Lee Valley & Veritas

Gardening Newsletter
  Volume 12, Issue 8 - August 2017  
The Magic of MosaïCanada150
Mother Earth
Mother Earth watches over all of nature.
It's big, beautiful and billed as the largest horticultural event in Canada this summer. Gardeners and non-gardeners alike will appreciate its artistry. The opening in late June – close to Canada Day – celebrated 150 years of confederation. It attracted as many crowds as the fireworks and the rock concerts organized for Canada's big birthday bash. Over the course of its run, the event is expected to attract about 1.2 million visitors in total.

These 33 gigantic sculptures are situated just across the river from Ottawa's Parliament Hill. They meander through one kilometre of stone-dust pathways through the forested parkland in Jacques-Cartier Park, located in Gatineau, Quebec. It's easy to spot – just follow the crowds lined up outside the gate.

MosaïCanada150 celebrates everything Canadian. Approximately three million plants have been used to create these sculptures, planted one by one by almost 100 gardeners into massive metal supporting frames sandwiched between layers of geotextile. This living exhibit celebrates Canada's history, stories, legends and myths. All ten provinces and three territories are represented, as well as the country's indigenous peoples.

All Aboard

The magic begins by entering a small Canadian train station, typical of the more than 350 such stations that were built from Ontario to British Columbia from 1910 to 1920. The station is made entirely of plants, including a living green roof of succulents. Ahead lie train tracks and a replica of an historic engine sheathed in plants and surrounded by a field of wheat. It's Canadian Pacific Railway's Engine No. 374, which pulled the first transcontinental passenger train into Vancouver in 1887.
Canadian Pacific Railway's Engine No. 374
Canadian Pacific Railway’s Engine No. 374 pulls into the station.
Nearby soars a towering plant look-alike of Anne Shirley, the legendary orphan girl from Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. With her suitcase in hand, the red-headed girl has been invited by the stationmaster to wait inside the station for her ride. She politely declines, preferring to remain outdoors where, she explains, "There's so much more scope for the imagination".

"Our own imagination needs space," says Lise Cormier, the Montreal landscape architect who created the exhibit and who led the design team. She is considered a mosaïculture pioneer in Canada, having first discovered the art form on a trip to the Chinese city of Harbin years ago. Working with mosaïculture since 2003, this is her largest project to date.

Remembering the Giants

Farther along the trail loom giants both in size and significance for Canada. Soaring towards the sky is a living, growing grand piano and chair in tribute to Glenn Gould (1932-1982), a pianist remembered for his interpretations of Johann Sebastian Bach's works. Children reach on their tippy toes, without success, to touch the high keyboard.
Glen Gould tribute
Remembering Glen Gould with a giant grand piano.
There is a sculpture of Joseph Montferrand, who is known as the legendary Ottawa Valley figure Big Joe Mufferaw. A large man of herculean strength, he was a strongman in the lumber camps and a hero in working-class neighborhoods. He is displayed holding his enormous axe. There is an immense prospector panning for gold that represents the Yukon. British Columbia is celebrated with a killer whale, or orca, a re-creation of Bill Reid's artwork Chief of the Undersea World.
Joseph Montferrand
The legend of Joseph Montferrand, also known as Big Joe Mufferaw, is preserved in songs and tales.

Northern prospector
A northern prospector created in collaboration with the city of Whitehorse, Yukon, pans for gold.

Chief of the Undersea World
Chief of the Undersea World, Bill Reid’s killer whale, representing British Columbia
Horses also played a significant role in Canada's history. There are spectacular horses made of plants, including Le Cheval Canadien, a tough Canadian breed nicknamed the "little iron horse". The breed almost became extinct. In this exhibit, their manes are made of shaggy carex grasses. There is a 14-foot high black steed made of black mondo grass ridden by a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to represent Saskatchewan.

There are two horse sculptures made from driftwood called Odyssey (the mare) and Hope (the colt) near the end of the exhibition. They graze peacefully in a wildflower meadow. The horses were designed by Heather Jansch, a British sculptor whose ecological wood creations can take up to six months to create.
Horses Odyssey and Hope
The horses Odyssey and Hope by British sculptor Heather Jansch
On the Trail of the Algonquin People

Given that this horticultural exhibit is held on the traditional land of the Algonquin people, it is fitting that Canada's indigenous peoples are celebrated through stories and legends that go back long before Confederation. Anishinaabe artist Dean Ottawa participated in the story of Wisakedjak and the creation of the world. The legend is that after the Earth flooded long ago, many animals tried to save it. In the end, it was the muskrat that rescued the world by diving deep down to bring up a clump of earth that was placed on the turtle's back to re-create the planet.

By far, one of the most dramatic exhibits is the North American aboriginal figure of Mother Earth, standing 15 metres high in her flowing flowery robes. She is made from silvery-grey santolina, with her long hair a mass of sweet potato vine and purple petunias. She sweetly smiles down on her beloved plants and animals as she cups in her hand the flowing waters of life. She is a gentle but powerful reminder to hold dear this living Earth and to protect and celebrate its diversity.

Behind the Scenes

Construction on the sculptures started over a year ago in a workshop at Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal, known for elevating horticulture to an art form. Creation of each sculpture was a long, complicated process. After the artistic design was finalized, each structure was made with an inside and outside frame to minimize the amount of soil required. Once finished, they were transported to Gatineau.
A muskox representing the Northwest Territories
Chosen gardeners from Gatineau were sent to Montreal to learn how to care for the plant sculptures after they were moved onto the site. Routine watering and care is required for the plants - about 80 different ones, mainly annuals, primarily selected for their foliage and not for their flowers - using internal irrigation systems. Three levels of government and private sponsors covered exhibit costs, estimated at $12 million.

When the exhibit closes in mid-October, its 350 trees will be moved to local parks. The plants will be composted. Each province and territory will be given the option to keep its sculpture, with training provided on plant care. Until then, undoubtedly, crowds will continue to arrive, drawn by the magic of these mosaïculture giants.

MosaïCanada150 is open every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. until October 15, 2017. Admission is free.

Text and photos by Julianne Labreche

Julianne Labreche is a freelance writer and gardening enthusiast who volunteers with Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton.
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