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When Is a Garden…Not a Garden?
The Garden Festival at Grand-Métis, Québec, invites designers to go the limit—and then some.
By Peter Jacobs, FASLA

The International Garden Festival at Grand-Métis, Québec, continues to test the limits of contemporary landscape practice and garden design. After four brief years of operation, the festival has 33 contemporary garden exhibits that provide ample material to question whether we are invited to experience the garden, fragments of the garden, or simply the idea of the garden.

Photo by Robert Baronet

The Reford Gardens, the site of the festival, are some 600 kilometers northeast of Montreal at the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River. They comprise a substantial plant collection initiated in the early decades of the twentieth century by Elsie Reford, a collection that was recently expanded by her great-grandson, Alexander, to include an ambitious program showcasing contemporary gardens. The Garden Festival welcomes a rich mix of landscape architects, environmental designers, graphic artists, biologists, and architects who have formed all manner of interdisciplinary teams in support of their proposals (see “The Artful Garden,” Landscape Architecture, December 2002).

Garden and landscape designers owe much to those who finance, organize, animate, and publicize efforts such as the Métis festival. The entrepreneurial spirit and financial risks involved in mounting this and other garden festivals are considerable, but they create opportunities for all of us to push the limits of practice beyond current boundaries. New ideas, like a samurai’s sword, need to be tempered with time, but a lack of new ideas leads to the rapid atrophy of professional practice.

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