05 SEP 2018:  Beat the blistering heatwave!  It's time to smell some flowers and kickback in the nation's capital.  Once there, take your pick on which side of the Ottawa River to begin this unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime garden tour. I did, no regrets despite the 43 humidex.  

Mosaiculture Gatineau is an explosion of 5.5 million flowers prepared in the most exciting innovative ways that insiders say will never occur again on such a vast scale. What can I say? I had to go.

Flower power at its max

For this floral odyssey, I hopped aboard a catchy retro bus for a trippy ride along Ottawa-Gatineau's new Garden Promenade, a local sightseeing tour of 40 gardens and 70 garden experiences. Led by ace tulip bulb guru Michel Gauthier, executive director of the Canadian Tulip Festival, we crisscrossed the Ottawa River; saw how the spring tulip beds around Ottawa have sprung into summer floral patches and how neighbourhood public gardens have magically turned tired urban settings into a canvas of blooms.

But it's in Gatineau, at the Jacques Cartier Park where my ah-ha “I have arrived moment” flourishes.

Mosaiculture Gatineau 2018

This urban park overlooking the Ottawa River with Parliament views has morphed into a living art gallery known as Mosaiculture Gatineau. Folks who visited Ottawa for Canada 150 last year will recall seeing MosaiCanada150, a free garden event, which took place in Gatineau during the Canada 150 celebrations.

This ticketed event (albeit fleeting) is bigger, better and is only sticking around until mid-October with no plans for a return in the foreseeable future. You have to see it now.

The theme is a magnificent journey.  Over 5.5 million plants and 200 plant species have been planted in 125 masterpieces that are represented in 45 “tableau” art pieces, ten of which are new. Some botanical sculptures have six to eight pieces. Among the new creations; Mother Earth, The Man Who Planted Trees inspired by Jean Giono's legendary tale based in the French Alps; and, the Tree of Birds, the floral show's flagship creation.

At the entrance, living walls of green symbolize Canada's first train station, while scattered across the park each province is depicted in a special green theme. Near Canada's favourite pig-tailed red-headed girl a.k.a. Anne of Green Gables from Prince Edward Island, there's a scissor-toting gardener performing Edward Scissorhand motions to retouch this wizardry.

A volunteer directs eager patrons toward a thundering cascade of Niagara Falls in the floral installation dubbed, Niagara Gateway. “See these purple flowers, we have 600,000 of them,” smiles Genevieve Menard with Mosaiculture Gatineau who explains these purple clustered blooms represent water motifs while the various grasses throughout the exhibit mimic everything from horses' manes to other imaginary objet d'arts.

A visionary

The visionary behind the floral installation is Madame Lise Cormier. She doesn't do things half way. The prize-winning horticulturalist/artist whose floral designs have graced the likes of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, wowed patrons at One Bryant Park's atrium space and the creator behind Mosaicultures Internationales in Montreal, has managed to create her largest, most ambitious floral sculpture garden to date on the banks of the Ottawa River.

This show is, “The Cirque du Soleil of Gardening.” Cormier has leaped through spreadsheets, greenhouses, and masterminded a blooming art gallery where the rest of us can leave behind the daily grind for a land of make-believe where the impossible is made possible.

Dreams to Realities

Mosaiculture Gatineau is an extraordinary feat accomplished in under three months. The project was only approved in April. “What Madame Cormier brings is not only 3-dimensional botanical sculptures but also the emotion which is what other artists have not been able to do. That's what she is known for around the world,” notes Genevieve and adds, “We'll test that with you when we get to Mother Earth and The Man Who Planted Trees and The Bird of Trees. It’s that emotion and the message behind the artwork.”

At the Man Who Planted Trees, a group of gardeners tend to the old man's coat draped over a grassy knoll, with his faithful dog by his side. The lonely oak tree is a mere sapling, a symbol of the world's future perhaps. At the Tree of Birds, a group of bystanders gather by this water installation, a fountain dominated by the planet's endangered bird species which is being protected under the watchful eye of a crocodile ready to snap at unsettling souls. There were none. We stood together as strangers linked by one common thread: the renderings of 56 rare bird species and ecosystems now endangered in our midst.   

The crowd breaks up when I arrive to see Mother Earth. One water-bearing palm extends almost offering a drink for nourishment as she tilts down her face toward the earth, eyes shut. Her mood is a mystery.  A few of us shed tears over the beauty it personifies. I can't help but wonder how this gut reaction reminded me of the Stendhal Syndrome.     

In between a refreshing lemonade pit stop amid green-headed dragons, stallions and polar bears, a melodic piano recording plays by the bushes. You can't help but follow it. Where is it coming from?

A larger than life ballerina pirouettes endlessly in this floral fantasy. The first ever moving botanical structure stirs the soul. You can't help but stop in your tracks and watch the hypnotic movements.  

The enchanting gardens around Ottawa-Gatineau will help to tickle the soul if not the imagination. Dreams can turn into reality.

Post note:  

If you want to start the garden tour even sooner ditch the bumper highway traffic from hubs like Toronto and vouch for the VIA train service for refreshing views of green countryside, bucolic farms, and old timey towns where you swear you saw the tumbleweed roll.

Mosaiculture Gatineau concludes on October 15. For more details see mosaiculture.com  
For Garden Promenade bookings see www.gardenpromenade.ca  

Mosaic Culture Gatineau
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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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