A garden cannot be planted just anywhere. The ground must be flat (otherwise rain would create gulleys), in the sun, far from the shade and roots of trees, and near water (to avoid having to carry watering equipment over great distances). The soil must be neither too acidic nor too chalky. In the 18th century, most of the gardens in Montréal were surrounded by walls, mostly made of wood but sometimes of stone. This practice dates back to the Middle Ages when gardens had to be protected from natural disasters, vandals, thieves and wild animals. It remained in use in France for many centuries and found its way to New France. Each garden thus benefited from a microclimate which accelerated growth in spring and promoted the growth of espaliers, a technique which spread in the Renaissance.

For the nobility, esthetics were as important as productivity. Each garden section was deliniated by a border such as those of chives, box and hyssop in today’s Governor’s Garden. Also, French gardens of the 18th century were always divided into squares, rectangles and triangles separated by paths.

Kitchen gardens were designed according to precise, logical rules. Basic agricultural principles determine their layout. For example, rows contain only one plant type to facilitate maintenance. These rows often follow an east-west orientation to expose every plant to full sun, and they are neatly spaced to allow each plant to grow fully. The plots are not so wide that they cannot be tended by hand, or they are crisscrossed by paths made of flat stones. The main paths, on the other hand, are wide enough to allow the passage of wheel barrows or carts for transporting statuary, bowers, sundials, etc.

Harvests were mostly quick-paced: plants were changed regularly and alternation allowed for more efficient weeding and limited the risk of disease. Perennials such as asparagus, rhubarb, sorrel and aromatic herbs were permanently planted, otherwise annuals such as tomatoes were used. To avoid wearing out the soil or facilitating the spread of disease, it is wise not to plant identical or related vegetables in the same plot. Herein lies the importance of diversity.

 Taking advantage of the characteristics of various plants

Celery and cabbages are greedy and exhaust the soil whereas legumes (peas, beans) enrich the soil with nitrogen. Melons and cucumbers have always been grown apart from other plants so as not to suffocate less vigorous plants. Fast-growing vegetables (lettuce, radishes) are planted in the middle of slow plants (cabbages, carrots).

In New France, composting was known and natural plant foods were used. These plant foods were manure made from animal sources (pigs, cows, horses, chickens, turkeys, pigeons, etc.), as well as from human sources (the contents of latrines).

The tools needed for maintaining a kitchen garden were few in number in New France. Working the earth was done with the fork, shovel and hoe. Small tools such as the trowel were also used, and even a spoon or knife could be useful in planting cabbages and other vegetables. The wooden pail was the most common tool used for carrying water and watering the plots, watering cans being rare and used by the better off.

The methods for combating insects, weeds and mushrooms are ecologically sound and respect the environment. No pesticides are used: no insecticides, no herbicides, no fungicides. Against insects:

  • beating of infested parts
  • predatory insects
  • planting insect repellent plants (chives, hyssop)

Against fungal infections:

  • camomile infusion
  • onion decoction
  • watering in the morning and without watering the leaves

Against weeds:

  • manual extraction
  • regular hoeing of the soil
  • use of vegetable or cedar-chip mulch

Furthermore, we avoid planting species sensitive to fungal infections, disease or insects, and we avoid letting vegetables lie on the ground.

A single application of chemical plant food is done very early in the growing season for the ornamental perennials at the front of the building and in the pleasure garden at the back. The rest of the year we use sheep manure, vegetable compost, buried mulch, vegetable matter mixed with shrimp or horse manure, liquid nettle compost, algae and fish emulsions. While nettles are often considered weeds, they are precious gardener’s aides as they encourage the formation of humus and accelerate the fermentation of composts and manures. Liquid nettle compost, rich in various mineral salts, is made by covering fresh plants and allowing them to ferment for three weeks. The result enriches the soil, fortifies plants and protects them from diseases.

Upkeep of the Governor’s Garden includes a wide variety of tasks undertaken from April to November by gardeners of the city of Montréal, including levelling surfaces, installing flower boxes, planting seeds and seedlings, watering, hoeing and weeding, spreading compost, trimming bushes, lawn care, checking for insects on some plants, harvesting, installing winter guards, etc. Here is an idea of the gardeners’ schedule, watering excluded.

Month     Activities
  • remove the winter guards
  • install the flower boxes and level the ground
  • treat the perennials with organic compost
  • prepare the kitchen garden, level the ground, spread organic compost
  • plant onions, cabbages, leeks, celery, melons, cucumbers…
  • carrot, lamb’s lettuce, beet, sugar-beet, radish, spinach, bean seedlings…
  • remove the leaves from spring-flowering bulbs
  • for annuals, prepare the planting beds and spread shrimp compost or horse manure
  • 2nd row of spinach and lettuce seedlings, for staggered harvest
  • plant the annuals in the flower beds and boxes
  • fertilize the annuals
  • weed and hoe
  • trim and shape certain bushes (yews, box…)
  • remove dead flowers on certain bushes (lilac, rosas…)
  • harvest the vegetables
  • clean the perennial flower beds
  • remove the annuals and clean their beds
  • clean the kitchen garden (remove all plants)
  • plant fall chrysanthemums and spring-flowering bulbs
  • install winter guards for certain plants (climbing roses)
  • clean and store the flower boxes