In the Garden:
New England
July, 2003
Regional Report

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This is a mosaiculture rendition of Inukshuk, a well-known symbol of the Canadian North.

Living Mosaics

As the name implies, mosaiculture is the art of using plants to form designs and sculptures -- essentially, living mosaics. It's difficult to describe, but imagine a Rose Bowl parade float created with live plants instead of flower petals and you'll start to get the idea. If you are intrigued, consider a trip to Mosaiculture International Montreal, an international competition featuring participants from 32 nations. Centered on the theme "Myths and Legends of the World," the mosaiculture exhibits celebrate the cultural and artistic heritage of regions around the globe. Exhibits will be on display from June 20 to October 6, 2003.

The Roots of Mosaiculture
Although relatively obscure in today's gardening scene, the roots of mosaiculture date back to the 16th and 17th century, when formal plantings were designed to suit the whims of European aristocrats. For example, in French parterres, royal gardeners created intricate patterns of gardens and walkways, often bordered by sheared boxwood hedges. The flowerbeds and walkways were usually symmetrical and always scrupulously pruned and maintained. These patterns of plants and paths created a living tapestry, especially when viewed from chateau windows.

Mosaiculture takes this art form a step further by using small, variously colored plants to create three-dimensional sculptures.
I visited the first mosaiculture competition, held in 2000, and found the sculptures astonishing and surprisingly large –- some up to 30 feet tall. Displays ranged from large birds that seemed to skim over the surface of the nearby canal to a magnificent peacock to a huge "painting" of Charlie Brown. (It's interesting to see what the participants chose to depict as their region's cultural heritage.) This year's competition promises to be as good, if not better, than the first one.

How It's Done
Although, like any large piece of artwork, the exhibits are best viewed from a distance, the plant lover in me had to get up close and see just how the individual plants were set to create the overall impression. In most cases, a metal form was filled with soil or moss and irrigation tubes, then densely planted with small, closely cropped foliage plants, including santolina, rosemary, coleus, and echeveria (hens-and-chicks). The overall feel of the sculptures was imposing, but the presence of tray upon tray of replacement transplants nearby attested to the fragility of individual plants.

Don't Try This at Home
Well, feel free to try it, but note that this is extremely high maintenance gardening, about as far from the rambling cottage garden as you can get. Like Rose Bowl floats, three-dimensional mosaiculture sculptures are ephemeral and need constant upkeep during their brief lives. However, in-ground mosaics are certainly in the realm of the home gardener: If you tend to plant your annual flowers in a distinct pattern, you just might be a good candidate to give mosaiculture a try!

Learn more about Mosaiculture International Montreal 2003 at their Web site: http://www.mosaiculture.ca


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