Three influences marked the garden styles of New France: an intellectual inheritance from the Middle Ages, accomplishments of the Renaissance, and an increasing interest in French formal gardens.
The gardens of the Middle Ages were characterized by the importance given to the kitchen garden and to simples, the presence of a surrounding wall, the use of borders, the use of simple plot shapes and regular pathways.
As for the gardens of the Renaissance, precursors of the classic French garden, they were conceived in connection with the buildings they surrounded. Their shapes became more complex, human intervention became more obvious, and water was more greatly used. This garden lost some of its personal use as it became a space meant to be seen.
Finally, the formal French gardens, dating to the 17th century with Versailles as their archetype, borrowed from all of these elements and, in addition, became staged scenes, indicators of wealth and social position. This type of garden is a victory of intellect over nature, an illustration of order and reason. Its basic elements are symmetry, the opening of space with infinitely distant horizons, lakes, lace-like plots and the integration of the home into the whole.
While the Governor’s Garden located behind the building evokes the gardens of New France, the garden on Notre-Dame street at the front of the Museum remains as it was when the Museum opened in the 19th century. It is an English-style landscape garden.
The landscape garden originated in England in the 18th century in reaction to the strict French garden. This new style is based primarily on an English love of nature. Its promoters railed against the artificial quality of the French garden and recommended nature itself as a guide. They thus created natural-looking settings such as parks with sinuous paths, lakes, and vast lawns punctuated with copses.
The great art of gardening is that by which great civilizations seek not to copy nature but to use its elements to express their highest conception of happiness.