Les couleurs du Quebec are not fading

Columnist goes back to his roots in what used to be Nouvelle France

Famous staircase in Quebec City will give a small workout.

Famous staircase in Quebec City will give a small workout.

My family has been a part of this country since 1695, when Jacques  Lascelle arrived in what was then Nouvelle France.

He immigrated to Ville de Quebec, which is currently the oldest fortified city in North America (besides Mexico City).

I recently spent some time there and I wanted to share a few thoughts and images about the gardens and landscape architecture of this beautiful place.

It was quintessentially autumn during my visit, with the drive in bringing me past fiery forests of sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and sumac (Rhus typhina), but it is the old fortified gates that one passes through that really remind you that this city is like no other in Canada.

I began my tour down in the Lower Town or Quartier Petit Champlain, where heritage houses and shops border narrow cobblestone lanes in what was once a portside village.

There are no sidewalks here, so these businesses festoon their storefronts with hanging baskets and window boxes filled with Boston fern (Nephrolepsis), dragonwing begonias and variegated English ivy – all occupying little space. Sprawling scarlet vines of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) could also be found clinging to the face of centuries-old brick buildings, looking like they too have been there for hundreds of years.

The trip to Upper Town means stairs (lots of them), but even these are decorated with wrought iron arches studded with hanging baskets of greenery. In fact, the urban forest seems alive and well in the old city, with street trees and ancient architecture peacefully co-existing and even complimenting one another.

The city plantings in Upper Town range from elaborate floral urns (many with historical themes) to simple yet elegant mass plantings of purple ‘redbor’ kale sitting in a sea of golden potato vine (Ipomoea). And even when one does stumble across a modern shop, such as a florist I found, they still managed to convey that French love for the dramatic with several espalier angel trumpets (Brugmansia) framing the front entrance with their fragrant apricot-coloured blooms.

The landscape architecture here is equally spectacular with the Fontaine de Tourny by the Quebec parliament buildings being one of the best examples. This fountain was a gift to Quebec City for its 400th anniversary and although it was only installed in 2007, it was originally created for the 1855 Paris World’s Fair and given the context of the surrounding heritage buildings; it now looks completely at home.

Which is why this city has been at the center of French culture in our country for these many centuries and as long as it stays true to its own history, I see no reason for les coleurs du Quebec to fade any time soon.

 

Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (hebe_acer@hotmail.com).

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