The July Gaspé Writers in the Reford Gardens
This July, escape the heat and head to Grand-Métis, halfway between Rimouski and Matane, on the south bank of the St Lawrence. Lush wonders await, in the magic of the Reford Gardens.
The Reford Gardens, or the Jardins de Métis, are amongst the northernmost cultivated public gardens in the world. Built from 1926 to 1958, the 18 hectare-site covers 15 gardens, with over 3000 plant species and varieties found within. The gardens are open to the public from June to October, and visitors can enjoy the gardens, farm to table bistro, cafe, literary events, exhibitions, art installations, workshops and more.
Font partnered with novelist Barbara Burgess and the Gardens to offer a writing workshop to a group of Gaspé-based writers on a Sunday afternoon in early June. Under Barbara’s guidance, they were invited to explore and respond to the natural beauty about them. The resulting works create a new series of legends.
Our thanks to Alexander Reford and the staff at the Reford Gardens for their support; to Barbara for the workshop, and to Jennifer Willett for her help in co ordinating this intrepid group of writers. We hope that their stories open up the world of the Reford Gardens to you.
I had a dream that in the secret clearing of an unmapped wood,
a deep pond lay, whose night-blue waters shone—
her hues all silvered over in the pure distilled moonlight
of the beautiful full moon.
Amid the long, dusky shadows of pre-dawn,
seven figures emerged in Nature
to walk in beauty, then merge in silence
on the shimmering silver shores.
One by one, through white mist, again and again,
those seven veiled solitary figures
would march with ancient purpose;
would meet, would part, would merge in silence.
Young and aged, those seven poet-sages
moved as pilgrims in semi-circles round the sacred pool.
Each pulled close their hooded cloak,
while they wept and watched the full moon fall—
sleepy after its night vigil—
fall recklessly and tumble into waiting arms
of a sun set to rise and race to destroy them
with its harsh waking sunlight;
pierce the gentler dreams of souls and seers,
mute the voice of poet-sages and muses
who see far better in the night.
The women’s robes were pure white,
self effulgent. They wandered by the forest’s hidden pool.
And as they walked, their hooded cloaks,
an unwieldy apparel so heavy to the soul,
a clothing that had veiled their souls,
fell open, fell away,
as sparkling lights cascading from the sky
turned their indistinct forms
first into crystal and diamond,
then into seven diadems of light.
Pre-Dawn poem composed after awakening from a dream a few hours before the writing workshop where I was to meet seven writers. June 5, 2022. Cacouna, Lower Saint Lawrence region of Quebec.
Rainboots and wool scarf on, camera in hand,
a path to walk along.
Immersion into a mystic world,
a secret well kept.
A refuge, a meditation in itself,
almost in a trance.
Walking slowly but steadily,
trying to find a vision I couldn’t yet describe.
Respectfully silent, absorbing lights and nuances.
submerged by greeneries, surrounded by creatures
I knew were there but couldn’t see.
Continuing to walk, only to stop abruptly
when something caught my eye.
In that moment, I needed to see
sun and fire inspired tints, blood-like pigments,
blues and purples from the ocean,
natural tears accentuating the beauty.
Couldn’t resist but appreciate the gift,
a masterpiece of creation,
a delight to savor, a miracle to enjoy.
Nothing less than purity, a moment to myself,
delicate, strong, fierce,
lost in admiration.
Finding answers to so many questions;
a quest I didn’t expect.
Under a cloudy sky, obvious revelations,
a myriad of steps leading me to reason:
no need to worry,
I am exactly where I should be.
The Legend of The Reford Gardens
“Listen to me carefully child, for I do not share this story to frighten you; I share it to warn you! The Reford Gardens is indeed a beautiful place full of all kinds of magic; where you see flowers shy away from the setting sun, closing their petals until they feel the sun rising again, where cobwebs glisten and sparkle after a light rainfall, delicately dancing in the soft breeze.
Anyone who has dared venture into the gardens knows the magic of which I speak, but even you know where there is good magic… there can also be the other. There is another side to the gardens; one not many know about; one not many dare talk about.
One miserable dark afternoon, when the clouds had shaken off the last raindrops of the storm ever so gently, and poppies were opening their petals to peek out into the garden; there was a sudden feeling of electricity in the air. While cleaning up the grounds, a soggy ticket was found. It said Mrs R. McCrum in bleeding black ink from the rain.
You’re not going to forget any of this, are you child? There are too many trails filled with trees, flowers, and bridges to even count. Though you can go in a hundred directions, there are a few some would think twice about; like the one with trees that reach out; grabbing you with their long dangling finger-like branches, creating a cover of darkness, or where it feels like the wind is sending whispered orders through the soldier-like birch trees standing at attention.
