Reford Gardens Part II

Reford Gardens hosts an International Garden Festival, consisting of show gardens put together by artists and design teams from around the world. As the website says, the Festival is a “forum for innovation and experimentation.” The 2015 festival had 28 gardens that were on display from June through September.

The Crabapple Walk is on the way to the International Garden Festival

Innovation and experimentation are good things, I get that. However, I’m generally not a big fan of this sort of garden display. In fact, a wrote a snarky post about the one in Chaumont, France, which Judy and I visited in 2013.

There is a woodland path as well.

Part of the problem for me is that these display gardens are usually conceptual, and I have a difficult time absorbing concepts when they come in concentrated doses. It is much easier to appreciate a single conceptual display garden set in a more conventional landscape. But 28 such gardens all at one go, for me at least, is hard on the eyeballs.

A Bird Garden borders a pond.

Actually, Judy and I were able to experience only about half the gardens before brain freeze began to set in. It’s kind of like my Five Paintings and Out rule for art museums.

The Bird Garden has a pleasant wooden gazebo for viewing birds and other wildlife attracted to the pond.

Even so, I should acknowledge that there are people much smarter than I, including some good friends, who have entirely different feelings about International Garden Festivals. Also, Judy says that I am a philistine.  So I will try my best to keep my boorish tendencies in check while writing this post.


So anyhow, here we are at the entrance to the Reford Gardens International Garden Festival.


We are told that this garden with the chain link fence is a “contemporary interpretation of the traditional Persian garden”. I don’t get it, and I don’t like it.


Classical garden elements are replaced with modern: a chain link enclosure instead of a wall or hedge, blue gravel instead of water, plastic pink flamingos instead of songbirds, Tikki torches instead of – something. One thing about the modern substitutes: they’re mostly ugly. Or are they supposed to be funny? Some people think plastic flamingos are always good for a laugh, but whatever.

JUDY’S COMMENT: I liked this one a lot. The space was divided into four sections like a traditional garden, but the paths were all askew both horizontally and vertically in an intriguing way, and pink flamingos ALWAYS make me laugh.


Now this one I like, though I wish I had a better picture. It’s called “Tiny Taxonomy”, and elevates small plants of the forest floor closer to eye level. It’s a reminder of the importance and quiet beauty of the less flashy woodland plants. Nice, though the containers remind me of the kind of ashtrays you find outside of airports.

JUDY’S COMMENT: I see the concept, but honestly: airport ashtrays.


This garden consists of five parallel walls made of cut logs. The point that the designers are making is that wood rots over time. OK, duly noted.

JUDY’S COMMENT: Better in person.


This one is supposed to reference children’s games with plastic ropes. It’s meant to be playful, apparently, but left me unmoved.

JUDY’S COMMENT: I used to play those children’s games, but not sure that was enough to make me like this piece.


Here blue Globe Thistle are surrounded by white Queen Anne’s Lace, all growing through a filter of white cords. This one makes me think of how hard plants will work to reach the sun. I like it.


Let’s give our brains a rest now, and look at the pretty flowers growing alongside the row of display gardens.


This one was probably my favorite. Don’t ask me why. I just like how it draws the eye to the view of the water in the distance.


A closer look.

JUDY’S COMMENT:  I like this one even more in the photos than in person. I had to wait a long time for people to get out of the way so I could take the photo. It was worth it. Here you get both the sense of looking out into the distance at the water, and the sense that you are somehow looking deep into the pupil of someone’s (your own?) eye – looking in and out simultaneously.


I’m sorry, but no. No, no, no. Do not make your container garden out of upside down traffic cones. Also, this probably looked worse than it had to because someone had not been keeping up with the watering.

JUDY’S COMMENT: Not much I can add here.


This is called “A Ditch With a View”. A fine example of truth in labeling.

JUDY’S COMMENT:  I actually really liked this one.


According to the guide, “this installation introduces ordered man-made elements into the cultivated natural environment …”


OK, but how is this a garden? Though I admit the streamers made of barrier tape look cool blowing in the wind.

JUDY’S COMMENT: Much more interesting in person, with wind blowing the ribbons, which made soft noises as they fluttered, and with the horizontal ribbons marking out paths. 

So there you have it: my take on the Reford Gardens’ International Garden Festival. Call me a philistine, go ahead.

JUDY’S COMMENT: I do, regularly.

49 Comments on “Reford Gardens Part II”

  1. I love Chelsea which is about creating ‘real gardens’ but conceptual gardens (I’ve seen Charmont, and I agree with you!) I don’t see the point. I think most people actually want to escape into their gardens relax, not have to put their brains into overdrive to understand what’s going on.

