Category Archives: Reviews

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.

My Favourite Gardens: Veddw

May 31st, 2021 | 6 Comments »
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 »
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


The Medicine Wheel and the Four Directions

September 20th, 2020 | 4 Comments »
Earlier this week I was fortunate to visit a new installation on the Tomifobia Nature Trail in the company of its creator, Paul-Conrad Carignan, and Paul's partner, Sylvia Bertolini. Paul is a Metis Algonquin-Anishnabe Elder and the site he designed is dedicated to spiritual and healing teachings of the Indigenous Medicine Wheel and its four directions. At a clearing beside the trail, located in Quebec's Eastern Townships close to the border with the United States, large granite slabs, or stelae, rise up at the four directions. Each stone is engraved with an


A Three Part Garden

August 3rd, 2020 | 2 Comments »
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to visit a garden in the small village of North Hatley, Quebec, where I live, to see the work of garden makers Jane Meagher and Jean Vanaise. Here, over about ten years, they have transformed a one-acre town lot into a lushly varied garden. The transformation began when they decided to renovate and enlarge their house.  Before they began, the garden around the building was mostly grass plus a few bunches of flowers scattered more or less randomly. Not so today. Now their mini-paradise is set off from the street and


Bosco della Ragnaia: A Garden for the Mind

July 13th, 2020 | 6 Comments »
Gardens and the peace they can bring are much on my mind today, as the number of people infected with COVID-19 continues to grow.  It is a fact that gardens can heal the body as well as the mind. Research from around the world tells us that even brief contacts with nature are beneficial, lowering blood pressure and reducing stress as effectively as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression. Almost any reconnection with nature has a powerful physical and mental healing effect, even something as simple as weeding a flower bed.


Kiftsgate Court: A Garden Review

October 21st, 2019 | 17 Comments »
Kiftsgate Court is one of those English gardens included on many garden tours, in part because it is so conveniently located, just down the road from Hidcote, the iconic garden created by the Anglo-American Lawrence Johnston. The gardens at Kiftsgate were created over the last hundred years by three generations of women -- grandmother, mother and daughter -- each of whom made her own contribution to the garden as it is today. Renowned for the Kiftsgate rose, the garden contains some wonderful areas and some fine plantings, with sumptuous flowers like this one that


Haseley Court and Making History Visible

January 22nd, 2019 | 6 Comments »
My last blog post, about making history visible and listening to the land, struck a chord.  Many readers responded via the Site and Insight web page or commented on Facebook and on the blog itself, saying they were touched by the piece. Several described how experiences in their pasts affected their responses today, both to their own garden and to gardens they visited. I know that is true for me. I grew up in Virginia, in a house with a big back yard where I could hide under bushes and pretend to be an explorer


Houghton Hall: A Garden Review

January 6th, 2019 | 8 Comments »
England has many fine gardens. Houghton Hall in Norfolk is one of the finest, offering a stimulating combination of horticulture, contemporary art and history that is far too much to absorb in a single visit. The most popular part of the garden is the five acre Walled Garden. Divided into contrasting areas, the Walled Garden contains a double-sided herbaceous border, an Italian garden, a formal rose parterre, fruit and vegetable gardens, a glasshouse, a rustic temple, antique statues, fountains and contemporary sculptures. With so many aspects, the area could feel muddled or over-crowded,


Monuments and Memorials

November 20th, 2018 | 6 Comments »
Paintings on rock made by indigenous people many years ago give us insights into their daily life and the events and objects they valued. (I wrote about rock paintings here.) Monuments and memorials serve a similar purpose. So what do they show about what we value today? Traditionally monuments were erected to great men and generals who led us in war, and to those who fought and died. I grew up surrounded by this type of memorial. The statues of Confederate leaders that lined Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia left no doubt about