Frank Cabot is The Gardener

The Gardener—A Documentary film currently available for rent on Amazon, released in 2018, 84 min.

Created over 75 years and three generations, Les Quatre Vents stands as an enchanted place of beauty and surprise, a horticultural masterpiece of the 21st century. See how Frank Cabot gave birth to one of the greatest gardens in the world.  

Watching this film brought me such great joy. The film reveals the garden during four seasons,  and features its zenith of blooms in July. Cinematically it provides a glimpse of the incredible beauty found here. Touring the garden would surely be an incredible experience. The interview with Frank Cabot reveals the soul of a man deeply connected to the beauty of life found in gardening. I watched it twice, I took extensive notes, I would watch it again. I felt as if I had traveled to a mountain top to sit at the feet of the wiseman. Perhaps this affected me so deeply because after visiting gardens for over a decade I understood so clearly the experiences he described. 

“Visiting a garden is an emotional and spiritual thing.” 

I will share his words in quotes (gleaned from my notes) and mix in my own experiences in visiting gardens. The images represent his garden, but are from scenes of my travels.  His idea of the best way to visit a garden is to experience it, to inhale it, “you don’t just go through, you look quietly, listening to the garden, drink in the experience, visit alone or with someone who doesn’t do much talking.” I remember visiting a garden and overhearing a woman say, “we must hurry to see it all.” Obviously, the idea of not just going through to cover the ground is a hard thing to put into practice in our busy rushing world. I recently heard a TED talk on the concept of shifting time; once we enjoyed passing time, sharing a seat on the park bench, a coffee in the garden. Today our sense of time is all about economics, we spend our time, allowing only a few moments before we must rush on to the next thing on our schedule. 

“You don’t just go through, you look quietly, listen to the garden, drink it in.” It is an opportunity to connect all our senses in this moment, gardens are deeply sensual, we look, to see color, light, and shadows, we listen to the movement of the leaves, the songs of the birds, the bees buzzing in flight. We touch the leaves, some velvety, some slick, some prickle, and in an AZ garden caution is recommended. 

The scent of a garden; this morning in my garden there is honeysuckle fragrance by the door, other mornings it is the scent of summer rain or the fragrance of newly worked soil.  Gardens feed us, and in a garden where you may partake, it could be a tart kumquat, a summer apple, sweet peas off the vine, a tomato, a berry; all delicious encounters for the garden visit. 

“Discovering surprises” is an unending gift of the garden. In your own garden a morning walk  reveals a bloom stalk, a bud opening, a dragon fly, a frog, a play of sunlight on water. Every day the delights are available for our notice.  

In new gardens the surprises fly at you; so here it is essential to stop, take a seat, look about, and notice all that surrounds you. Every garden offers “a horticultural symphony” when each plant takes its turn in a solo performance among the melody of the moment. What is blooming at its peak, what buds are playing the supporting role, the spent blooms adding structure and fullness to the song of the day. And if there are mockingbirds, the music never ends.

A garden puts on a show, “gardens like to be seen.” When “Garden theatre is at its best, gardens should be fun, entertaining and whimsical: emotions should be wrung (touched).”  Visiting a garden offers, “humor, joy, playfulness, fear, and surprise. 

When I see something in a garden that is so good and I’m moved by it, it improves me as a person.” Gardening is “purest of human pleasures, a good garden has a soul, the senses are the gateway to your soul… Everyone has a garden within them… Making a garden is perhaps a human beings’ most intimate relationship with the planet…hands in the soil are an embrace.” 

I’ve read gardening is the slowest of the performing arts and anyone who has has waited for a vine to cover an arbor, a tree to grow to shade a bench, for roses to flower after pruning ,learns patience and savors anticipation. “Art moves people, and a garden is a work of art.” If visiting his garden “makes people want to make a garden, to protect the environment,” He is “happiest when he sees someone else touched by what they see in the garden. A garden is a work of art that is not static, it is always changing, you interact with it.When you “focus on a scene in the garden, the world washes away.” 

Some people think of a garden as an extension of the home decor, but if you allow your self time in a garden, “it’s about a whole way of being and expressing through nature.” A garden “can make you burst into tears, and why does this happen? Because it reminds them of their own families, their memories.” Who doesn’t experience a scent, be it lavender, lilac, orange blossom or more to a reminiscence of a moment in time? My great aunts and I had eight of them, (Cecil, Delma, Elsie, Esther, Flossie, Gertrude, Mary, and Maude) come to life in the scent of the lilacs, the perfume of ruffled peonies, the earthiness of the garden soil. 

“A garden satisfies a need in humans. Gardens transcend the metaphysical, connecting at a level more than one normally does.” A garden “is never the same from one season to the next.” When you garden you establish a  “personal, emotional relationship with plants,” there is “happiness, disappointment, adjustment, and attention” to be paid.

Frank Cabot wrote “The Greater Perfection” in 2001, a book describing his work in the garden. One reviewer described it this way, “One of the best books ever written about the making of a garden by its creator.” The Oxford Companion to the Garden — 2006 Les Quatre Vents, in Charlevoix County, Quebec, has been acclaimed as the most aesthetically satisfying and horticulturally exciting landscape experience in North America.”  I am patiently waiting for a chance to read it via interlibrary loan.

Frank Cabot lived a remarkable life and received many awards for his contributions to gardening.  Perhaps the most notable is his initiation of the Garden Conservancy. He began this after his visit to Ruth Bancroft’s garden in Walnut Creek, CA. “The mission of the Garden Conservancy is to save and share outstanding American gardens for the education and inspiration of the public” which he founded in 1989.  He did this because he believed, “We need to save the best ones so people can learn from them.”

Watching this film was for me a reminder of all I love about visiting gardens, it affirmed all I hope to do with the remainder of my life. If I can persuade one person to visit a garden, wandering in, willing to pass some time in a place where another soul has adjusted the natural environment to make a garden. Stopping to wonder how it came to be and to notice at this moment, what is right there around them then I believe life will be better for all of us. 

The Details 

The Gardener  A Documentary current available for rent on Amazon, released in 2018, 84 min

Frank Cabot, photo from film publicity

Tickets to visit Les Quatre Vents, (four winds) become available online on Dec. 1 each year.  The gardens are open to the public for four days every summer, groups of 15 are allowed in for guided private tours. So this film is your best chance to “visit” this remarkable garden. The garden is located north of Quebec City, CA along the St Lawrence River.

History of the property

Frank Cabot (1925-2011) spent his first summer at his family home here north of Quebec City.

The family fortune came from shipping, and his ancestors immigrated from England to Boston. 

Frank worked in finance in Manhattan early in his career. He moved to his Canadian home in 1965. He began enlarging the garden in 1975.  He designed and gardened at Les Quatre Vents working on it for over 35 years. He first opened the garden for a fundraising public tour for the Port-au-Saumon ecological center in 1987.

Martha Stewart https://www.marthastewart.com/912975/les-quatre-vents  has a brief interview w/ Frank

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