  2. Interesting, but not certain I could be as generous in appreciating conceptual gardens…..going at this as a team, two points of view, was an excellent way to offer up your opinions on what you were seeing. Very glad our little town here in Maine has no real need for traffic cone, oh my!

  3. Great to have both of your opinions here – very amusing. My favourite photo was of the Crabapple walk on the way to the festival! I’ve been to a lot of garden shows and much prefer those that show gardens rather than concepts. But it is good to see new ideas and to be able to dislike them 🙂

  4. I’d like to understand the process of envisioning a conceptual garden and then refining those initial ideas into something worthwhile. Sometimes (oftentimes?), there seems to be a missing link, though I believe it does us good to let our brains go loosey-goosy sometimes. Loved the post…if we can’t applaud the gardens, at least we can offer kudos to Jason and Judy.

  5. What a delightful post! Loved the back and forth between you and Judy. I found myself agreeing with Judy that massed pink flamingos are always good for laugh. However, I found myself in agreement with you about conceptual gardens. An odd concept, but then we’re a fairly odd species.

  6. I was looking for the comment section last night when I first saw your post but it wasn’t available. Thanks for the tour, the pictures are wonderful. I do really like the pictures of the surrealist black-and-white striped arcade or whatever it is, not sure how to even describe it. The whole thing strikes me as really more like an art exhibit. Maybe without the stifling crowds of people.

  7. Great recap and I can give them a A for effort and they were certainly creative but I didn’t really connect with many of the vignettes. I did like the one with the Queen Anne’s Lacy coming up through the web.

  8. I must admit that these also leave me quite cold. Over the years they have had some terrible one, like the thousand of books rotting in the grass. The purpose of many of them seem to shock you into looking at things differently.

  9. All very interesting ‘gardens’, but as I am always hard put to understand art I feel intimidated when it is integrated into so-called garden design… I may be old-fashioned, but a garden is about plants to me! I did like the ‘eye’ though, and could imagine some bright ribbons fluttering from my trees in a summer’s breeze too…. Great photos Judy, and nice to hear the photographer’s point of view too! 🙂

  10. This cracks me up. So much of this is more like an art installation than a garden. Yuck. Who ever uses chain link fencing as a garden installation is grasping. I do admit I try to hide my parts of chain link around the garden. I think it so ugly. I wish I had installed other fencing. What was I thinking? Bah… Carry on with your Philistine works. I do enjoy reading them. Try to keep him in line Judy. Love your photos.

  11. I can finally comment now. Could not when you first posted. The conceptual gardens so reminded me of our architectural projects in college. They make little sense to the observer yet seem like the most innovative, creative designs to the maker. The artist beams proudly as those observing wonder the the heck they are seeing.

  12. I loved Reford Gardens and the festival when I visited two years ago (and got a couple of good posts with lots of photos out of the experience!). Tiny Taxonomy was one of my favourite installations as well. I loved the permanent gardens, too. I’d love to go back if I could only make sure to get the timing right to see those blue poppies!

  13. Ok, I’m at odds with most of the commenters here and don’t mind admitting it. I like conceptual gardens and make a point of trying to visit the International Garden Festival every few years. The best of the gardens are kept for several years — Tiny Taxonomy has been there for a while, which it is a tribute to the design and the concept of lifting pieces of the forest floor to something closer to eye level so they can be seen and admired more easily. Putting the forest floor on a pedestal makes it special, and I like that concept. I agree with many of Jason’s dislikes. The flamingoes make me (and Judy) laugh but that garden concept and the orange cones garden left me cold when I saw them. So I certainly don’t like all the gardens but some I find inspirational and even those I don’t like make me think about gardens and gardening more broadly.
    The piece that some people called the zebra eye has been repainted with stripes since I saw it two years ago. Then it was in shades of grey that faded to white as the panels approached the water — more subtle, less psychodelic. Either way I think that the piece would be more effective if the view of the water were clearer which could easily be accomplished with some selective tree pruning.
    Jason, I know it’s hard to show all the gardens (even if you break your 5 painting rule and see more than five!) but I hope you didn’t miss my favourite garden from two years ago. It was a simple hut-like enclosure built around a single tree that opened up to the sky. I found it quite moving in its simplicity. But perhaps it wasn’t there last summer… who knows.
    I’m hoping to get to the Reford gardens this summer and will definitely write about it if I do. In the meantime, if anyone is interested in reading a perspective on the Festival and some of the gardens in it that is different from Jason’s, you can find one on my blog post from July 2014 at You can also read about the project I submitted to the festival (unsuccessfully, I have to say) at

  14. I agree with you Jason. I have been to Chaumont and I was disappointed. I don’ t think you are a philistine for not liking these gardens. Some of them are simply awful. I have a Masters in the History of Art and I still don’ t like conceptual gardens. I don’ t think anyone who really loves plants does.

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