I did not witness what I am about to say, but I did feel… I was being watched. Do not cover your eyes yet my child, until I give you a reason to be scared. The goosebumps will soon race up your arms as your breathing stops but for a second and your eyes open wide while you wait for my next sentence.
Moving along the neglected path, you will see a steel birdhouse; a screen covering the hole keeping birds out. This is the first of many inexplicable signs you shouldn’t go any further. If you do, you will end up in front of the “Anointed” chairs of silver that face North, East, and West; nailed to the walkway circling a tree. No one dares sit on them; they are supposedly cursed by the witch McCrum or so I’m told. Anyone who dares sit down disappears before the end of the day… they just disappear…
Should you find yourself facing these “chairs” – back away slowly; do not take your eyes off the chairs until you can no longer see them. If this is not yet enough to grab your attention and hold it tightly, there is the strange cackle that you can hear amongst the rustling leaves; beware of a sudden breeze around your feet. The cackle has been known to drive people insane, and I’ve heard it gets louder as it races in one ear, circles your brain, and exits the other.
Now little one, pay extra attention; heed this last warning and you will possibly get away. If you dare make your way to the wooden bridge; hands in pockets; for it is adorned with sticky spider eggs ready to hatch and enter your skin.
Once past the bridge, your body will start shaking—you will sense trouble—someone or something you fear is watching; then your mind takes you to the garden of death, full of rancid wilted flowers, rotting bridges, vultures staring, waiting; hunting their next victim, and the souls of the disappeared. You will shake your head trying to get rid of the thoughts placed in your mind when something appears out of the corner of your eye. It is—a shadow, darker than you have ever seen before. It flies through the trees and this shadow stops at the edge of the Witch’s broom in the tallest of trees in the gardens and vanishes.
Some swear it’s the old witch McCrum. Then, my child, you will feel hundreds of eyes staring at you, and you will hear loud piercing screams. Legend has it that the eyes and voices belong to the disappeared; a warning sign from the souls trapped in the witch’s broom.
Unsuspecting visitors flock to the gardens every year to see the beautiful grounds unaware of what may await them. One missing person here and there goes unnoticed, and the gardens seem calmer for a day or two.
Is this legend true? Visit the gardens for yourself, but remember, oh granddaughter of mine, you were warned, and everything I have told you, child, is the truth… or my name is not Mrs R. McCrum.”
Comfrey & Tea
I imagined the plant before ever seeing it.
When I was growing up, the only plants I recognized were
hardy clover and plucky dandelions
growing through cracked concrete.
I liked the word
it started with the sound of comfort
so I was ready to love the weed.
grows in wild clumps in our garden
each plant a spray of wide, long leaves
inviting me to lay down.
The leaves are soft and cool.
Stephan does not like comfrey. He says it’s an invasive species, a colonizing species, indigenous to Europe. It was brought to North America on the boots of settlers.
Stephan does not remember that comfrey grew where we first met, in one of the wild places where a lumberjack like him could meet a feminine boy like me to share skin beneath discrete and slender trees.
The wide soft leaves held me as we moved from simply screwing each other to making love. I became Stephan’s when he helped me up and his calloused fingers brushed bits of soil and comfrey from my dewy skin.
Now I sip iced tea in our hammock, watching Stephan stalk our yard hunting comfrey with a pair of shiny yellow shears. He will pulverize it into a paste. Most of it will be fermented and used to feed our tomatoes and tulips.
He will save a little and infuse with oil to make a salve for our wounds.
The Lady of the Garden
The breath of the wind brushes the cheeks of many
as the arms of trees bend against the steady breeze,
as the rain spills from an overflowing sky
as blossoms stand with broken backs.
They sigh from the weight of evening dew.
Between bruised buds and blossom can be found
wide yellow glowing eyes disguised,
seeking refuge among the stems, seeds, stalks, and petals.
Patient and hollow,
she’s waiting, watching, and praying.
Her roses have since wilted and withered to thorns.
A garden reborn into a cemetery
where the ghosts of her hopes and dreams now saunter.
The moon has now risen overhead, embedded in a curtain of stars.
Her words may carry the scent of sweets, but her gums bleed.
She can hear him now within earshot.
A hesitant foot after another, in soft earth.
He’s come back for his lily of the valley.
His silhouette stops at the garden’s edge, a shoreline of safety,
as if he feared the current would sweep him away.
Little does he know, she waits for him, deeply hidden away.
She raises from her spot, before he can notice,
hiding dirty nails in her dress pockets.
