During the 17th and 18th centuries in New France, gardens were essentially utilitarian. Food plants, fine herbs, berries and fruit trees represented the majority of plants grown at the time. This, of course, did not preclude a geometric design for the gardens. This French formality is clearly reproduced in the Governor’s Garden at the Château Ramezay . A plan drawn in 1795 by notary Louis Guy, called the Plan pacellaire or “plot plan,” shows how gardens of the religious orders (Sulpicians, Jesuits and Récollets) and Ramezay’s garden became more sophisticated and organized along formal lines in the French fashion.

Overall, it is the nutritional value of gardens which was of prime importance in New France. Indeed, growing grains and a kitchen garden was essential to the survival of individuals and society in general. If a man did not have land, he could hire himself out to work on a farm such as those of the religious orders or the seigneurs, or he could rent one. Seeds sown by new arrivals were usually imported from France, but North American plants were also used, with the exception of the potato which would not be grown until the middle of the 19th century because Canadiens found it bland and uninteresting. It should be noted that in New France, farmers and gardeners usually produced their own seeds. The seed trade did not begin until the middle of the 18th century.

By the end of the 17th century -- after the first difficult decades of pioneering -- and until the end of the French Régime, the vast majority of the population of New France was well fed with a variety of foods. The food supply was based mostly on bread, meat, fish, leguminous plants and vegetables. It is thanks to their gardens that the people of New France could vary their diet and add flavours to it, even in winter thanks to various preservation methods. In New France, the main dish was often made of a combination of meat and vegetables such as a stew or a fricassee. Those who could afford it preceded this dish with a light vegetable soup. Salads, in season, were much appreciated, and the meal often ended with fresh fruit (in season) or with sweetened dairy products. (Information on diet taken from Martin Fournier’s Jardin et potagers en Nouvelle-France – Joie de vivre et patrimoine culinaire. Québec: Septentrion, 2004.)