There’s a softer side to the city of Montreal, and you’ll find it at the Botanical Garden. A large expanse of gardens, ponds, and art, Montreal’s Botanical Garden is actually part of a larger area called Espace Pour La Vie (Space for life). It really says something about a city that creates green space where city dwellers can unwind and get back to nature.
Espace Pour La Vie includes the Biodome, Insectarium, Planetarium, and Botanical Garden. As our time was limited, we opted for just one of these attractions, primarily the Gardens of Light within the Botanical Garden. I thought it would be a shame, however, to arrive after dark and not see any of the gardens during daylight, so my husband and I arrived at about 5:30 pm on a warm September evening.
The Botanical Garden encompasses 185 acres of land. As in HUGE! It was suggested to us that we start at the Exhibition Gardens, as they would close at 6:00 pm. Here we found gardens that highlighted perennials, useful and medicinal plants, vegetables (including corn taller than my 6’4″ tall husband!), shrubs, toxic plants, Monastery-themed plants, and plants that youth would enjoy.
After strolling in and around the Exhibition Gardens, we saw a large beautiful pond and headed in that direction. The ponds were so large as to seem entirely natural and not man-made at all. We saw what I think was a blue heron perched and ready to dive for a fish. As the sun set, this area became idyllic. I loved the golden light, beautiful grasses, and trees arching over the water. And there were plenty of benches creating a perfect place to rest.
OOPS — It is possible to get lost here!
It was at about this time we realized we had made a major mistake. We had not picked up a map of the gardens, and as I mentioned before, they were huge. It’s not like being at the mall where every few hundred feet there’s a “You are here!” sign. We wanted to find the beginning of the Gardens of Light before it was completely dark! There weren’t many people around us to ask, either.
We passed a few more themed gardens: an alpine garden with a babbling creek and the First Nations garden with a special exhibit. Finally I did what anyone would do in this situation — walk up to a stranger and ask for directions! I was directed to the Chinese garden and told to follow the path of lights. Only now that it was much darker did I even realize there were lighted globes along the path.
With the last moments of daylight we explored the Japanese Garden. It was very serene and beautiful in its order and simplicity. Glimpses of fall colors made it all the more gorgeous!
The Chinese Garden is perhaps the very best garden in the Botanical Gardens! It is really quite spectacular as it celebrates with color, light, music, reflections, pavilions, a pond, and winding paths that let you explore all that you see. There is so much to see it is difficult to decide where to focus your attention. There’s the dragon inside one of pavilions, the lighted lanterns in trees and even in the water, whimsical creatures awash in color and light — it’s really a celebration that makes you happy! It was also interesting to learn that the Chinese Garden has a new exhibit each year for the Gardens of Light with new lanterns and a new theme.
FIRST NATIONS garden
We re-visited the First Nations Garden as it lit up for the Gardens of Light exhibit. While there were a few visual attractions in this garden (a luminated sacred tree with simulated seasons, for example), I felt the focus was on what you hear as you walk the lighted paths: crickets, birds, wolves, the beating of the heart, chanting, narration, and more. It definitely felt in character with what you would expect from a First Nation experience.
What did we think of the Botanical Garden?
Montreal’s Botanical Garden outdoes itself! It offers so much to so many. You could spend hours there and see a lot…or you could just go sit on a bench beside the pond and relax. We never even got to the Arboretum section of the Garden, where we could have meandered on paths that highlight over 20 different tree collections. We also didn’t have time to see the greenhouses, the Shade Garden, or dine at the Garden Restaurant. And the Insectarium, which is very popular with children, is included in admission. There you’ll find a “Buzzground” – bug-themed playground, and lots of interactive displays. But that just means there’s a reason to go back!
And the Gardens of Light?
The Chinese Garden was absolutely specatacular! While the Japanese and First Nation Gardens were also nice, they did not have the “Wow!” factor of the Chinese Garden. But just to prove how popular the Gardens of Light is, you should have seen the line of people waiting to enter when we left at about 7:30 pm! If you’re visiting Montreal and thinking about visiting Espace Pour La Vie, I highly recommend you allow time in your schedule for the Botanical Garden and Gardens of Light. There’s nothing else like it!
- Buy your tickets online to avoid waiting in line ($20.25 adults, 10.25 children — there are discounted rates for seniors, students, and families).
- Come in the late afternoon so you can see the gardens by daylight, catch a bite to eat at the Garden Restaurant or Cafe, and then stay for the Gardens of Light
- Do be sure to pick up a map!
- If you have infants with you, a baby carrier is much easier to use than a stroller, especially during the Gardens of Light.
- I suggest bringing a water bottle when it’s warm. I completely underestimated how large the gardens were and got thirsty walking around.
- Gardens of Light 2017 ends October 31, 2017 — but don’t worry! There will be a new exhibit next year…
- The Botanical Garden address is 4101 rue Sherbrooke Est, right across from the Montreal Olympic Stadium
I’d like to thank Espace Pour La Vie for hosting my visit to the Botanical Garden and Gardens of Light! We gladly paid for my husband’s admission, and we are happy to add our recommendation to that of thousands of other happy visitors!
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