Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Trees, Shrubs, & Vines

Gardens of Quebec

by Alain Charest

The Himalayan poppy thrives in the cool, humid summers of the St. Lawrence Valley.

Let's face it, Canada is probably not the first place you think of if you're interested in garden touring. Isn't it too far north for anything to grow well and survive the harsh winters? In fact, the cold climate and northern latitudes bring out the best in a surprising range of plants, and many marvelous public and private gardens across the country are open to the public.

Last June, I had the opportunity to tour some gardens in Quebec province, just north of New England. Of the many gardens I saw, three stand out: a very English one on the lower St. Lawrence River, created in the traditional way by the niece of a railroad baron; a teaching garden at Laval University, in Quebec City; and a Depression-era make-work project in Montreal that has evolved into a magnificent showcase and one of the world's largest botanical gardens. All are aesthetically pleasing but also full of ideas and inspiration.

Jardins de Metis
This garden, which the Michelin guide to Canada calls "among the most beautiful in the world," sits on a peninsula on the south shore of the St. Lawrence about 220 miles northeast of Quebec City. It was created after World War I by Elsie Reford, a Montreal society woman who migrated north each summer to escape city heat and enjoy the fresh air -- hence the garden's former name, Reford Gardens. Her great-grandson is the garden's general manager, which may explain why much of the magic of the place survives.

The site, surrounded by water on three sides, is the garden's most impressive feature. This allows for a cool growing season, and a dense belt of black spruce shelters the garden from the prevailing northwest winds. Much of the garden nestles along the sloping banks of Page Brook, with a path that meanders from one shore to the other on rustic bridges.

The 42-acre garden still feels very much like a private estate. Its greatest assets are Elsie Reford's artful plantings, fortunately preserved over the years. Traditional flower beds, as well as numerous large areas where plants have been naturalized, merge imperceptibly into the surrounding native ferns and forest. The plantings fit so perfectly into their environment that, if you did not know otherwise, you would think most of the plants were native. This is one secret of the garden's great charm.

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