Eating pickled daisies

Bienvenue à Mont-Joli, said the Australian airline steward as we stepped out into the Gaspé sunshine. Country smells filled the air from local farms and we headed for the sweeter perfume of the Reford Gardens or Jardins de Métis. Elsie Reford began gardening when her doctor advised her in 1926 to take up the pursuit for the good of her health.

  The result is now one of Canada's horticultural jewels here in the Gaspésie region. Not just flowers (the Himalayan Blue Poppy is the emblem of the garden) but innovative outdoor art works and a stunning menu at the Villa Estevan restaurant. I was particularly drawn to the garden shed exhibit which of course was by a Brit, Deborah Nagan and featured multiple sheds with little surprises inside each one.

Talking of surprises we were trying to work out what the caper-like items were on our gravlax salad when we discovered the garden had provided them. Our lunch was peppered with nasturtium and fennel flowers but the curious green pods were pickled daisy buds. Soon jars were produced of other pickled items and jams fit for a king. There were pickled day lily buds and fiddleheads ,blueberry and lavender jam, wild strawberry and lemon basil jam and crabapple jelly. I'm definitely going to have a baggage weight issue on the flight home.

You could easily spend a day in the gardens, checking out the plants such as the lily which takes seven years to flower then dies, the fun giant installations in the woods and along the pathways, the fascinating exhibit about Elsie Reford's family inside the Estevan Villa and the gorgeous sea view. It's not a sea view of course - it's the Saint Lawrence river but as it is 28 kilometres wide it looks just like an ocean. Even the locals call it la mer.

At Pointe-au-Pere in Rimouski we popped into the Onondaga submarine, now serving as a museum with berths available to stay overnight. It's an imposing black shape on the beach and I can tell you the accommodation is cramped, though not as cramped as wartime subs, I'm reliably informed. The coastline is gorgeous and we were impressed with the kite surfer negotiating a mass of rocks scattered in the water - just far enough apart for him to stay upright.

The sunsets here have been compared to Hawaii and the view from the Auberge de Mange Grenouille (frog eaters' hotel) drew all the guests out of their rooms with their cameras. Tomorrow hiking in Bic and Miguasha Parks.


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