Interview: Alexander Reford
by / September 13, 2005

We interview the Director of the International Garden Festival.
Alexander Reford is both President and Director of the Jardins de Metis/Reford Gardens on the banks of the Metis River in Northern Quebec which hosts the annual International Garden Festival. The festival is where art and gardens converge; it "presents innovative, experimental, thought-provoking and enchanting gardens, each of which is an occasion for our imaginations to run free. From a car wash, a slide, a suspended garden, and constructions that reflect, refract, and conceal the landscape, to a garden with a national theme and spaces that draw us underground or even out to sea, these gardens stimulate a range of sensual, physical, and intellectual experiences. They encourage visitors to explore, interact, participate, and play.". A call for submissions is already out for the 2006 edition. More photos and the interview after the jump.

Aranda/Lasch, Camouflage View.

ML: The Jardin de Metis festival is now in it's sixth year, how has it evolved over this short span? It appears to be gaining international notoriety, is this borne out by attendance, submissions, media coverage?

AR: The International Garden Festival has garnered a good deal of attention since its first edition in 2000. Interest waxes and wanes, and varies from one year to the next. But we have seen growing interest in the design community and design press. Because the field of the landscape architecture is the lessor known of the design fields and landscape architects less well-known than architects and other design professionals, our Festival is not built around stars. For some media, this reduces its appeal. But for the public, it provides a venue where designs and their designers are appreciated on their own merits. It also allows us to present new designers from Canada and around the world and provide them with an opportunity to exhibit their imagination and design to a new and large public.

For the 2005 Festival we had the largest number of proposals ever, with more than 80 proposals from 14 countries. We expect that the competition just launched will foster equal interest. This is one measure of the international notoriety of the Festival. But it is not the only one. While we are pleased with mentions in magazines and journals, the greatest joy is to see designers, architects, landscape architects, artists and students in all of these domains visit the Festival, comment, discuss and leave us with their impressions of the Festival.

AMMA architecture de paysage, Nettoyage a sec.

ML: What characterized the 6th edition of the festival? Was there a theme? The installations appear to be less garden-like this year and more conceptual.

AR: The International Garden Festival has studiously avoided choosing or imposing a theme, whereas most shows use either a theme or a slogan to guide designs and create media appeal. As a result, designers are given very free reign to design without constraints. Over the past six years, the Festival has seen various trends and tendencies, particularly in regards to the use of materials, such as recycled glass and stainless or polished steel. But this year's Festival exhibits a wide range of interests on the part of the designers, some exploring ecological themes, others choosing to evoke memories of landscapes in their home country. At the same time, designers have explored the landscape in various ways, particularly the soil, geology and hydrography of the gardens and the region, albeit in different ways. Even the most conceptual creations can be "gardens" in the traditional sense, providing enclosed spaces rich in plants and sensorial experiences.

Susan Herrington, Hip Hop.

ML: Here at MoCo Loco we try to focus on contemporary design for the home. Does contemporary garden design live only in festivals or do you sense that some of the aesthetic is making it's way into people's back yards?

AR: I think that our Festival, like the Chaumont Festival in France and the new Cornerstone Festival in California, contributes to the introduction of contemporary design into the garden. Gardening is the last bastion of nostalgia and even the hippest, most design-conscious among us are often quite comfortable in a garden created in the image of our grandmother or great grandmother. Gardeners are often very conservative and while they welcome new plants they are very resistant to the use of new materials, shapes, compositions and designs.

We notice the conservatism because on our site we offer visitors an
opportunity to visit both an historic garden and a contemporary garden
festival. Our experience is that the most vocal detractors of the Festival are the true garden enthusiasts for whom a garden without a plant or plants is not a garden. So for them, "conceptual" gardens are indeed a stretch. They sometimes leave us snarky notes questioning what we or the designers have smoked in preparing the Festival.

But this for us in one of the measures of success. That is, the historic gardens created by my great grandmother are beautiful and a visit of them is invariably pleasant. But they are not controversial and the experience of visiting them is largely contemplative. A visit to the Festival is highly interactive. The gardens invite visitors to experience, to react and to interact. As such, not all reactions are positive. The Festival challenges visitors in ways very different from a garden composed only of plants.

Charles Waldheim, Glenn Herman, Subterranean.

ML: It's after Labor day, the summer season is officially(?) over, has the festival ended for you?

Our summer does not end until October and indeed the International Garden Festival (and the Gardens) close this year on October 2nd. So there is still lots to see. And those who have not been able to see the gardens in situ can see them on our new photo gallery where photographs of the gardens of this year's (and the past five editions) Festival are on view.

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