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Mosaiculture -- The Best Horticultural Event In Canada (Perhaps North America) This Year! II
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

August 5, 2001

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Top, one of the snowy owls, second from top, horticulturists carefully trim the interior of the Mount Royal exhibit; third from top, messing up the tiny root balls of young plant plugs just before planting; second from bottom, the Welcoming Turtle; and bottom, the Mount Royal exhibit's colourful marigolds. Author photos.

To say that Mosaiculture is labour intensive is perhaps stating the obvious, but perhaps you don't have any idea just how labour intensive it is. During the building and planting stage prior to opening this year, 20 welders were employed making the unseen forms for the displays, as well as some of the ironwork that is seen within the exhibits. An example of this would be the bamboo trees in the China exhibit with the three panda bears (shown in one of the photos accompanying last week's article).
One welder worked two weeks to create the structure for just one of the two snowy owls. Each of them weighs more than 800 kg (1,760 lb).
What about horticulturists and gardeners you might well ask. Over a hundred trained horticulturists worked on forming and planting the over two million plants that make up the 110 individual exhibits. Now that the exhibition is open each day (9 AM to dusk), 60 staff horticulturists are required to carry out the maintenance on the various exhibits, and staff is present every day from 6 AM to 9 PM. To give you some idea of the detailed maintenance required, the replica of the French embroidery parterre of the 18th century needs to be clipped every ten to 15 days depending on weather conditions. But others of the exhibits, the four mallard ducks taking off, for example, require to be trimmed every seven to nine days!
Watering too can be time consuming. While most exhibits have some sort of automatic irrigation, at least for the least accessible high, top areas, all also require hand watering. The Chinese exhibits often require watering up to ten times per day.
In addition to trimming maintenance, there is also the need to replace plants that may have been damaged by mechanical means, non-caring visitors, or simply succumbed as a result of disease or insects. While I was there last week, a group of three staffers were busy preparing tiny Alternanthera plants to replace a small section of "The Dragon and the Phoenix Spread Joy" exhibit. These young plants are grown in tiny plastic cell paks, known as plugs. They are about 1.5 cm (just 3/4") in diameter and about 6 cm (5 1/2") long. The important factor is that they are being planted into a special (Chinese) mix of horse manure and clay. As would be the case in your garden, it's important the roots, which have grown so tightly and compactly within the tiny plug, are encouraged to grow out into the new surrounding medium--the manure and clay in this case.
This is more or less assured by each tiny root ball being completely "roughed up" just as I suggest you do for all your annual transplants each spring. 
Incidentally, "The Dragon and the Phoenix spread joy" sculpture, from the city of Harbin in China (winner of the year 2000's Public's Choice Award) is planted using the intensely detailed Chinese planting method. This system uses 1,500 plants per square metre--each plant being about 2-3 cm in height. The building and planting of this ten-metre-high (32') exhibit took a Chinese team of 20 horticulturists three weeks to complete and required 500,000 plants!
As a comparison, the planting method used by the Montréal horticulturists for the European and North American exhibits requires the use of only 500 plants per square metre.
The exhibit of the city of Fredericton, New Brunswick is "Coleman's frog". It is two metres (6'6") high, three metres (10') long and weighs more than 1,600 kg (3,500 lb). The size of its feet reaches four metres (13'), and it's all right in the centre of the Lachine Canal, which runs right through the Mosaiculture site at Parc des Écluses, at the foot of McGill Street in the Old Port of Montréal.
Still another of my favourite exhibits is the "Welcoming Turtle" which has more than 50,000 plants. Each of its paws has the equivalent of 200 scales created with dark, large-leaved Alternanthera on the light green small-leaved Alternanthera. 
One major change in this year's Mosaiculture exhibition, is the addition of more, brighter colours through the use of additional annual flowers instead of just the common carpet bedding plants such as Santolina sage (Santolina chamaecyparissus) and Alternanthera spp. The Mount Royal exhibit with its thousands of marigolds in themed rows is an excellent example.
Finally, I must tell you about the actual theme for the Mosaiculture exhibition this year. It is "The Magicians' Garden." That theme was inspired by an old acquaintance of mine, Pierre Gingras who is now the gardening editor of La Presse in Montréal. Apparently on July 9 last year, Pierre used those words as the title for his article on Mosaiculture 2000. "The magic of the Parc des Écluses.....of the works--powerful, vibrant, symbolic and profiling the cultural diversity of each nation and participating city; the supreme magic of the artists themselves--creators, architectural landscapers, welders and horticulturists--who devote their entire body and soul to this effort. Thanks to their extreme dexterity and unequalled horticultural mastery, they create worlds of wonder that defy the imagination."
Pierre Gingras and I were in Hong Kong in November 1984, accompanying Pierre Bourque, then head of the Jardin botanique de Montréal (and now Montréal Mayor) as he took delivery of some 30 Penjing miniature landscape trees. These are now part of the permanent display of Penjing (Chinese) and Bonsai (Japanese) at the famous Montréal garden. We had a spare day, and it was decided we would go to China, specifically nearby Canton (now Guangzhou). At the last moment Pierre Bourque could not go due to a meeting, but Pierre Gingras and I decided to go ourselves. We hardly knew one another, but we did get to know each other well over the 30 hours or so we spent on that trip. One of the funniest things about the trip was that my blonde hair was a constant attraction to the Chinese in Canton. China had only just opened up to larger numbers of tourists from the west, and I certainly was the subject of thousands of what a former traveller friend of mine used to call "the two-headed syndrome stares!"
At another time maybe I'll tell you about my red shoes--also an unending attraction on the trip.
Pierre Gingras, a general reporter for La Presse at the time, has now been appointed the paper's gardening editor. Perhaps it was Pierre Bourque's and my influence!

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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