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Photos by Yvonne Horn
In its second year, Flora winds along the banks of a derelict quay in the center-city Old Port district, revealing in 10 acres of twists and turns 49 innovative residential gardens matched with 24 “showcase” gardens spotlighting what’s new in products, plant materials and design. Towering abandoned grain elevators serve as a backdrop; in the foreground are the shining skyscrapers of downtown.
The location in the middle of the city sets the stage for what Flora is all about. The array of gardens on display is designed to inspire urban dwellers with postage-stamp backyards to take a second look at their small outdoor spaces (decks or even rooftops) with the idea of turning them into life-enhancing “green room” extensions of their houses.
“These are real gardens, not roped off gardens to be strolled by,” said Raquel Penalosa, Flora’s artistic director. “You can walk into them, linger in them, sit down and visit, pretend they are your own, while giving thought to how the ideas presented might be adapted to your spaces at home.”
When Flora goes into winter hibernation, Penalosa and Flora’s artistic committee looks at proposals from landscape architects wishing to be present the following year. “We look for sustainability with an aesthetic edge, usefulness and originality,” Penalosa said, adding that from the start Flora received proposals submitted from as far away as Europe and Australia.
Unlike most garden shows, installed for “here today gone tomorrow” impact, Flora is on display for the entirety of Montreal’s growing season, mid-June into September, offering repeat visitors the opportunity to see gardens mature and change, just as they would in a home setting.
Color rules the day, from a line up of gigantic orange flower pots and orange benches at Flora’s entrance to the color coding of the garden’s seven, themed sections: City, Nature, Slope, Nurturing, Rooftop, Avant-garde and Street-side.
A long, bright-red table flanked with matching stools turns the space at No. 13, “Feast”, into a dining room set in the midst of planting beds that pay more attention to edibles than flowers.
Garden No.17, “Emerald Enchantment,” has a deck painted a startling lime green, scattered with orange beanbag chairs, and topped off with an orange canopy.
Multicolor Plexiglas disks atop tall rods at No. 35, “Earth and Sky,” turn the light-colored gravel underneath into colorful polka dots when the sun shines through.
Other thought-provoking themes emerge while walking Flora’s paths:
Forget the separate vegetable patch; plant edibles with the flowers. It is the rare Flora garden that has not done so. One example harnesses a seemingly haphazard assortment of tomatoes, herbs, peppers, parsley and more with a border of euphorbia Diamond Frost and orange marigolds. The idea appears to have quickly jumped out of Flora into Montreal’s heart - the median strip dividing the busy four lanes of Boulevard Rene-Lévesque in front of Montreal’s venerable Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel intersperses its shrubs and flowers with stands of rainbow Swiss chard.
Furniture is the key to the enjoyment of outdoor space. Every Flora display garden includes seating of some sort, not just placed for visitor contemplative convenience but also incorporated into the design. One unforgettable setting duplicates a living room – traditional appearing sofa, coffee table, deep armchairs – but all carved from stone. Surprisingly comfortable. Undeniably weatherproof.
Make use of indigenous perennials. Easy to grow and modest consumers of water and fertilizer, they introduce authentic, creative, sustainable solutions to the landscape.
Think of annuals as accents. Allow shrubs and perennials to become the backbone of the garden. Add annuals sparingly for quick seasonal color.
Repetition adds unity. Instead of sticking in a couple of this and that here and there, achieve impact with the massing of material - three-deep rows of a single variety of grass, an entire bed filled with Russian sage.
Add art. Such additions as a single large piece of sculpture, a scattering of colored-glass baubles, a mounted “window” of stained glass add individuality and impact.
Create private spaces with screens. Flora’s gardens offer screening ideas using both permanent dividers, such as walls of stone, and those that are movable, making use of such materials as woven slats of lightweight wood or strung together canes of bamboo. An easy low-cost suggestion is a stretched cloth banner.
Think planting up. Space-saving lattices are not only for roses and morning glories, they are also deal for climbing edibles such as tomatoes, cucumbers, gourds, melons, beans.
For a complete Canadian garden experience, consider crossing the country by train. ViaRail Canada has put together a cross-country garden route that begins in Victoria, British Columbia and ends up sixteen spectacular gardens later in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Montreal, of course, is a must-stop along the way.
Note: Flora will not continue in 2008 OR 2009
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