Twice Upon a Garden

Film review of Reford Gardens, Quebec, by Dr. Leonard Perry

University of Vermont Extension


Il était deux fois un jardin is the French title for this film out of Quebec, by Philippe Baylaucq and produced by Barry Lazar and Garry Beitel.  With stunning and artistic photography from landscapes in all seasons,  to macro shots of flowers to seldom seen overhead flower views,  this 52-minute DVD showcases various aspects and flowers of Reford Gardens, also known as  Les Jardins de Métis.   Located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, several hours north of Quebec City near the 49th parallel, this garden is unique in many ways and is one of Canada’s most historic landscapes.

Founded by Elsie Reford in 1926,  Reford gardens was developed from a fishing camp she came to own from her uncle George Stephen—a 19th century leader in railways and the Bank of Montreal.  She would first visit there in summers from their opulent Montreal home, fishing for salmon.  Her health after a surgery lead her doctor to suggest gardening as a “genteel alternative” to fishing.   Being of wealth and means, Elsie acquired many unusual plants from all over the world to grow there.  Being in a unique microclimate, the gardens provided the habitat in this northern location for such plants as the blue Himalayan poppy to not only survive but prosper.  Her wealth also allowed her to practice such genteel gardening, and to employ many local workers in the creation of her extensive estate with such aspects as rock garden and long borders.

Upon her leaving the gardens after 1959 due to aging and death in 1967, the Quebec government felt the garden important enough to acquire it, which they held until sold back to the family in the 1990’s.  Since then Elsie’s great grandson and historian Alexander has served as Director (writing several books on the gardens and local history), adding some new elements including the world renowned International Garden Festival.  This yearly juried event includes very contemporary garden designs from selected designers of various countries, often focusing on hardscapes, structures, and people interaction with the landscapes.  Many special events are planned in 2012 to mark the 50th anniversary of the gardens of being open to the public, with details as well as directions and more on the garden’s website ( 

The former house, Estevan Lodge, renovated and reopened in 2003, is now open to the public unlike the exclusive visitors of Elsie’s day.  It features both works of local art, as well as serving garden visitors local and fine cuisine in the dining room.

This background relates to the film, both reflected in the title as well as the approach of the producers.  It is not a documentary film, nor a guided tour around the gardens.  Rather, the film is a tribute to these two related owners and producers of Reford gardens, what they enjoy/ed about the gardens, and how they saw the gardens, utilized them, and their impacts.   Only in a general sense and segments does the film depict various high points in the garden history, in an artistic approach, not strictly chronological one as one might expect in a historical film.  It does this through a few of the scarce quotes that remain from Elsie, as well as archival black and white photos interspersed with color footage of the present.  This garden is among the best recorded in North American with archival photos, taken by Elsie’s photographer husband Robert.

The bonus features include these and more archival photos, with captions, as well as an extensive slide show of many of the flowers with their names.  Both English and French versions are on the DVD, with a mix of dialogue and English subtitles for the spoken French.  The film is best purchased online through the producer’s website (

When one finishes the film one is left with wanting to visit, to see the stunning setting on the St. Lawrence, and with an appreciation of what the garden offers and of highlights from its past.  If nothing else, the film provides inspiration of flowers, landscape design in both its traditional and contempory forms,  and a teaser of the surrounding beauty.  To paraphrase a quote from the beginning of the film, Reford gardens is like reading a work of Shakespeare in which the words don’t change, as well as reading works from contemporary authors. 



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