Montreal: Les Jardins Botaniques

In Montreal, summer is both a leisurely thing and a ticking clock. This is a city that is expert in not hurrying at much of anything; its French pedigree requires that the savorable be maximally savored. But the locals know that even though their cutting-edge city is exciting through the knife-edge cold of winter, the summer is a brief treat. There is no time to waste in finding a good way to waste some time.

Natives and tourists alike often do this at the Botanical Gardens in the east end of town, right next to the Olympic Stadium (Metro: green line, Pie IX or Viau stations). Well-planned gardens and an extensive arboretum (I learned 12 new French words for different kinds of trees) offer unbeatable strolling options and a chance to twist the city experience to the shape of your botanical soul.

The Chinese garden includes the predictable pagoda, but also a number of thoughtful arrangements and a lot of good information on the whys and wherefores of Chinese gardening.

Old and new: The great tower of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, whose cables hold up the roof of the structure, beyond the Chinese Garden at the city’s Jardins Botaniques

Walls need not be limiting; they can be enhancing. Wild-look daisy clumps near the limit of the Chinese Garden

Oriental gardens, while always welcome and interesting, are almost common currency in big-city botanical gardens. The refreshing surprise in Montreal’s jardin is the Alpine Garden, where pre-tundra emplacements of rock frame (sometimes literally) more life than you would expect in an ecosystem that’s icy for so much of the year.

Summertime face of a frosty landscape: the Alpine Garden

Imagine it frozen and snowed over. Still beautiful.

Then came the highly arranged slabs of rock, buried edge-up in the turf. When I first saw this section of the Alpine Garden, I thought it was intended to show how mosses, lichens and small flowers survived in canyons. But this is a man-made design, with slabs of stone oriented north-to-south to control the seasonal angle of the light and vary its intensity throughout the changing days. Plants can then be chosen to thrive as the seasons mature, with subtle textures and colors peaking along a spectrum of brilliance or muted glory over the short span of time allotted for growth in the mountains.

The longitudinal rock garden in the Alpine section. The slabs are arranged north-to-south.

After much garden-strolling, a relax in the grass.

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