Gardens of Light

Each year, autumn in Montreal is heralded by a chill in the air, the leaves transitioning to their golden and red hues and the daylight hours slowly growing shorter. At the Botanical Garden another tell-tale sign of fall accompanies the ever persistent earlier sunsets: the warm glow of the Gardens of Light. Through the end of October, the Chinese and Japanese gardens continue illuminating the evenings.

Gardens of Light - Chinese Garden

A lantern dragon in the
Chinese Garden.
Photo: Julie Kalan

Montreal Space for Life Director Charles-Mathieu Brunelle says that “With the glowing lanterns and subtle lighting effects, strolling through the Botanical Garden in the evening is a wonderful way to see nature from some new perspectives. The sensory experience is decidedly different, for you notice details you would miss in daylight and otherwise imperceptible fragrances, connecting you differently with nature.”

The Chinese Garden

Standing guard at the entrance are two majestic lantern lions. In shades of muted green, the lions appear as if clad in an ancient patina. Colourful lanterns, that grow ever more vibrant as night falls, line the garden pathway. A family of pandas playing in the middle of bamboo shoots draws a great deal of attention and inevitably causes a bottleneck on the pathway. But these splendid works of art deserve your careful attention. Slow down and take it all in.

Gardens of Light

Panda lanterns at the Chinese Garden.
Photo: Julie Kalan

Butterflies, flowers, and dragons glow beautifully. A vast array of birds, in all sizes and colours, are found floating on the water, pecking the ground, taking flight and soaring to the mountain heights. The lanterns, arranged naturally around the garden’s existing vegetation and landscape, cleverly give the suggestion of movement.

As if framed by the darkness, each little scene presents its own chapter: the two fishermen aboard their bamboo rafts; the child putting on a traditional dragon dance custom, as others beat a ceremonial drum; and even an emperor riding his bicycle.

Inside the Friendship Hall, a selection of costumes and a special background for photographs allows young visitors the opportunity to pretend to be the Chinese Emperor or Empress. Small dragon dance customs are also available, but during my visit it was the adults that had the most fun with this dress-up piece.

Gardens of Light - Chinese Garden

The Chinese Emperor holds court in the
Forbidden City.
Photo: Julie Kalan

In China, decorative lanterns have been used to illuminate festivities since the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). Since 2001, the Montreal Botanical Garden has relied on artistic designer My Quynh Duong to keep their annual tradition alight. The entire project, from theme selection to public delight, takes the better part of a year. Technical drawings for each piece, referencing both its dimensions and colours, are produced in Montreal. Then, each spring, the lanterns are hand made by artisans in Shanghai. In June, the lanterns are shipped to Montreal, where teams of electricians, carpenters, welders and painters spend much of July and August creating the stands, hangers and wiring needed to complete the magical display.

The centerpiece, resting on the small lake, is a glowing representation of the Forbidden City. Beijing’s Forbidden City, home to 24 Chinese emperors, is an immense walled-off city. Here, in a festival of colours, the Emperor holds court in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. These large palace lanterns are beautifully mirrored in the lake. Any emperor would be pleased to preside over this glowing realm.

The Japanese Garden

Gardens of Light - Japanese Garden

Serene bamboo lighting in the Japanese Garden
Photo: Julie Kalan

A simple, serene video inspired by sumi-e inkwash painting is projected onto the facade of the Japanese pavilion. The atmosphere at the Japanese Garden is much more subdued. Coloured lights shine on the foliage and gentle waterfalls feeding the pond. Luminous bamboo installations along the pathway are especially charming. Resembling the organ pipes at a grand cathedral; a multitude of wide bamboo stalks, cut to varying heights (never more than a couple of feet in height), are arranged together. A light shines upward from within each bamboo stalk.

To get the most out of your visit:
– arrive before sunset to appreciate the colourful lanterns in daylight
– check the evening weather and dress

Gardens of Light - Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden lit with an array of colours.
Photo: Espace pour la vie (Claude Lafond)


For more information and tickets, visit:    514-872-1400

Note: Some parts of the Chinese Garden are closed for renovations.

Botanical Garden
4101, rue Sherbrooke Est
Montreal, QC Canada
H1X 2B2

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