MONTREAL — Bronze and marble make for good materials to sculpt art.
Plants do, too.
The Montreal Botanical Garden hosts Mosaicultures Internationales, a collection of 48 large-format living sculptures, mostly made of plants created by 250 horticultural artists from 25 countries around the world. In all, some 4 million plants and flowers were used to create these living — but temporary — masterpieces.
Last presented a decade ago in the Old Port of Montreal in a more urban backdrop, the event seems a natural to be held at the Botanical Garden. The 1.3-mile circuit allows plenty of space for a garden stroll, a well-deserved look at the site’s many permanent themed gardens, and a sculptured surprise with every turn. And while Mosaicultures Internationales puts on a great show, the event is a competition that travels around the world.
The sculptures come in all shapes and sizes but followed one theme in particular: Land of Hope. Visitors are first greeted by a band of six stately lemurs lined in a row. The animal theme is repeated a number of times along the stroll, and rightly so. The critters — apes, birds, serpents, water buffalo, horses and ladybugs — are just a few creatures to be transformed into larger-than-life sized works of art. A few lessons can be learned along the way, too. Placards at each of the 48 sculptures inform where the artist hails from and offers pertinent insight to the piece at hand.
It doesn’t take long to discover the first major work, “The Man Who Planted Trees.” Standing in the shadow of Olympic Stadium, which is visible from across the street, the Botanical Garden gives ample room to display this multipiece sculpture that consists of sheep, galloping horses, a wise old shepherd planting trees in the countryside and his steadfast companion — a furry dog.
The impressive work depicts the shepherd Elzeard Bouffier, the main character of the French story “L’homme qui plantait des arbres,” written in 1953 by Jean Giono. The mosaiculture work on display is a nod to animator Frederick Back, who created a film version of the book in 1987.
The integration of the Botanical Garden space and certain sculptures seem a match made in horticultural heaven. Large-format frogs stand proud at the entrance of the Aquatic Garden, a themed space where fountains, ponds and water lilies rule. And the onsite Insectarium creates quite the buzz with ladybugs, butterflies and a resident beekeeper.
And not all of the sculptures rely on sunlight to grow. One of the more intriguing works is “Near the City of Gold,” presented by the Abitibi-Temiscaminque region of Quebec. Woodland moose, fox, raccoon and skunks made of branches, mosses and lichen indigenous to the region take shelter under a shaded landscape.
The Botanical Garden saves the most impressive work almost for last with “The Bird Tree,” a monumental mosaiculture that stands some 30 feet tall and weighs 100 tons. It’s home to some 56 bird species, including a kakapo parrot, a red-crowned crane and a Sokoke Scops owl.
The entire tree sits on its own reflecting pond and took the Botanical Garden six years to design and create. There’s even a raised observatory platform for visitors to get a bird’s-eye view.
Near the end of the tour at station 39, visitors can add their own small plant to a mosaiculture work in progress.
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.IF YOU GO WHAT: Mosaicultures Internationales. WHEN: Continues through Sunday, Sept. 29. Summer hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Two-hour guided tours in English for Mosaiculture Internationales are available at 10 a.m., and 1 and 4 p.m. WHERE: The Montreal Botanical Garden is at 4101 Sherbrooke St. E. (Metro station Pie-IX). ADMISSION: Quebec non-resident Mosaicultures Internationales adult admission is $29.50. Discounts are available for students, seniors, youths and families. CONTACT: Call (514) 872-1400, or visit www.espacepourlavie.ca. NOTE: Expect a crowd on sunny weekends. Purchase tickets online to avoid the on-site ticket counter.