A century ago, or so the story goes, Montreal society matron Elsie Reford started a garden at her uncle's fishing lodge on Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula, fertilizing it with whole Atlantic salmon she tilled into the earth.
That garden, known today as the renowned Jardins de M©tis/Reford Garden, is serving as inspiration for Winnipeg's newest garden festival, Cool Gardens 2013.
Don't expect kiosks of florists or tables with seedlings for sale. The event in Winnipeg, like the garden Reford created, is a sprawling ambitious love of plants and art.
It is said about Les Jardin de Métis/Reford Garden that the landscape is the canvas and the plants are the living brush strokes painted on it.
Cool Gardens 2013 opened Friday at The Forks. It wraps up Sept. 21.
"Historically, we've never had anything like that," garden guru and landscape architectural firm SPMB principal Eduardo Aquino said after the event opened Friday.
Cool Garden 2013 is a public exhibit of contemporary garden and art installations that offers a summer festival for downtown tourism — there are six installations along Broadway to Provencher Boulevard with four installations at The Forks.
It's the work from a team of architects, designers, artists and landscape architects.
But the inspiration was Reford's garden.
The International Garden Festival there every year is a summer-long event of gardening competitions and activities. Reford's original gardens are known around the world, featured regularly in gardening and lifestyle magazines.
"The one in Winnipeg is an extension of the one in Quebec," said Aquino.
In Winnipeg, The Forks was chosen to showcase many of the exhibitions, which range from a blue stick garden to a beach, because of the success of the Warming Huts Arts and Architecture Competition, now entering its fifth year.
"This is a wonderful addition to The Forks and one that really balances the idea of a four-season site that can engage people in both art and architecture year-round," said Paul Jordan, chief operating officer for The Forks.
In addition to serving as inspiration, a highlight of the inaugural festival here is the inclusion of a visiting garden from the International Garden Festival at Les Jardin de Métis/ Redford Gardens.
In Quebec, Reford planted trees and scoured the world for exotic bulbs and plants, finding unique ways to indulge her love of the land.
One story is she'd regularly trade with the local Mi'kmaq for fresh fish, preferably Atlantic salmon. Then she'd till the fish into the ground, fertilizing her beloved plants. They rewarded her by flourishing in the salt spray of the exposed Gaspé Peninsula, and still do, decades after her death.
Curators are Eduardo Aquino, Alexander Reford and David Penner.