A Chinese Garden in Montreal

We got to spend some time in the Montreal Botanical Garden’s Chinese Garden during our visit. This part of the botanical garden was created through a collaboration with the Parks Department of Montreal’s sister city, Shanghai.

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The entrance garden.

A prominent Shanghai landscape architect produced the design, 50 Chinese craftsmen worked on its creation, and tons of materials were brought over from China in order to produce something genuinely expressive of the Chinese garden tradition..

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The garden is built around a large lake, which was full of sacred lotus (Nelumba nucifera). The lotus had passed their peak of bloom when we were there, but there were still many flowers among the seed heads.

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At this time of year the Chinese Garden is full of brilliantly colored lanterns in the shape of dragons, people, horses, birds, etc. In September the lanterns are lit in the evening. Even without being lit, they add a festival atmosphere to the garden. We were very disappointed, though, not to be able to see the lanterns at night.

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I loved these little chick lanterns with their mother hen.

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The stone boat is a traditional feature of Chinese gardens. I’m sorry, but it reminds me of the pontoon boats people use to hold barbecues on lakes in Wisconsin.

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This tower is modeled after a Chinese pagoda. I like how those conifers near the base of the tower seem to echo its pagoda shape, at least to my eyes.

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There is also a 30′ tall artificial mountain, complete with waterfall. This is another garden tradition, a very old one that goes back to the first Chinese imperial dynasty. It was originally based on the belief that immortal spirits, who had the power to grant wishes, lived on mountains.

This particular mountain required 3,000 tons of stone, so don’t attempt to build any mountains in your own garden unless your car has really good shock absorbers.

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I must confess that I feel no desire to imitate any of the elements in this garden. I am a plant-driven gardener, and in this garden plants are one element, but hardly a dominant one.

And yet this is a place that draws you into its own world, creating a powerful sense of separation from the outside. It is by turns festive and tranquil, solemn and humorous. I would challenge anyone to walk through it and find their emotions entirely unaffected.

More on the Montreal Botanical Garden still to come.

34 Comments on “A Chinese Garden in Montreal

  1. I like Chinese gardens, especially the artificial mountains and waterfalls. Not something I’d want at home, but it is always lovely to see.

  2. We’ve just been shifting rocks in our old car and can attest to needing good shock absorbers! I agree with Matt too, a garden that has the power to move ones emotions is a truly good garden.

  3. The history behind the mountain in Chinese culture and other features is interesting. I find the entrance quite striking. A visit to the Montreal Botanical Gardens must be like travels through the world of gardening.

  4. My favorite thing about Chinese gardens are the moon gates. It is the first step in entering another world…through the moon. I wonder why chinese pagodas have those pointy roofs. Maybe as you mentioned they look like pine/ fir tree limbs only accentuated. Big stone barges don’t enthrall me.

  5. Very different, and more expansive than our own Lan Su Chinese Garden, but with many of the same elements. The lanterns are delightful. Too bad you missed the night-time show, though I suspect you can see the details better in the daylight.

  6. The lotus flowers are lovely. It’s a shame you didn’t see the lanterns lit up at night – I’m sure that would have brought a magical element to the garden.

  7. I love that first photo, where you can see into the garden through the round door. I can see how entering through that would give you a feel of being inside a different world. It would be really wonderful to see the lanterns lit in the evening.

  8. I haven’t been there when the lanterns were in place; they’re delightful! I think without them, though, the flowers — especially those amazing lotuses — take more of a center stage.

  9. Wow, that’s fascinating. The fishman keeps bugging me to go to Montreal and Quebec City. I haven’t been enthusiastic about it, but you’ve shown us many reasons to visit!

  10. Quite different from the serenity of a Japanese garden. Interesting, but I can’t say that I like it. I think the United States has imported more plants from China than anyplace else in the world–too bad they aren’t featured. That would be interesting.

    • Didn’t know that about Chinese plants. Though I just read two novels about the Opium Wars (Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke), and some of the main characters are botanists searching for new plants to bring to Europe.

  11. Hello Jason, it’s far removed from any old “ordinary garden” and it takes you to another place, which is part of what good gardens do. I also agree in that the elements in the Chinese garden won’t really sit well with my own style and the plans for my garden, but it’s nice to come across “another world” like this.

  12. I do love the Chinese architecture. Where I grew up, there was a pagoda that I visited often. The lanterns are colorful and really add interest to the garden. I like the chickens too.

  13. The first photo reminds me of the Chinese Garden in Portland. But all the colorful accents are certainly different. Other than the one in Portland, I’ve never seen any other Chinese garden. I enjoy them and find it interesting to notice the differences between them and Japanese gardens, but Japanese gardens seem much more serene and peaceful to me.

  14. The entrance garden appeals to me quite a bit. I ruined my shocks once hauling mulch so now I’ll forego the mountain in my garden.

  15. Wow. That is quite a garden! I also would love to visit, but wouldn’t want to duplicate it… unless someone offered to build me a mountain of course!

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