Category Archives: Travel

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: 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



August 11th, 2019 | 14 Comments »
Fences come in all shapes and sizes, yet in one way or another they all serve the same purpose: to separate one area from another. At Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, the oldest fence separates a former farm field from a driveway.   [caption id="attachment_7852" align="alignleft" width="1024"] It's obvious from the way the tree has grown around it that this barbed wire fence was put up a long time ago.[/caption]   An equally practical but more decorative fence is the one I designed to protect shrubs from the deer that


Favourite Things

June 27th, 2019 | 6 Comments »
Sometimes, pictures of pretty flowers are enough. I took these photos in a garden in Knowlton, Quebec that I visited last week. It was a grey, rainy day but the gardens were glorious! The flowers in one garden were the stars of the day.   [caption id="attachment_7653" align="alignleft" width="5184"] Raindrops on roses are nice. Raindrops on peonies are even better. I'm not sure how to rank whiskers on kittens.[/caption]   Bright copper kettles are no competition for the WOW! of this poppy. Talk about gorgeous!   [caption id="attachment_7652" align="alignleft" width="3765"] The


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,


Rock Art

November 12th, 2018 | 19 Comments »
Cave paintings on the island of Borneo showing animals and human hands have recently been dated back some 40,000 years, making them the oldest known example of figurative rock art in the world. (Details of the story can be found in various articles, including one here from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.) Think for a moment about how long ago that is. Forty thousand years. It takes my breath away. I've been fascinated by rock art for many years and have been fortunate to see examples in South Africa, Namibia, Australia, Chile and Peru. While the particulars


Garden Hits and Misses

September 30th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
At home after three marvellous weeks visiting gardens (and  friends) in England, I find much to criticize in my garden. After many years of travelling, I've come to expect this -- and to accept that a garden in Quebec's harsh weather conditions will never resemble an English garden, with its lush foliage and flowers, topiary and ancient walls. I've also come to expect that gardens other than my own will disappoint me. On every tour I've hosted, there has always been one garden I particularly looked forward to seeing. On


Garden Centres and Garden Reviews

September 24th, 2018 | 10 Comments »
Gardening in Canada can be frustrating. The range of plants available through nurseries or garden centres is minuscule compared with the number available in England. And seeing so many wonderful cultivars that won't survive in my Quebec garden makes me envious of England's more temperate climate. Still, for anyone who loves plants, a visit to a garden centre is always a treat. The group I was hosting on my final garden tour spent a few happy hours wandering around the Burford Garden Company, an Oxfordshire-based enterprise. At this time of year


Oudolf at Pensthorpe

September 16th, 2018 | 10 Comments »
Over the last half dozen years or so,  I've visited several gardens in England designed by the Dutch plantsman, Piet Oudolf. These include Bury Court in Hampshire, Scampston Hall's Walled Garden in Yorkshire and Hauser & Wirth in Somerset. Because I've seen and enjoyed these gardens, I was eager to see Oudolf's Millennium Garden at Pensthorpe Natural Park in Norfolk. (A review of Scampston Hall's Walled Garden is here.) Pensthorpe was Oudolf's first commission in the U.K. Planted in 2000 and up-dated in 2008, the Millennium Garden is part of a larger natural reserve.


Petworth: a Landscape by Capability Brown

September 9th, 2018 | 18 Comments »
On a sunny day, what could be more agreeable than strolling through a landscape designed by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown? Earlier this week, two friends and I took advantage of the fine weather to do just this when we visited Petworth House in Sussex. The landscape there is one of the finest surviving examples of Brown's work. Walking through the 700-acre park, the surroundings appear to be totally natural, but in reality Brown shaped each part of the land with his customary flair.   [caption id="attachment_6709" align="aligncenter" width="4272"] This view from the