, pages torn from magazines, projects detailed but never executed. So when I begin to translate an idea into the reality that Goldsworthy speaks


Autumn Leaves

October 12th, 2020 | 11 Comments »
The Forms are one installation on Timelines, the trail at Glen Villa that explores ideas about history, memory and our relationship to the land.
Walking through the woods recently, I passed this installation, called The Forms.   [caption id="attachment_9253" align="aligncenter" width="3728"] The Forms represent the basic building blocks of the constructed world. They are one part of Timelines, the trail at Glen Villa that explores ideas about history, memory and our relationship to the land.[/caption]   The colours of the plexiglass shapes stood out from the muted tones around them, attracting me like a magnet. Closer, I noticed leaves scattered on top of them, some haphazardly, some artfully arranged.     The contrast in colours atop