Canada’s Garden of Art – Reford Gardens/Les Jardins de Métis




Les Jardins de Métis, also known as the Reford Gardens, is an English style garden located in Grand Métis, Quebec.  Originally private, the gardens were opened to the public in 1962.  The gardens were designated a Canadian National Historic Site in 1995 and as a Quebec heritage site by the Ministry of Culture and Communications Quebec in 2013.  Developed by Elsie Reford between 1926 and 1958, the site was originally a fishing lodge owned by Lord George Stephen, Reford’s uncle who later gave the property to Reford.  While she was recovering from surgery, her doctor suggested that she take up gardening as a less strenuous alternative to fishing.


The Estevan Lodge, also known as the Villa Reford or Villa Estevan, is a heritage building that was formerly Reford’s summer home.  It was built in 1887 and expanded by Reford in 1926 and 1927, and restored in 2003.  It is used as a dining room and also houses temporary exhibits.  The property covers about 18 hectares (45 acres), and its gardens contain approximately 3,000 plant varieties.


Thanks to its location near the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Mitis Rivers, the site has a favorable microclimate which allows plants to grow here that are found nowhere else in Canada.


Since 2000, the International Garden Festival has become recognized as one of the most important events of its kind in North America and one of the leading annual garden festivals in the world, with more than 900,000 visitors having explored 110 gardens created by over 220 designers from 15 countries.  The Festival is a unique forum for innovation and experimentation and an exceptional showcase and launching pad for participating designers, and provides an annual meeting place for admirers of contemporary gardens and design and an opportunity to discover inspiring spaces bringing together the visual arts, architecture, design, landscape and the environment.




Sir George Stephen, Bt, at his Estevan Lodge Estate {later Reford Gardens}, Grand-Mêtis, Quebec.


George Stephen, 1st Baron Mount Stephen, was born in Scotland in 1829 and came to Canada in 1847, becoming one of Canada’s most prominent businessmen.  In 1891 he became the first Canadian to be elevated to the U.K. peerage.  The financial genius behind the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Sir George lived in Montréal and spent his summers salmon fishing with friends in Grand-Métis, Québec. He bought a 100-acre property overlooking the Mitis River in 1886, before building Estevan Lodge in 1887. After receiving his peerage 1st Baron Mount Stephen returned to living in London, England.  He loaned Estevan Lodge to his friends, who made an annual pilgrimage to the Mitis River to ply its waters. One of the regular visitors was his niece, Elsie Reford.  With no children of his own, Sir George bequeathed his fortune to charity and distributed his possessions among his family. He gave Estevan Lodge to Elsie in 1918 as, reportedly, she was his favorite niece because she shared his love of salmon fishing. In 1926, while Elsie recovered from minor surgery, her doctor suggested she take up gardening as a less strenuous alternative to fishing, and so, “Les jardins de Métis” was born.




Mark Raynes Roberts | Jo Lee Magazine

Blue Stick Garden {Le jardin de bâtons bleus}, designed by Claude Cormier, Montréal, Québec.


Claude Cormier is one of the most influential landscape architects in Canada.  He holds a degree in agronomy, landscape architecture, a master’s degree in history and theory of design from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.  His landscape architectural firm has won over 30 national and international awards, and in June 2009, he was the first to receive the prestigious l’Ordre national du Québec. Blue Stick Garden was created for the inaugural edition of the International Garden Festival in 2000. Its inspiration stems from two unique features of Elsie Reford’s gardens: the Himalayan blue poppy she introduced with the help of the garden’s microclimate, and the mixed border of the Long Walk she created in the spirit of her contemporary, English garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. Blue Stick Garden was conceived with an image of the iconic blue poppy that was scanned, pixelated and translated into a collection of long, thin sticks. These were then “planted” to form an abstraction of the traditional mixed border. Painted blue on three sides and orange on the fourth, the sticks create a chromatic effect that is as surprising as it is simple.




Mark Raynes Roberts | Jo Lee Magazine

A Ditch With A View, designed by Ken Smith, New York City, New York.


Best known as the designer of the MoMA Roof Garden in New York City, Ken Smith belongs to a new generation of landscape architects equally at home in the worlds of art, architecture, and urbanism. Trained in both design and the fine arts, he explores the relationship between art, contemporary culture, and landscape. His A Ditch With A View is an exploration of the borrowed view and the role of voyeurism into the secret garden. This proposition frames a space not ordinarily perceived as a garden.  Three frames spanning the ditch are constructed using recycled natural and cultural materials. An armature of winter-fallen spruce tree trunks are fitted out with an array of recycled window sashes that simultaneously bound the secret garden space and provide windowed views of the ditch and the borrowed landscape beyond.




