Sound garden

Gardens are, primarily, experienced through the eyes. Sure, one can smell the flowers and feel the grass, but the eyes have it. Or rather had it, as the 8th edition of the International Garden Festival at the Jardins de Mtis/Reford Gardens, in Grand-Mtis, Que., has tasked five designers with creating landscapes that incorporate sound. This will be no mere display of snapping twigs, rustling leaves or birds twittering in trees. Instead, visitors will experience sound in unique and unexpected ways.

“We don’t have themes every year,” explains Lesley Johnstone, the festival’s artistic director. “Sound is something that landscape architects are interested in. They want to explore the idea of sound.” Not that she’s blowing her own horn, but it was also her idea, too.

The 2007 crop of gardens was picked from a select group of firms that were invited to submit proposals. “This year it was by invitation; we invited 12 to 15 designers to make very preliminary proposals for gardens using sound. The proposals are real group efforts, with landscape architects and designers working in collaboration with sound artists and technical people.”

Visitors to the festival will be treated to five sound-themed gardens, like the cheekily-named Pomme de Parterre. Designed by Angela Iarocci, Claire Ironside and David Ross, this garden takes you back to science class, as the humble tuber is used to power a light and sound experience within a potato patch. Or how about making your own music in Cat’s Cradle, by Catalyse Urbaine with Gerard Leckey? They’ve created a garden-size Aeolian harp with piano strings, objects and plantings. In Traverse, designed by [The User], the act of walking in this water garden is transformed into music.

Since it’s worked out so well, themed programming will most likely be a fixture of the International Garden Festival. “The idea of exploring one element, or one idea, is really a nice idea, so we’ll probably rotate; one year do a call for proposals and next have a theme,” Johnstone says.

There’s also room for some quiet contemplation, as six teams of designers reinterpret their gardens from last year’s festival. Credule 40’s playful Sous-terrain de jeu gives visitors the chance to get down-and-dirty planting in the garden, while Stoss Landscape Urbanism’s Safe Zone takes an array of commercial products designed for use in harmful situations and turns them into bits of whimsy.

With global warming on people’s minds, Bosses design’s L’effet desert is still a timely demonstration of the effects of climate change. 5.5 designers’ Fleur de pot, a special project in this year’s festival, adds another environmental dimension. Fleur de pot is made up of oversized, biodegradable flower pots that gradually break down into miniature gardens.

In keeping with the context of the gardens’ Gasp site, North Design Office’s Core Sample features a grid of fabricated core samples filled with both organic and inorganic materials found on the site. Genius loci plays an important part in many of the designs on the bill for 2007, as designers must balance their works in relation to the natural rock and land formations of the site, as well as the renowned beds of the heritage Reford Gardens, situated adjacent to the festival beds.

“It’s important to look at the site itself and try to develop gardens that resonate strongly with the area; it’s above the St. Lawrence River and there’s the historical gardens that are really quite traditional, and the contemporary gardens that present things in really different ways,” Johnstone says.

The International Garden Festival at the Jardins de Mtis/Reford Gardens has come a long way, maturing into an acclaimed event, taking home a National Post Design Award, the Grand Prix de tourisme quebecois, and plaudits from the Institut de Design Montreal, the Canadian Association of Landscape Architects and Canada Blooms. A book covering the first seven exhibitions will be available this year, so visitors can take home a piece of the gardens. The festival opens June 23, and runs until the end of September.