Saturday, April 19, 2014

Quatre Vents

A to Z challenge 

Day 17: Q is for Quatre Vents

Quatre Vents Garden is a bit of magic in Charlevoix Quebec. Located on a hill, two hours north of Quebec City in the small hamlet of La Malbaie, this garden seems improbable.

How can something this lush grow in the harsh northern climate with a short growing season? The small miracle here is the moderating influence of the St. Lawrence River creating a  micro-climate allowing plants to bloom at the same time.

Photo: Suzanne Rivard-Day
Charlevoix is a wondrous region in itself. It’s one of the few inhabited meteorites on the planet, created by a celestial accident 350 million years ago. On one side of the 56-km wide crater is the village of Baie-Saint-Paul and on the opposite side the village of La Malbaie.

This is where the legendary horticulturist Francis H. Cabot settled.

Photo: Suzanne Rivard-Day

He named his garden for the winds that seem to come in four directions at once. The entire garden is a combination of framed vistas, intimate spaces, whimsical follies, hidden nooks and woodland gardens.

Each of Cabot’s 24 gardens evokes a different emotion and sensory experience. Nothing has been left to chance with meticulous detail yet Cabot has not subdued nature. He has nurtured it, enhancing natural lines and shapes so his landscapes don’t feel artificial or stilted. The garden flows into the surroundings creating a profound serenity.

One of the original garden, first planted in 1928, the White Garden was inspired by the classic English garden. Only white flowers bloom here. Cranesbill, lupins, lamium, hostas, peonies and phlox are just a few of the flowers found here. Cabot has placed a shallow oval pond with water-inked jet black to reflect the foliage of the various shades of white.

The Goose Allée is a narrow corridor with two magnificent perennials beds on either side set within a majestic double herbaceous border. The hedges have a dual purpose: they frame the colours but also protect the plants from harsh winter winds. This is a passage of purple delphiniums several metres deep bordered by blue aconites and violet campanulas offset by fluffy white astible and ornate peonies.

Photo: Suzanne Rivard-Day

Photo: Suzanne Rivard-Day
The Thuja Rondel is a circular collection of white cedar. At the centre of this great hedge is a round garden where an ancient millstone has been fashioned into a sundial. A series of corridors lead off into smaller garden areas with either a panoramic view of the landscape beyond or an intriguing statue such as the Chinese goddess of flowers.

Photo by Suzanne Rivard-Day

Cabot created his Watercourse corridor as a passage between the other gardens. A series of rectangular fountains flow from one into the other with their trademark dark waters. In order to break up the monotony of texture created by the sculpted cedars, Cabot planted beds of massed rhubarb plants.

Quatre Vents is blessed with a river on the property. In 1961, Cabot’s mother put a dam across the stream at the end of the Tapis Vert, creating a small man made lake that was nicknamed Laq Libellule for the dragonflies that danced over its waters. The moon bridge that passes over the natural river on the property was inspired by a visit to China. The arch has been designed to form a perfect circle when reflected in the water below.

Photo by Suzanne Rivard-Day
 The medieval-styled Pigeonnier is the signature building at Quatre Vents. Tucked away at the back of the garden, it appears unexpectedly as if out of a dream. In front, there is a long rectangular pool with its still black water acting as a mirror. The reflection motif continues with mirrors placed at the end of an Italian-styled corridor lined with trees and flowers.

Gardens close to the family home are both practical and beautiful. Fragrant herbs are planted just steps from the kitchen and the baker has been given her own garden where the outdoor oven is flanked by cedars groomed into the shapes of loaves. Beside that garden is the quirky sitting room, one of the newest gardens created in the 1980s, where hedges and trees are sculpted into the shapes of couches, armchairs and lamps. 

Cabot believed humour and whimsy were important elements for gardeners. He placed his follies (unexpected elements in a garden) throughout the garden. His musical frogs are found behind the Pigeonnier at opposite ends of a corridor. When you approach them, they break into music. Look closely and you will find other follies in the most unlikely places. 

Photo: Suzanne Rivard-Say
A series of paths lead to the Woodland garden, where Cabot has planted seven species of meconopsis (Himalayan blue poppies) and over 100 species of primroses—one of his favourite flowers. The garden also includes one of the best collections of Canadian woodland perennials, reflecting Cabot’s ongoing work with the Garden Conservancy.

Cabot’s final masterpiece was transforming the entire ravine area into a Japanese garden. Created by the designer Hiroshi Sakaguchi, the area took seven years to complete. Traditional Japanese structures include a viewing pavilion that faces the mountains, a sheltered bench, middle gate and a traditional tearoom constructed directly on the water. A stone walkway leads through the garden to the gigantic ostrich ferns and the man made waterfall of great granite boulders.

Emotions and sensuality are what a garden is all about. We should be transported from our regular preoccupations. With an open heart and soul we can be receptive to the images, scents, sounds, spaces, and views that surround us, as well as to the touch of the wind and the rain, to the peace everlasting of the “genius of the place.”
Francis Cabot, A Greater Perfection

Quatre Vent is only open to the public four days a year during the summer. Put it on your bucket list.