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Elsie Reford, Eric Reford (Elsie’s youngest son), Boris Reford (Elsie’s grandson), Katharina Nikolaievna (Eric’s wife), Sonja Reford (Elsie’s granddaughter) and the dog Peter in about 1940, on the Royal Alley in the Reford Gardens. The landscape has changed very little since then, except that the cedar hedge in front of Estevan Lodge was replaced by a garden a few years later. Photo: Robert W. Reford, Reford Gardens

The Reford Gardens from 1926 to Today

Created between 1926 and 1958 by Elsie Reford, a pioneer of Canadian horticulture, the beautiful Reford Gardens are now home to some 3000 species and varieties of plants. The gardens, which offer a variety of activities as well as garden tours, attract thousands of visitors every year.

Creating the gardens

In 1886, George Stephen, the first president of the Canadian Pacific Railway and Elsie Reford’s uncle, acquired the Grand-Métis estate, where the Reford Gardens were later created. He built a fishing lodge there, Estevan Lodge, which he frequented every summer until he left for England in 1891 to retire. After his departure, his relatives continued to enjoy his estate. Starting in 1904, Elsie stayed in the lodge with her husband and sons every summer. During these visits, they enjoyed salmon and trout fishing, hunting, horseback riding, walks in the forest and picnics on the beach in Métis.

In 1918, Elsie Reford became the owner of the Grand-Métis estate, which included Estevan Lodge, a large tract of land and fishing rights on the Mitis River. In 1926, at the age of 54, while she was recovering from surgery for appendicitis, her doctor recommended that she curtail her activities and suggested she take up gardening. That same year, Elsie had a second floor added to the lodge, in addition to extending the servants’ wing. A darkroom was set up so that her husband, Robert W. Reford, a passionate photographer, could develop his own photos.

Every summer from 1926 to 1958, Elsie worked on creating gardens along Page Creek, which crosses the Grand-Métis estate, in an environment that is not conducive to horticulture. The Allée Royale (Royal Alley), which can be seen in both photos found in this post, was built in the 1930s. It features several annuals and showcases a succession of blooms: garden arabis, creeping phlox, lilacs, peonies, rosebushes, delphiniums and garden phlox.

Located along the St. Lawrence River, the Reford Gardens, which are also known as the Jardins de Métis, opened their doors to the public in 1962. Over the years, Robert W. Reford took many photos of the gardens and the Reford family. The Reford Gardens collection includes over 15,000 of his photographs!

The Reford Gardens are fun to visit with the whole family. Some 3000 species and varieties of plants, including the famous Himalayan blue poppy, can be found in over a dozen gardens. Photo: Roger St-Laurent

Reford Gardens: An Ever-evolving Open-air Museum

While the Reford Gardens still showcase horticultural beauty, they also offer much more. Estevan Lodge, a historic house that is now recognized as a heritage site, features the permanent exhibition, Elsie, Through the Eyes of…, which introduces visitors to the life and times of Elsie Reford. Various facets of this exceptional woman’s life are revealed, including her involvement in politics and public debate, her interest in women’s health and international affairs, and her love of art. New temporary exhibitions are also presented in Estevan Lodge every year.

In the sumptuous surroundings of Estevan Lodge, the restaurant offer a luncheon menu featuring the unique tastes of the region and from the gardens’ plant collections. From more than 150 edible plants, a selection is picked daily in the vegetable garden. Le Bufton restaurant offers healthy meals for every budget. The cooks create your meal while you watch, inspired by what is in season, local products and the edible flowers in bloom.

The International Garden Festival, which is North America’s largest contemporary garden festival, also takes place annually on a site adjacent to the historic gardens. It features about 20 contemporary gardens designed by landscape architects, architects and designers from a wide range of backgrounds. The 20th edition of the festival will take place from June 22 to October 6, 2019.

To be in the loop and find out more about the Reford Gardens, visit tourisme-gaspesie.com and plan your trip today! #gaspesie

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