With pandemic restrictions starting to loosen up across Canada we decided to take our summer vacation close-ish to home still. Since it’s still not a normal summer we decided just to do a small trip and to try to remain outside as much as possible. What better place to do that than a beautiful garden. I’ve wanted to visit the Jardins de Métis / Reford Gardens in Québec’s Bas-Saint-Laurent region for a long time so we decided to basically plan a little trip around visiting it.
The 45 acre property was the personal project of Elise Reford who developed the gardens between 1926 and 1958. While she was recovering from surgery her doctor advised that she needed a less strenuous hobby than fishing, so she decided to take up gardening. But instead of planting a nice little garden she transformed her huge summer home property on the coast of the Saint Lawrence River into a magnificent garden. The gardens opened to the public in 1962 and were designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1995. The gardens are also home to an International Garden Festival every summer that bring together artists, architects and landscape designers from around the world to create installations in the contemporary gardens for visitors to explore. Gardens and art are my two favourite things so it was a dream to explore this place.
The Historic Garden consists of 22 areas, including the Villa Estevan (Elise’s summer home) which houses the restaurant and exhibition galleries, the blue poppy gardens which are not to be missed if you’re visiting in the late spring/early summer, and the long walk garden that has probably the only straight path in the whole property. No matter when you visit you’ll encounter beautifully designed gardens filled with flowers and special details. I’d recommend going through these gardens twice to make the most of your entrance fee. When we arrived first thing in the morning it was pretty overcast but then by the afternoon the sun had come out so the light was very different.
The Contemporary Gardens is where you’ll find the International Garden Festival. My favourite installations were those set back in the forest a little. Take time to explore each artwork, especially the more interactive ones. Each artwork has a little display sign which gives you information about it and I found them really useful to read since some of them are a bit more abstract. There are new installations every year so it’s definitely a place I’d visit again in the future to see the new artworks.
Now to talk about some practicalities of visiting. The gardens are open from the end of May to the beginning of October every year and the International Garden Festival begins at the end of June. The gardens are open every day and free on the first Sunday of the month. The entry fee is $22 per person for adults. It seems a bit expensive but you can spend most of the day here between the historic and contemporary garden and the exhibitions in the Villa Estevan. The gardens are located in Grand-Métis, about 5 hours from Québec City. There isn’t much accommodation there so I’d recommend staying in Mont-Joli, 15 minutes from the gardens or in Rimouski which is a bit further but with more options. If you visit on a Monday or Tuesday like we did there are limited food options at the gardens since the main restaurant and smaller cafe in the gardens were closed. We ended up eating at the very over-priced cafe at the entrance which was really not worth it or the amount of food you get. Even if the main restaurant is open I’d recommend bringing a lunch and eating at the picnic tables at the entrance. You can go in and out of the gardens freely once you’ve paid so it’s easy to leave for lunch. Due to Covid the gardens are one way and the only washrooms are the entrance so plan accordingly. I found this a little annoying since I like to wander freely but I understand why they did this. Important tip, bring bug spray! The mosquitos were terrible and I wasn’t expecting this since we had been on a hike the day before in the woods and had no bugs but they were awful here. Also visit early in the day, at opening if possible. Even though the gardens are pretty big it does get busy even on a Monday and then it’s a little more difficult to enjoy them with too many people around, especially the art installations.
Over all we loved visiting and would definitely return if we were in the region or passing close by. The gardens were beautiful with so many flowers, especially the unique blue poppies. Then the art installations were really cool and I’d love to go back in a few years when they are all new. Most of the installations stay for about 2-4 years and then new ones are installed. So every year there are a handful of new ones but you can also see ones from previous years too which is great. I’d also love to go back to try the fancy restaurant since the food looked really delicious and the dinning room was so pretty in the historic Villa Estevan. Also don’t miss the sheep (a.k.a lawn mowers) at the far end of the entrance area, they were so cute!