The Gardener ~ The Vision of Frank Cabot at Quatre Vents


Ask anybody who knows me knows that aside from dogs, what I love to talk about the most is gardening. From gardening, to books and films, if it has to do with gardening you will have my attention. So when a friend recommended a film released in 2018 titled ‘The Gardener’, I had to watch it. And I did… more than once. I loved it so much because it offered an escapism from life and work and for the time it lasted, it transported me to a place where a dream and a vision came together and created the beautiful gardens at the 20-acres Les Quatre Vents—the beautiful estate of Frank and Anne Cabot—outside Quebec.

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Photo via  Fine Gardening

Photo via Fine Gardening

Visually, the film is a celebration of horticulture narrated primarily via previously recorded interviews with Frank Cabot, who dies in 2011. In the interviews, you can tell that Mr. Cabot had a glint of mischief in his eye, and I immediately found him likeable, especially when he describes himself as a “master plagiarist” because his inspiration came from various gardens he visited during his lifetime.

In the documentary, Cabot shares the history of how Les Quatre Vents became what it is today, a sprawling gem by the St. Lawrence River. But the heart of the documentary does not come from Cabot, but from the interviews of those around him like his family, and friends like horticulturist Penelope Hobhouse, Tim Richardson (Gardening columnist for The Telegraph), and Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson, who share how the gardens moved them and provided additional insight into the design philosophy of Cabot.

Cabot created a garden that is made up of separate outdoor “rooms” or areas that connect to each other, as if he wanted you to feel transported as you move through the gardens. You fall under the stunning spell of it all, as the cameras move from area to area, especially the “pigeonnier”. But even among the beauty of the gardens, I felt something was missing.

Photo by  Shaune Thompson.
Phot by  Shaune Thompson
Collage images via Google.

Collage images via Google.

While the documentary is visually stunning, it sometimes felt flat and I wished I got a better sense of Cabot, the man. For a documentary titled “The Gardener” there is not much about the man himself. And it makes you wonder if this is done on purpose. There really is not much talk about the timeline of the garden, about the cost of building such gardens, about what parts he planted himself, his favorite area of the gardens, why only limited public touring? But those are details that really— would intrigue the gardeners in all of us. All of these missing elements, I feel, could have given us a truer view of the man who was so involved in Conservationism and the environment (these two elements are not deeply explored either). And in the lack of details, it fails to paint a portrait of the man.

The movie is undoubtedly romantic and so soothing to watch. And maybe in the lack of practical details, the creators tried to ensure that practicalities did not detract from the feel of the film. But instead what it achieves simply to keep the true gardener hidden from those who admire his creation. At the end of the film I turned to my husband and said “to be a film about a gardener, he sure is hidden”.

But all in all, the film will surely please anyone who loves nature, gardening, and the drive of the human spirit to create beauty any way they can.