Mark Raynes Roberts | Jo Lee Magazine

Les jardins de Métis {Reford Gardens}, created by Elsie Reford, Grand-Métis, Québec.


Elsie Reford was a pioneer of Canadian horticulture, creating one of the largest private gardens in Canada on her estate in eastern Québec. Located in Grand-Métis on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, Les jardins de Métis (also known as Reford Gardens) has been open to the public since 1962. In the summer of 1926, Elsie Reford began transforming her fishing camp on the Métis River into a garden.  Located 220 miles northeast of Québec City, the garden’s unique microclimate allowed Ms. Reford to create the “Blue Poppy Glade”, a of display some of her rarest and most enchanting plants, including the Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia), one of the marvels of the plant world.  Native to the Tsangpo Gorge in the southeast corner of Tibet, it grows at altitudes of 3,120 to 4,000 meters. These blue poppies are the progeny of the first plants Reford grew from seed in the 1930s. She was one of the first gardeners in North America to try seeds obtained from the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh, Scotland. Notoriously difficult to grow, the unique climate on the lower St. Lawrence provides the plants with the humidity and cool night air that are essential for their success.




Mark Raynes Roberts | Jo Lee Magazine

Oursins, designed by NIPpaysage, Montréal, Québec.


Since its inception in 2001 by four Université de Montréal graduates, NIPpaysage has emerged as a leading light among a new wave of landscape architects.  Inspired by the maritime environment inspired of the flowing waters of the St. Lawrence River, the NIPpaysage’s team created Oursins, an outdoor installation of giant sea urchins, in 2009 as part of the Redford Gardens International Garden Festival’s 10th anniversary.  In 2010, the sea urchins found their way to Grand-Métis where they are now anchored on the Festival site. Giant creatures with strange and exuberant forms, once planted they become intriguing sculptural objects. Out of their aquatic context, their explosive silhouettes inhabit space like campers bivouacking in the wild. With their deliberately modest footprint, they create a space that is at once geometric, permeable and joyful. Lost on the edge of an evergreen forest, they form an interactive and mysterious secret garden. 




Mark Raynes Roberts | Jo Lee Magazine

Cyclops, designed by Craig Chapple, Phoenix, Arizona.


Formally trained as an architect at Yale University but with a deep commitment to creating art, Cyclops’ designer Craig Chapple pursued both architecture and the visual arts throughout his career.  Cyclops is a singular object on the landscape as well as a singular frame of the landscape.  Composed of  255 8 m tapered timber planks held in the shape of an inverted cone around a central opening for users to occupy. At first approach, Cyclops is an object on the landscape, seen as a clear, platonic form. Through its transparency and porosity, however, it is an object one is also dynamic and changing, blending with its environment. By entering the central 1.5 m opening at the bottom of the cone, users enter into a different relationship with the object and the landscape. By experiencing it from the inside and the outside, the viewer plays a central role in the work by discovering the relationship between the object, the frame, and the natural landscape.




Mark Raynes Roberts | Jo Lee Magazine

Around-About, designed by Roy Talmon and Noa Biran, Tel Aviv, Israel.


Roy Talmon and Noa Biran, Talmon Biran Architechture studio, placed three large mobile harrows inside a gravel field. These instruments, whose design is inspired by traditional agricultural machinery, rake gravel in a circular manner. Here, visitors are active participants in the composition and the deconstruction of the garden.  Unlike Japanese Zen gardens, designed to be seen from the outside, this garden will be viewed and experienced from the inside through a joyful and playful activity. As visitors walk away from the roundabouts, their footsteps violate the orderly pattern of the gravel. Once they get back on the roundabouts and spin them, the garden returns to its ordered perfection.


Mark Raynes Roberts | Jo Lee Magazine

Making Circles In The Water


Diana Balmori, founder of Balmori Associates, enters all their projects with the intention of connecting the site to its surroundings; on a waterfront to the water.  Water introduces a powerful horizontal plane allowing the eye to extend far over its flat surface and wide along the horizon, producing a particularly pleasurable experience, which becomes an inseparable part of the landscape encounter. The series of frames with circular openings in Making Circles establish the connection between elements of the coastal and marine landscapes. All things in nature are constantly changing. Landscape artists need to design to allow for change, while seeking a new course that enhances the coexistence of humans with the rest of nature.





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