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Mosaiculture -- The Best Horticultural Event in Canada (Perhaps North America) This Year!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

July 29, 2001

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Top: Mosaiculture began as Knot gardening in the 16th 18th centuries. This display at the centre of Montreal's Mosaiculture 2001 exhibition is a reproduction of an original parterre design by Liger, one of France's leading horticulturists of the 18th century. Middle: The Thailand exhibit representing the ancient city of Ayutthaya was my favourite. Bottom: The exhibit of China features three Pandas eating bamboo. These Pandas were the ones seen at this spring's Canada Blooms show in Toronto, in a slightly different surrounding. The bamboo here is actually welded steel coated with a special patina technique.

Though I did not see it last year, Montreal's reprise of Mosaiculture 2000 is fascinating, fantastic and fun! I toured around the site at Montreal's Old Port on Wednesday morning with chief of protocol Lynn Duranceau--a landscape architect. I was, to say the least, impressed! If you go, and you should, I know you'll be impressed too.
What is Mosaiculture? The art itself dates back several centuries--in France to the two-dimensional parterres, and in England to what we in the English-speaking world call carpet bedding.
Central in this year's Mosaiculture exhibit is a large parterre demonstrating the old art that preceded the two- and three-dimensional Mosaiculture masterpieces that are now famous not only in Europe and North America but also (for the last several decades) in Asia.
In past years I've seen three-dimensional floral displays in Japan, in England at the Chelsea Flower Show, in South Africa during major horticultural gatherings, at Mainau in southern Germany, and at Cullen Gardens in Whitby, Ontario. But those at Montreal's Mosaiculture are the best I've seen.
Mosaiculture 2000 in Montreal was organized on short notice and publicity, particularly in English-speaking Canada, was not too great. During the show last October, the concept of a one-year show remained. It was uncertain when the next one would be held. However, the response (read attendance--nearly 3/4 of million people passed through the gates) was much better than anticipated, and it was decided to recycle some of last year's exhibits, and to commission some new ones for a repeat show this year.
At last year's show some three dozen cities and organizations gathered in Montreal to stage an exhibit and compete in the first international competition of floral sculptures. These groups came from 14 countries! Mosaiculture 2000 won many awards including a prestigious gold medal awarded by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. The medal was for "the work that best showcases skill and artistry in the horticultural field" and was awarded at this year's New England Spring Flower Show in Boston,
While officials with Mosaiculture are talking to a number of interesting venues (both in the U.S. and Canada) for similar shows in future years, it has been determined that the next such show in Montreal will be in 2003. So do plan to see it this year, before October 8!
One of the aspects of this show that proved popular last year is the possibility for each visitor to cast a ballot for his or her favourite exhibit. Last year's choice was "The Dragon and the Phoenix" presented by the city of Harbin in China. That exhibit happens to be one of the 35 percent from last year that have been "recycled" for this year's show. (Incidentally, the term recycled is not entirely fair--some of the exhibits that have returned this year have been modified significantly either with regard to the plants used, or the manner of presentation.)
I think my choice for this year is that from Ayutthaya, Thailand. Named a World Heritage Site in 1991, Ayutthaya was founded around 1350 and became the capital of Siam. The city governed Southeast Asia for 400 years. This rule came to an end in 1767 when Burmese soldiers invaded and destroyed the city. 
As Mosaiculture's superb souvenir colour guidebook (just $14.95) says, "At its height, the city was full of magnificent buildings and temples. Its remains can still be admired today. Inspired by Wat Phra Sri Phet, the royal monastery and chapel of the Ancient Palace and one of the focal points of the complex, this floral composition features three chedis, or Buddhist funeral monuments. Wat Phra Sri Phet monastery houses a gold-plated statue of Bluddha that weighs more than 170 kilograms. By the mid-17th century, Ayutthaya had become very cosmopolitan and attracted large numbers of European merchants and travelers."
But picking a favourite is difficult--most difficult. There are so many exhibits that as you walk around the downtown site, each new site seems to surpass what you've already seen. The two-dimensional presentation of Emily Carr's painting, "Big Raven" (done in 1931) is almost vertical and is, I think, quite a good representation of the famous painting.
One of the new ideas for this year involved inviting parks departments or their equivalents from each of the country's 14 capital cities either to install an exhibit of their own design, or to supply a concept for an exhibit, which the Mosaiculture professionals would create and install. Twelve of the capitals responded with exhibits and about half of those sent staff to help with the concept and/or installation. The only two capital cities that did not participate were Whitehorse, Yukon, and Yellowknife, NWT. However, Iqaluit, Nunavut did enter with a superb exhibit based on the legend of the enchanted white caribou.
This was considered an opportunity for a transfer of technology to major cities across the country who might well do some form of this art in their own parks in future years. These exhibits were sponsored by a special grant from the Government of Canada.
One slightly negative note has to do with one of the major features that is represented in five separate two- and three-dimensional displays. Each of the five different sculptures represents an excerpt from Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The negative has nothing to do with the five floral sculptures themselves, rather it has to do with the fact that while virtually every young (or old, for that matter) Québecer who sees them knows the story and can appreciate the depictions, literally no English-speaking Canadians know the story, even though it was translated into English a decade ago.
Dominique Lévesque, our guide on Wednesday, spoke good English and as supervisor of nine other guides, she apparently gets to take around many English-speaking groups. She said that virtually no English-speakers know the story of the Little Prince and that's a shame for the depictions on their own as floral sculptures are wonderful.
Incidentally, this year an audio guide, based on a CD, is available. It allows you start anywhere, or go back, and play the appropriate narrative for any specific display. However, I recommend if you go as a group, do arrange for one of the guides. Dominique is great at what she does!
Mosaiculture, at Montreal's Old Port, just a walk from the very nice Delta Centre-Ville hotel on rue University where I stayed, does have parking available at $9 but I recommend walking from the Square Victoria Métro station--it will take you about ten minutes.
Admission is $10 for adults, $8.50 for seniors. For further information check, or call 1-888-868-9999 for further information. Next week I'll tell you more about the actual plants used, how many and how they plant them.

By Art C. Drysdale, 6 Nesbitt Drive, Toronto, Ontario M4W 2G3

Art Drysdale is horticultural editor of Canada's oldest and fastest growing national gardening magazine, Plant & Garden. He is seen daily on Canada's Weather Network at 23 minutes past each hour, and heard Saturdays from 8:05 to 10 AM, with a live radio broadcast on Toronto's powerful and clear, AM740 CHWO Primetime Radio.

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