This is no ordinary garden show; some would call it weird; the founder says it’s contemporary. Since the festival began in 2000, 110 gardens from 15 countries have been selected by a jury to be part of the exhibition. 290 proposals were received from 31 countries for the 2013 festival and six gardens chosen, so it continues to grow.
Tim Richardson, the author of several books on gardens and a garden columnist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph, considers this festival to be “one of the very best conceptual garden shows worldwide”. It certainly encourages innovation and experimentation, bringing together “the visual arts, architecture, design, landscape and the environment”.
The festival is one of 25 gardens that Richardson showcased in his book Great Gardens of America (there is another Canadian garden on the list, Les Quatre Vents). The festival, says Richardson, has no declared theme but instead actively encourages participants to “grapple within a sense of place”, within an existing historic garden and a “grand natural landscape”.
The historic garden that he is referring to is the Reford Gardens (Jardins de Métis) that occupies the adjacent site. I suspect we “traditional” gardeners go to Grand-Métis to see Elsie’s Reford’s historic garden and stumble upon the contemporary one quite by accident. Richardson would probably say that we suffer from trying to preserve gardens as they looked in the past.
Certainly, innovation has its place and Alexander Reford, the great-grandson of Elsie Reford and director of both the Reford Gardens and the International Garden Festival, is to be admired for his initiative. I do think it helpful to read and think about the gardens before you go so that you know what the designer was thinking.
The festival’s setting is austere, bordered by the St. Lawrence River, a woodland, a large field and a forest. It seems a long way from the colourful and familiar Reford gardens although the distance is not great. The two spaces are dramatically different.
Here are four of the gardens that were on display when I was there in 2011.
A ditch with a view: Explores the concept of the borrowed view and the role of voyeurism in the secret garden. Recycled windows bound the secret garden space and provide views of the ditch and the borrowed landscape beyond.
Fleur de sel: Presents an image of the first snowfall and that underneath the snow the garden will remain hidden until the snow melts. It is up to the onlooker to imagine what the garden is like. A lot of salt is used every year in Canada to melt snow on the roads and we sometimes forget how important salt is.
Réflexions colorées: A semi-reflective equilateral triangle provides a courtyard-like enclosure that frames and intensifies the perception of the forest. The perception changes with the light and where the visitor is standing.
Our sins: These giant sea urchin sculptures were inspired for this maritime environment. While they are geometric and joyful, their footprint is modest and a mysterious find on the edge of an evergreen forest.
The International Garden Festival is located on route 132 in Grand-Métis, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, mid-way between Rimouski and Matane. This year the festival runs from June 22 to September 29. Descriptions of the 2013 gardens and the jury that selected them are available on the festival website along with information on how to get there.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2013