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The Gardener

Take a tour through Frank Cabot's world famous Quatre Vents gardens in Charlevoix, Quebec

The Gardener, by director Sébastien Chabot, is an immersion into Cabot Gardens (aka Les Jardins des Quatres-Vents), the world-renowned 20-acre private garden in the Malbaie, via a privileged conversation with the mysterious man who created it.

Frank Cabot was not your average gardener. A direct descendent of the Cabot family, who arrived in Salem in 1700 and a card-carrying member of the well-to-do Boston Brahmins, he came by his aristocracy honestly.

His grandmother received the Malbaie property as a wedding present in 1902. A seed was planted, so to speak, when it fell into Cabot’s hands in 1965. Soon, the army veteran and Harvard grad was spending less and less time at his investment firm and more and more time on his gardens. Cabot was chairman of the New York Botanical Garden from 1973 to 1976. In 1989, he founded the Garden Conservancy, to protect important gardens of North America. He is an honorary member of the Order of Canada, and a Chevalier of the National Order of Quebec.

The director was granted just two interviews with Cabot. And it was agreed that the focus would be on the garden itself. Nonetheless, a distinct impression of the titular gardener emerges. ‘He’s very tall,’ Chabot says, ‘Un beau monsieur de 85 ans. You can see he must have been a seducer. He wears a bowtie and has these British mannerisms. At one point, he said, “My friend Adrienne Clarkson will be there. Do you want her in the shoot?”’ Clarkson is in the film, waxing poetic on the splendour of the famous garden. Cabot, for his part, is a thoughtful, eloquent speaker with plenty to say on his favourite topic.

Cabot’s garden is a wonder to behold. Through the lens of Chabot’s beautifully shot film, one gets a sense of the understated opulence, attention to detail, natural aesthetic instincts and cool dramatic flair which combined to make a visit to the premises a life-changing experience.

Filled with plants from Cabot’s seed-hunting expeditions around the globe, as well as architectural and decorative larks such as a Chinese moon bridge, a Japanese meditation pavilion and a sculpture of frog musicians, the setting is full of surprises, which is just how its owner wanted it.

The director spent 22 days shooting the garden, returning at different times of year to catch the various flowers in bloom.’ He liked plants from the romantic era,’ Chabot said. ‘There’s very little yellow and orange. He was more into pink, white, red and blue – nothing too screaming. Everything is rare. He sought rarity.’

Inspired by Terrence Malick’s 1978 film Days Of Heaven, Chabot shot using backlight rather than direct sunlight, in order to highlight the magnificence on display. Luc St. Pierre’s evocative classical soundtrack features some of Frank Cabot’s favourite pieces by Saint-Saëns, Schubert, Schumann, Bach and Mendelssohn.

Giving weight and providing context to Cabot’s genius are British star florist Penelope Hobhouse and writer Tim Richardson.

Chabot sees The Gardener as a tribute to both Cabot, the man, who died in 2011, and to the horticultural tapestries he cultivated with such ingenuity and enthusiasm.

‘I hope people see it as a film on the environment,’ he said, ‘how a garden is much more than a postcard. It heals the soul.’

Courtesy: T’Cha Dunlevy, The Montreal Gazette

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Directed by: 
Sebastien Chabot
Running Time: 
English, French with English Subtitles
Official site: 
Screenplay by: 
Sebastien Chabot
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