Drive thirteen hours just to look at a garden? Are you crazy? Some might think so, but not serious plant and garden lovers. Sooner or later they all add this one to their list of gardens to visit. It’s been on my own list for years but I never got around to it until last week when I suggested a road trip to fellow gardener, Mat. The garden in question is Reford Gardens, also known as Le Jardins de Métis, an English-style garden on the banks of the St. Lawrence near Grand-Métis, Quebec.
This historic garden, on the site of a family fishing camp, was created in the 1920s by Elsie Reford, and has been open to the public since 1962. The twenty acre garden, now under the care of her grandson, Alexander Reford, has become a magnet for gardeners intent on seeing this remarkable place. Many are attracted by the hope of seeing the famous blue poppy, Meconopsis betonicifolia — and of course, a sublime garden filled with thousands of other notable plants.
This is why Mat and I were on the road at 4:30 a.m., with a 1200 kilometer drive ahead of us. After a stop to see the roses in the Montreal Botanical garden, we arrived in Metis-sur-Mer just in time to watch a beautiful sunset over the St. Lawrence. We hoped that it portended a sunny day for our garden tour. Alas, daybreak brought torrential rain and thunderstorms. There was little to do but wait in our hotel, Domaine Annie Sur Mer, for the weather to clear. It didn’t, but we hadn’t travelled all that way to sit around looking out on grey skies and grey water, so after reminding (or maybe convincing) ourselves that gardens always look best on cloudy, even rainy days, off we went.
Our somewhat damp enthusiasm was rewarded when, as we entered the garden, the rain eased then stopped completely — what a gift. There was no sunshine but we were beaming as we walked through a still dripping spruce forest along puddled pathways and over the wooden bridges that crisscross the small creek.
It was here that Elsie Reford created the heart of her garden. The pathways wind by the moss covered stone walls she built to stabilize the steep slopes. Azaleas of yellow and orange lit up the forest as masses of candelabra primula spilled down to the edge of the creek. Everywhere, forest-dwelling ferns gently softened the colourful plantings. Okay, I could go on about countless gorgeous plants — and of course the amazing blue poppies, but there’s so much more to this garden, including a lupine filled meadow.
A major attraction are the twenty-seven other gardens currently in place as part of the annual garden festival that makes Reford Gardens a unique horticultural tourist destination. These conceptual gardens, many of which are permanent, are created by designers from around the world. Artistic and sculptural, they’re designed to amaze, evoke, and puzzle over — ever seen trees other than in of Lord of the Rings that move across the forest floor? We did.
There was even a place for that blight of gardens everywhere, pink flamingoes. At Reford they were delightfully displayed in The Veil Garden as a flock advancing through ferns. I may have to consider finding room in my own garden for a few — or maybe in Mat’s garden.
I could attempt to describe our visit in endless detail, but I wouldn’t be able to capture the magic of Elsie Reford’s dream, enhanced impressively by talented designers. It’s the kind of place that simply has to be seen, but only if you’re up for a long road trip and willing to take a chance on having perfect garden viewing weather, as we did — the kind of rain we dearly need around here. Learn more here: Le Jardins de Métis See images
First published July 9 2016 Waterloo Region Record and Guelph Mercury