Yesterday’s Sainte-Flavie arrival-greeting fog has burned away
and our morning breaks sunny, warm and inviting. We grab an early breakfast in the Motel: butter-basted eggs ‘over easy’, some lovely crispy smoked-tinged bacon and completely acceptable hand cut hash brown potatoes, washed down with some fresh, bold coffee. We are pleasantly surprised as we had very low expectations of the Motel’s breakfast offerings. Checked out, car reloaded, we continue up 132 to Grand-Métis to what Elsie Stephen Reford called her “lily garden on the Lower St. Lawrence” and what is today known locally as Les Jardins de Métis and to others, The Reford Gardens.
“In the Matter of Good Natural Soil, Estevan has None”
In the summer of 1926, Elsie Reford began transforming their family fishing camp on the Mitis River into a glorious garden with the enthusiasm of an amateur and the conviction of a convert. Following surgery for acute appendicitis, Elsie was told by her doctor to find another hobby other than the more ‘strenuous’ and male-oriented salmon fishing she and her well-heeled visitors from Montreal’s Golden Mile so loved. Even during their extended visits to the ‘Fishing Camp’, Elsie and her photographer husband Robert Reford, who managed the Canadian booking operations for the Cunard Line, insisted that their guests dress for dinner each evening and observe a more formal approach to the society life that they were used to. Located 220 miles north-east of Quebec City, at 48.51º N. latitude, the gardens she created over the next thirty years were the northernmost in the eastern half of North America.
“She did not know the difference between a dandelion and a daisy”
Elsie had never lifted a spade or a shovel in her privileged life. At 54 years of age, a relatively late point in her life, she began laying out the gardens, keeping detailed diaries and weather logs and generally supervising their construction. The gardens have become famous since they were opened to the public in 1962 and extend to over more than twenty acres. Today the gardens are home to more than 3,000 species, cultivars and varieties of plants, both native and exotic. They live happily in the micro-climate of this enchanting site, traversed by a rushing brook and bordered by the Mitis River to the west and the St. Lawrence to the north. Known for their exceptional collections and historic plantings, Elsie Reford’s gardens are preserved today by a passionate team of gardeners and staff so that visitors can experience their wonder, beauty and magic situated in a uniquely Canadian landscape. Her great-grand children continue her shovel and spade legacy today by hosting the International Garden Festival. Launched in 2000 to provide a venue for the creation of contemporary gardens, the annual exhibition of sculptured gardens, plants and plantings is open to designers, architects, landscape architects and artists from around the world and draws thousands to Grand-Metis and the Reford’s Fishing Camp every year.
We arrive promptly at opening and spend the next 3 hours touring Elsie’s Vision, wandering the Stream Gardens and their full to the brim brooks, the pine-scented Woodland Walk, indulge the Blue Poppy Glade, the Gentian Walk, the Primula Glade, Moss Garden and finally emerge on the Long Walk and the restored ‘fishing camp’, a beautiful porch-wrapped, brown interior bead board house with a beautiful Belvedere overlooking the Saint Lawrence. The Villa Reford as it was known by Grand-Métis locals later became known as the Estevan Lodge and hosts an award winning restaurant catering to events, meeting and weddings.
A dappled sun has guided our garden walk this morning and we sadly hop in the car and continue our Road Trip South and East towards Saint John and the Digby Ferry tomorrow morning.
World Traveler, Writer, and Blogger, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the followsummer.com travel blog. A former Actor, current shower-singer, and non-hipster foodie. Loves his week-end house in St Marys, Ontario. Dad to Sophia, Ariel, and Hastings three of the best cats in the world.