The Reford Gardens in Quebec come alive with art and blooms every year for the avant-garde International Garden Festival. With some very interesting entries this year, the festival which lasts till September 28th is a must see.
Right now, the International Garden Festival in Quebec is in full bloom. Held each year at the Jardins de Métis/the Reford Gardens – named after their founder Elsie Reford – it is the biggest such festival in North America. Now in its 15th year, the festival receives entries from around the world and promotes contemporary landscapes and the designers creating them.
“This year we saw over three hundred proposals from 30+ countries. The number has steadily grown over the years,” says Alexander Reford, Director of the Reford Gardens and great-grandson of Elsie Reford. Explaining plans for this year Reford said, “We did a special anniversary celebration for the 10th edition; for the 15th edition, we are preparing a new book on the festival with publisher Birkhauser Verlag.”
This year there are twenty-two contemporary gardens put together by 65 designers from places as diverse as Seoul, Amsterdam and New York. The installations “invite visitors to enter and contemplate new ways of seeing the landscape and the world.”
I was curious to know how the festival has changed over the years. The festival has evolved in several ways. “We have more installations and extra-mural gardens this year in Toronto, Montreal, London and other places. We allow the gardens to mature over 2 or 3 years, instead of allowing them to be exhibited for one year only,” explains Reford.
Most of the installations are thought provoking, either subtly or in an overt way. The works remind us of the importance of nature and landscape in our lives, and the vacuum left in its absence. What happens, for example, in the aftermath of a forest fire? ‘Afterburn’ is an installation by Civilian Projects, New York that recreates the aftermath of a fictitious forest fire in the boreal forest. Using charred posts marked with bands of bright orange paint, ash-rich planting soil, river stone and coniferous plants, the team showed that fires are “an intrinsic part of the forest ecosystem” and that life does spring forth and evolve, from the seemingly barren remains.
The Cone Garden by Livescape, Seoul, is “a pop-up garden made of cones that make sound.” Familiar objects on construction sites worldwide, the orange cones “symbolise our desire to control our environment.”
The designers wanted to prove that all things can be used as material for a creative environment. The cones serve as planters for different kinds of flowers, and also conceal noisemakers that respond to touch. The sound of the wind and of ocean waves juxtaposes the man-made cones against the landscape.
Similarly, Edge Effect by Snøhetta is a steel and rope installation that creates a ‘room’ to allow the interaction of people and that particular intersection of forest and open meadow and the species that thrive in it. The steel form twists and turns around trees and earth creating an interesting geometric vision.
Colour is pronounced in the festival with several installations embracing it unabashedly. Line Garden by Julia Jamrozik and Coryn Kempster is one such garden. The duo drew on the formal language of historical garden design and the contemporary mass-produced materials using wooden stakes and barrier tape to create a tightly spaced sculpture with an interesting herringbone pattern from a distance.
Somewhat different to the others is Méristème by Châssi. A giant herbarium, this is a sculpture that stores seeds of one of the 35 different plant species native to the Quebec region. Designed like a docked and unfinished ship, the sculptural shape is reminiscent of plant cells.
One of my favourite installations is the ethereal Rotunda, a large black basin filled with water to reflect the surrounding forest, then left to be used by local wildlife. Simplistic as this may sound, the designers – Spanish firm City Laboratory – intend it to be “a device capturing the beauty of nature.” Over time, like any water body, it will be home to falling leaves and be subject to the vagaries of weather.
Orange Secret by Nomad Studio is a riot of merry colour and plays with perception. A riotous field of marigolds is visible through a keyhole in a wall or through a thin veil of fabric on the other side. What you see depends on where you are, at what height. The installation plays with our “reaction to enclosed spaces and the effect a single colour can have on our emotions.”
The installations are meant to provoke a response and encourage a debate on the effect of our environment on our lives. There is beauty in the ordinary and certainly in a sculpture of bright orange construction cones or a collage of hazard tape. Perhaps one just needs the backdrop of nature to appreciate this.
Text By Christabelle Athaide
Photographs Courtesy Louise Tanguay