Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Montreal - Montreal Botanical Gardens

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Another of my favourite places in Montreal is the Botanical Gardens. I would go there constantly except that it is in the East end, very far from my home and there is an entrance fee. It is more than worth it. The Garden is huge, encompassing 72 hectares and includes an exhibition greenhouse, over 30 themed gardens and a 40 hectare arboretum. It is quite easy to get to: the metro (subway) is the best way to get there. Take the green line from downtown to Pie-IX station. The entrance to the garden is one block from the metro station. You can also drive. There is pay parking near the main entrance at 4101 Sherbrooke St. E., east of Pie IX boulevard. It is directly across the street from Olympic Park and Olympic Stadium, Montreal’s infamous white elephant of a stadium.

The garden was established in the 1930's by Brother Marie-Victorin, a professor of botany at the Universite de Montreal. The building of the garden, begun in 1931, was conceived in part as a make-work project for many people left unemployed as a result of the Great Depression. It was delayed by political squabbles but was eventually opened in 1939. The Arboretum was added in 1970 and some of my favourite parts of the garden, like the Chinese and Japanese gardens, were built even more recently. The most recent addition was a First Nations Garden, opened in August, 2001.

The garden is open year-round, but the price of admission varies by the season. From May 15 - November 1 entry is $16.50 CAD for adults (less for Quebec residents), dropping to $14 CAD for the winter months. There are discount prices for children, students and seniors. However, during the winter, the outdoor gardens can be entered free of charge. You only have to pay to enter the exhibition greenhouses. You may be wondering: but why would anyone want to visit an outdoor garden in the middle of a Canadian winter? Well that would explain why it is free of charge. But entry to the garden area remains free until May 15, and winter generally ends well before that. In fact, I really enjoy visiting the garden in the early spring. To be sure, nothing much is in bloom in April and sometimes the trails can be rather muddy or even still have some snow on the ground, if it is a shady area. Towards the end of April, some plants in the Alpine Garden begin to flower, and throughout the off season, I notice that people like to use the main, paved, paths as a jogging route. The one not-to-be-missed event during the winter is the Butterflies Are Free exhibit in the main Exhibition Greenhouse, which typically runs from mid February until late April every year. They have all kinds of impressive butterflies and moths from around the world on display.

If I were to discuss all the places to visit at the garden, as I did with Mount Royal, this post would go on forever. Instead I will focus most of my attention on three of my personal favourite areas of the garden: the arboretum, the Chinese Garden and the exhibition greenhouses. These locales are very different and showcase the wide variety of forms the various gardens can take. The arboretum represents the garden at its most natural. While it is organized by species of trees, it really feels like a forest. Much of it is also quite a distance from the busy roads that surround the garden, making it a very quiet and peaceful place. If you want to explore the arboretum, you will need to do a lot of walking. It is the furthest section from the main entrance. However, if you only want to visit the arboretum, it might be more practical to enter at the north entrance on Rosemont Boulevard. From the main entrance, there is a tram that runs every 20 minutes that circles around the entire garden. I prefer not to take this tram, as I prefer to do as much walking as possible when I am there. This is because I know I do not get as much exercise as I should and walking is one of the few forms of exercise I enjoy. You may also see some wildlife. There is a pond with plenty of waterfowl, and I have personally seen foxes, in addition to other more common urban wildlife in various places in the arboretum.

In contrast to the natural feel of the arboretum, is the organized and carefully ordered construction of the Chinese Garden. There are many structures here, including a pavilion, a courtyard, ponds, bridges and footpaths. It was built in 1991 and designed after a style of garden that was popular in China during the Ming Dynasty. An interesting note is that all the buildings and structures were manufactured in China, taken apart and shipped to Montreal to be reassembled.

One of the must-see events at the Chinese Garden is the lantern festival that takes place every fall. Thousands of handmade paper lanterns are made every year for the festival by artisans in China and are shipped to Montreal in time for the festival. Lanterns that actually look like lanterns are strung up in massive numbers along every footpath. Larger lanterns depict people, animals and structures and are in keeping with each year’s theme. They are positioned at various places throughout the garden, with the most impressive display placed on pontoons in the main water feature. During the festival, the garden’s hours are extended until 9pm. The reason is the garden is normally not open after dark but, to get the full effect of the lanterns, it is best to see them in darkness. Actually, I prefer to go in the late afternoon and see other parts of the garden, as well as the lanterns in the Chinese garden in daylight, then go back to the Chinese Garden when it gets dark. During the festival, they sell tea and moon cakes, a pastry filled with lotus bean paste.

Another must-visit location is exhibition greenhouses. There are several greenhouses each with different collections. There are tropical plants, tropical food plants, orchids and ferns. There are also greenhouses for desert plants, which also includes an area where the garden’s various bonsai and similar dwarf plants are housed during the winter. Those plants are displayed in several of the outdoor gardens in the summer. Finally there is the Main Exhibition Greenhouse, which typically hosts temporary exhibits. For instance, the butterfly exhibition mentioned earlier is housed there. Also in October, they hold the Great Pumpkin Ball, where the greenhouse is filled with painted pumpkins, mostly submitted from local schools.

The other gardens are also very much worth visiting. My favorites include the Japanese Garden, the First Nations Garden - consisting of a hardwood and softwood forest and an arctic plants garden, the aquatic gardens featuring lotus and water lilies and other species, the rose garden, the alpine garden featuring plants from the world’s mountainous areas, the flowery brook and the lilacs. The exhibition gardens are interesting too, some of which feature food plants, medicinal plants, and even a display of toxic plants.

Obviously some of these gardens are better to visit at certain times of the year. Lilacs bloom in May, the flowery brook is best in early summer, the roses in late summer, etc. Another place to visit within the botanical garden is the Insectarium. It displays and celebrates the world of insects and other bugs. They have lots of educational stuff that really appeals to kids. Unfortunately this summer the Insectarium was closed due to strike action from city employees. This situation closed the Insectarium and the Biodome, another of my favourite places located in the Olympic Park. This job action has recently ended and the Insectarium is now open just in time for Halloween (a good time to go see creepy crawlies) and the Biodome will reopen in December, once some renovations are completed.

1 comment:

  1. Really great pics of the Chinese Garden lantern festival! Sauly G.