Montreal’s little piece of Eden, the Botanical Gardens, is celebrating an anniversary this fall: it’s been 20 years since someone had the bright idea of lighting up the gorgeous Chinese Garden with lanterns. And this year, the light is shining all the way into Japan!
Or at least into the Japanese Garden. For the first year ever, the serene space designed for reflection is joining the Jardins de Lumière theme and turning on the lights. You can’t miss the Japanese Garden: the exhibition house is lit up in a changing rainbow of colours. Step in and through into the back garden, and that’s when the show really begins: the tall pine patch has been set alight with dramatic spots that shift in time with a contemporary music piece. Take a spot on a bench, and soak in the beauty. (And don’t miss a feast on September 16: starting at 2, there will be complimentary tastings of traditional home cooking in the garden itself.)
Down the garden path – literally – at the Chinese Garden, they’ve become absolute experts and lively lantern decoration over the last 20 years. The amazing thing is that every year is different, with whole new lanterns built around a new theme. This year is spectacular: there are over 1,000 lanterns, all designed here in Montreal and then built in China, illustrating the goddess Xi Wang Mu, the Goddess of Immortality, and her Feast of Peaches. The peaches of immortality only ripen once every 3,000 years, so there’s cause for celebration! That’s why from Wednesday to Sunday starting at 6, visitors can partake of Chinese sweets.
With a cup of jasmin tea and a sweet bean cake in hand, wander the meandering footpath around the pond, set ablaze in a million colours. The delicate silk lanterns feature panda bears, horses, tigers, the magical peach trees and the queen and her consorts: the central tableau, set in the middle of the beautiful pond, is the moment when Xi Wang Mu stole a rare pearl. Legend has it that a dragon and a phoenix once found a sparkling pearl. Xi Wand Mu became so obsessed with the gem, she ordered her subjects to steal it. On the day of the feast, the goddess revealed her new acquisition – a terrible mistake! The pearl’s blinding light alerted the phoenix and dragon, who decided to regain their treasure. In the ensuing battle, the pearl fell to the ground and turned into a magnificent lake: West Lake in Hangzhou, today a Chinese national treasure. Every evening at 6, visitors can take a guided tour of the garden to hear this story and more.
And on special nights, the visual enchantment is enhanced with live music: Chinese percussion animates most Tuesdays evenings starting at 6 p.m., and erhu – or Chinese violin – performances take place on September 15, 22 and 29 and on weekends throughout October, at 6:30 and 9. Let music light up your nights!
Jardins de Lumière, September 7 to November 4, 2012
At the Botanical Gardens (4101 Sherbrooke E., 514-872-1400)
Photos: Susan Moss