A while ago, I visited the Butchart Gardens in British Columbia, one of Canada’s great public gardens.
Mrs. Butchart was the wife of a wealthy man who made his fortune in Portland Cement, one of the most environmentally godawful materials around. The factory was on the Tod Inlet in Vancouver Island, which is like planting devil’s claw among the lilies.
As the story goes, one day Mrs. Butchart looked at the ruins of a depleted limestone quarry left over from her husband’s business, and she saw a garden.
I’m sure she hired a small army of workers over the years to transform the hole in the ground into a place of transcendent beauty, but I also understood that she got her hands dirty in the process. (I may be wrong, however.)
It’s been well over a decade since I was there, and I’ve never forgotten how stunning the gardens were and how joyful they made me feel.
So I was looking forward to a day at Les Jardins de Métis, another of Canada’s great gardens in the Gaspé in Quebec. I had heard that the rare blue Himalayan poppy was in bloom, and who can resist that?
But I also wanted the backstory.
This garden was the love child of Elsie Redford, who was born into privilege and eventually inherited Estevan Lodge from her uncle. The lodge was a gracious and sprawling home where the Redford family and other visitors summered. It’s set against the St. Lawrence River and amid green pine forests, not a gravel pit. It would be hard to ruin—or, really, to improve upon—the natural beauty of the place.
The family had an active social life in Montreal, where they lived for the rest of the year. The lodge was the summer playground, where the family fished and entertained.
Elsie was, apparently, quite particular about maintaining standards, even at the lodge. Everyone dressed for dinner. (Actually, I read that the family changed clothes three times a day, but I can’t imagine that.) Even the servants were required to change their uniforms twice a day.
When Elsie was 54, the doctor told her that fishing was too strenuous for her and that she’d have to give it up. So, she decided to take up gardening.
That’s it. She took up gardening.
Gardening (or planning and giving directions for a garden) must have been just the ticket because Elsie lived to be 86, still spending every summer at the lodge. The gardens are now run by a non-profit group that still includes the Redford family.
However they came to be and whoever put spade to earth, the Redford Gardens are wonderful. Plus, whimsical art is scattered throughout the place, including in an experimental garden, where I guess, art is supposed to respond to the garden. Colorful sheds full of shedlike stuff that you’d never find in your garden shed, for example. Or plastic tubes of greenish algea that you can pump air into to make bubbles. Bet you’ve always wanted to do that, huh?
There was also an enormous field of lupine in full bloom. I’ve never been in such a field. I never knew that lupine smelled a little peppery. AND the delicate, blowsy, light blue poppies…well, that’s enough to make you joyful right there.
You can find more photos of the Redford Gardens on the Wanderingnotlost.org facebook page. Check it out!