Once upon a time there was a wealthy - unlike most of the fairytales - lady in Montreal, who inherited a fishing lodge, located deep in the wilderness, from her even-more-wealthier uncle. Except that the lodge was the size of a large mansion, but the fairytale-like aspect of the story is that the woman created the most wonderful garden there in the middle of nowhere and since its opening for public 5 million visitors have been there to admire it.
The wealthy uncle was the CPR railway baron Lord George Mount Stephen, whose one of several Montreal homes turned later into the glorious Mount Stephen Club, used also by the Finnish Chamber of Commerce. With a help of an architect, Elsie Reford, who lived during the Victorian era, renovated the fishing lodge into a summer resort consisting of 37 rooms. The woman, known in Montreal of her cultural achievements, created a garden paradise into the wilderness with the help of several gardeners. They got sod, sand and composted leaves from the local people and seeds from the Brits and other gardening specialists from even further locations.
Elsie's paradise Les Jardins de Métis/Reford Gardens is located in the province of Quebec, 600 kilometres northeast from Montreal, by the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, which creates an ocean-like atmosphere with the salty scents, tides and lobsters. The rivers of the peninsula, rich in salmon, have for a long time been the camping areas of the wealthy, and Elsie Reford too was an enthusiastic fisher.
For the more modest travellers of today, the coast of the gulf provides plenty of options for staying over-night: different kinds of sea-food restaurants, motels, local art and little treasures from the shores washed over by the high tide. The garden of Elsie Reford, also known as the "Blue Poppy Glade", is located in a small village called Grand-Metis, where the river Mitis and the ocean meet.
Magical, Rare Blue
Elsie started planning her garden in 1925, when she was already 53 years of age, and she kept maintaining it also at the age of 90. The year 1925 is exciting in the sense that that is when the "last great plant-hunter" Frank Kingdon-Ward found the Blue Poppy from Tibet, the plant that was the great sensation of Royal Horticultural Society's spring show of 1926. Nowadays, Elsie's many ways glorious garden is the most known growing area of the Blue Poppy in the world. Every summer, an international garden festival is held there as well.
With a horticultural group, Vapaa Sana managed to get into the heart of the garden. Elsie's grandson Alexander Reford led the group to a glade closed from the public, where that blue dream grows. Thousands of blue treasures were glowing in the sunlight on a muddy clearing in the middle of the pinewoods. It has to be said that the Blue Poppy is exceptionally hard to grow. If one feels venturesome enough, they can purchase seeds of the poppy from both of the souvenir stores of the garden.
- It is a plant that needs a psychoanalyst, Alexander confides. - The blue colour is magical, because it is the most rare colour in the nature. Poppy needs sod, composted leaves, moisture and light filtered by the woods. Cool nights are important as well: therefore it is almost impossible to grow the plant south from here.
In Elsie's garden, the poppy is in flower from mid-June to July and it is on its most intense bloom during the first weeks of July. The public can admire the flower on the section of the garden called Blue Poppy Glade.
Elsie's over ten hectare garden meanders by the pathways on the arboreous hillsides, while the river warbles behind the trees. The decorous signs, bridges and resting points help the visitor, who should carry a map with them. Both, rare and more common flowers and plants follow each other in impressive arrays. All the names in the signs are in Latin, French and English. It is interesting that one of the first plants named was the familiarly blooming Finnish wood anemone.
The Peonies And the Roses Enchant
Thanks to the northern maritime climate, in addition to the anemones also the peonies and irises were blossoming during Vapaa Sana's visit in mid-July, even though they bloom a month earlier in southern parts of the country. The incredible peony path Long Walk leads to Elsie's summer home, Estevan Lodge, occupied nowadays by the nicely decorated restaurant and slightly more modest outside cafe and some exhibition areas. The menu includes garden's own flower salads, salmon, mackerel and other sea creatures. The "fishing lodge" with its rose garden and statue park provides a nice view of the sea.
Altogether 80 garden designers from three different continents have been showing what they've got in this year's international garden festival. Among the artistic creations is for example a multistorey picnic table size of a house, a maze made of used books and a poppy labyrinth made of blue laths.
A day is not enough to explore this place. The nature trails by the Mitis with their observation towers and ecologic exhibitions had to wait until the next time.