She goes to meet him at the edge.
Wondering if like her last lover he too
will just become crumbs between her teeth.
To be the possible
They said I could not survive much less thrive or become someone’s pride and joy. They did not believe my kind would multiply or that thousands would come visit me yearly. However, she believed, had faith in me, in others and in herself; possessing a vision where others perceived failure.
As I stood tall against the rugged grey terrain in the Himalayan mountains of Tibet adorned with my delicate sky-blue petals centred with flecks of sunshine, I caught her interest. It was to be the day my existence and that of those to follow would be forever altered. There was no going back, it was survive, thrive or perish. And so, my journey began with this world traveller called Mrs Reford by the group of men she commanded.
Being uprooted from my home to voyage to a foreign land for a new beginning was not something I had ever considered. Still, I left willingly, torn between the “what I knew” and the “what was to come”.
Her faith became mine as she spoke of new lands near salty waters and fresh water running from green mountains that went white in the winters. She spoke of beings such as maple, birch, spruce, heron, deer, salmon, bear, and shrimp. It was to be a new beginning with promises to come and only a glimpse of the challenges. The voyage to my new home was long and I was kept in the dark for much of the duration, having me question my faith in this adventure, unsure if I should believe what I had not seen. Then we arrived somewhere, and I was taken from the darkness into an open area with sunshine so bright it warmed my limbs and raised my spirit with renewed hope.
Alas, I had not arrived at the place where I could set down my roots and flourish. I did not smell salty waters but rather dirt and burnt wood. So, we left this hustle and bustle place that allowed no place for my kind. I needed wide spaces, breezes of fresh air, fertile land, a milieu where I could start anew. I continued my journey with her, my faith, she became my belief in the new life to come.
Finally, I arrived where I would take root but was still not permitted to. As I waited in the designated area and rested from the journey thinking of those I had left behind and the land I knew, doubts set upon me, which can lead to worry and fear. But my faith was with me speaking her vision and passions into me. I chose to believe, without knowing the how: I held on.
Then the day came. I was allotted my spot, my place, my home in this new and, as I would come to learn, at times inhospitable land. She had known this; known I would struggle. So, she called upon the indigenous beings of this land, such as those with long emerald tinted feather-like leaves that shoot up in a v-form from braided roots, to help protect me from the harsh cold winds and teach me about this new land. She shared her vision with others, and they helped to nourish me in the beginning as they carved out my new home from this wild land.
Then it happened, as she had envisioned it. I flourished tall and bright, connecting with this land. This place with melodies from the sky and from slow to fast running water winding its way past me. With its shadow beings who dance and sway with the winds as they grow taller than any being I have seen, possessing a large strong stem with many stems reaching out with leaves that give me a respite from the sun’s rays. This place where the air is filled with freshness, sweetness, and saltiness. This place where the sun warms me, and the land cools me. This place that holds hues of ivory, sapphire, ruby, pearl, silver, cobalt, porcelain, amethyst, gold, coal, wine, vanilla, teal, aqua, sky, peach, champagne and more that please the eye and pleasure the soul. This place where faith brought me, and a vision guided me to live the possible, my Shangri-la.
I have heard them say that those who came to this land long before me, the settlers, and those who have arrived since, the newcomers, had similar challenges and called upon the support of those here before them to at first survive and then thrive. Like Elsie they had faith and a vision, believing what could be. May my story—how I came to call the Reford Gardens home—nourish your faith and expand your vision to allow you to live your possible.
Natural and Felt
Stop! Or at least slow down.
Feel the early summer breeze urge you to close your eyes,
to go back and feel lite, forget the weight of the years.
The gentle touch of the cool wind pulls the corners of your mouth
up into a smile.
A smile that is not a nicety.
A smile that is natural and felt.
Stop! Or at least slow down the drivel of mundane thoughts.
The gabble of a nearby brook catches your ear.
The melody of the water running over the rocks is soothing,
pulling your shoulders down, urging you to exhale.
A breath that is not exasperated.
A breath that is natural and felt.
Stop! Or at least slow down to remember.
The redolence of the lilacs carries you back to a time of endless summers.
Friends, laughter, contentment all captured in the fragrance,
that welcomes you to sit and reminisce.
Thoughts that are not calculated and redacted.
Thoughts that are natural and felt.
Stop! Or at least slow down to see the possibilities.
The boundless foliage in early June has yet to show it’s entire beauty.
The sea of green reveals hints of the awe-inspiring vision that is to come.
Possibilities that are not colourless and trite.
Possibilities that are natural and felt.
Life is natural and felt.