Tag Archives: conceptual gardens

The International Garden Festival at Métis, Québec

July 14th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

Edward Lutyens once said that a garden “should have a backbone — a central idea beautifully phrased.” The central and beautifully phrased idea of the International Garden Festival at the Reford Gardens in Métis, Québec is to offer garden installations that challenge conventional ideas of what a garden is — or can be.
For the past 15 years the festival has been a showcase for innovation and delight. Featuring designers from Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Holland, France, the United States and Canada, this year’s Festival presents 22 contemporary gardens that “invite visitors to enter and contemplate new ways of seeing the landscape and the world.” (www.refordgardens.com/english/festival/edition.php
Each garden provokes thought. The best also fulfill Lutyens’ counsel, presenting a central idea beautifully phrased. Consider, for example, A Ditch with a View, by the New York landscape architect Ken Smith.  Three ‘windows’ made of recycled window sashes span an ordinary drainage ditch, definitely not a place where a gardener would normally position a view. Standing in this unfamiliar location, looking through the various openings that the three window frames offer, we become like voyeurs peeking into the borrowed space beyond — at the ditch close by and the St Lawrence River farther away. 
One of the three windows that span a drainage ditch.
Can anyone hear the title of this installation without thinking of E.M. Forster’s book?


Sacré Potager, by the Montreal-based firm Atelier Barda, employs the idea and form of the roadside shrine to mourn the loss of biodiversity. 
Wooden altars like these dot the Quebec landscape.
The votive candles placed inside each shrine are labeled with the names and images of rare or now lost vegetables. 
Pois St-Hubert was brought to Quebec by the early settlers and used in a soup
called Hunter Soup, recalling an ancient legend about St. Hubert.
A more explicitly plant-oriented garden is by Rosetta Sarah Elkin. Tiny Taxonomy brings the forest floor to eye level, transforming the ordinary into something of value. Stainless steel cylinders of various heights are arranged in lines; each cylinder contains a tiny forest tableau that rewards close examination.
This beautifully phrased garden first appeared at the Festival in 2010.
Versions appeared at the Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum in 2013 and the Chelsea Fringe Festival in 2014.
Courtesy of Nature by Johan Selbing and Anouk Vogel also focuses on the existing environment. Two spruce trees and a portion of the forest floor are set off from their surroundings by a simple box-like cabin. The interior of the cabin is pure, almost antiseptic, with white walls and white gravel that together create a zen-like space. We are inside a building but feel as if we outside as well: the view is open to the sky and the landscape beyond, and this direct link invites reflections about our relation to nature, about the status of the trees themselves and how we perceive them. 
This photograph fails to capture the splendid simplicity of this installation,
my favourite of all I saw.
Reflections, metaphoric and literal, are a repeating theme. The artist and architect Hal Ingberg’s Réflexions Colorées was installed for the 2003 Festival. I’ve seen it many times, but never without marvelling at the simplicity of a design that evokes such a complexity of thoughts and emotions. 
A single birch tree is reflected again and again.
From every angle, whether inside or outside the triangular space, the landscape is reflected and multiplied. We see ourselves from some angles, we disappear from others. Always present is the forest beyond. 
Do you see the hint of orange among the trees?
It’s a reflection of the installation behind the photographer, called Afterburn.
This year, the reflected forest offers glimpses onto two highly coloured installations nearby. One is Afterburn, an installation by Civilian Projects, an art and architecture combo made up of two individuals, Ksenia Kagner and Nicko Elliott.  Their garden uses charred posts and soil enriched with ash to show the regenerative effects of forest fires: a forest in miniature is springing up from the seemingly barren soil. 
Orange surveyor’s marking paint establishes a strong visual rhythm in this garden installation.
Coniferous saplings are growing at the foot of these charred posts. 

On another side, Pink Punch, by Nicholas Croft and Michaela MacLeod, takes a light-hearted look at the traditional technique of tree wrapping.
Pink latex rope protects tree trunks from the wilderness around them.
The International Garden Festival is one part of the Reford Gardens. The other part is the historic garden, developed over many years by Elsie Reford, a wealthy Montrealer who inherited her uncle’s fishing camp on the Mitis River.

In 1926, when she was 54 years old, Elsie began to develop the garden as an alternative to salmon fishing, transforming a spruce forest into a garden with a large and unusual collections of plants. One of these is now the garden’s emblem: the Himalyan blue poppy (meconopsis betonicifolia). 

One blue poppy in the poppy glade. Noonday sun has faded the colours slightly
but the blue is still a marvel.

The historic garden remains a delight but the International Garden Festival is what I travel to see. Each visit challenges me to think more broadly and to consider ways I can adapt what I see to my own landscape. The history of the site is a major element, both at the Reford Gardens and at Glen Villa, so I was particularly pleased to see one final installation.

Fighting their way upstream, sequined salmon splash silver and gold over the mugo pines that line paths near the lodge.  Delightful reminders of another era, these Atlantic salmon on their way to the spawning grounds offer a glittering view of the future of these wonderful gardens.

Salmo salar is an installation by Annie Ypperciel and Robert Desjardins.

It takes time and effort to reach the Reford Gardens and the International Garden Festival — Métis is a minimum six hour drive from Montreal. But it is a destination not to be missed.

Bosco della Ragnaia

May 25th, 2014 | 6 Comments »
From Roman times, the contrast between sun and shade has played a major role in Italian garden design. Understandably so, in a country where people search for shade in the summer and for the warmth of sun in winter.This traditional feature is a major design element in a contemporary garden near Siena, Bosco della Ragnaia. Two parts form this garden: a shady woodland,This is the central area of the woodland garden.and a former field, now opened to sunlight and the distant view.An overview of the sunny garden shows how Bosco