The Restorative Powers of the Montreal Botanical Garden

Botanical_Gardens_H.JPGThe main entrance (photo: GarrettRock)

From the Royal Gardens of Europe to Central Park and our own Mont Royal, architects and city planners have developed parks, gardens, and green spaces for centuries. The importance of green space is not lost on any individual that lives around them, as they increase both public health and happiness. Over the past 30 years, studies have shown that green spaces in urban areas decrease crime and stress, and improve self-esteem and attention. Landscape Ontario provides an index on the social benefits of green spaces in urban areas. Montreal's most beloved green space is the Botanical Garden where preserving and educating locals of fauna native to our region is its main goal.

Montreal's most beloved green space is the Botanical Garden where preserving and educating locals of fauna native to our region is its main goal.

Montreal's Botanical Garden is not just a tourist attraction, but also a place for Montrealers to enjoy and learn about nature, as the garden works its magic and heals them in the process. Located at 4101 Rue Sherbrooke E, the Montreal Botanical Garden spreads acros 75 hectares. It is ranked as one of the top eight most important and amazing gardens in the world and has been one of Canada's heritage sites since 2008.

The History

Botanical Gardens

Botanical gardens have a history of being built for educational and restorative purposes. The early botanical gardens of the sixteenth and seventeenth century were modeled after the monastic gardens of the Middle Ages that, from an utilitarian view, planted vegetables and herbs for consumption and medicinal purposes to treat monks and the community. Later on, Renaissance princes would "plant botanical collections within their pleasure gardens to provide not only places for entertainment, meditation and setting for sculpture, [but also] for botanical and medical research" (Armstrong). Eventually horticulture (the science, art, and business of plant cultivation) became the main focus of these gardens.

This tradition continues today as botanical gardens are not just for the population's viewing pleasure or as place to escape the city, but truly a space in which to learn, preserve local fauna, create new specices of plants, and showcase those from around the world.

The Montreal Botanical Garden

The founder of the Montreal Botanical, Brother Marie-Victorin, was cured of tuberculosis after being prescribed fresh air in 1903. During this event, he became fascinated in botany and continued to study and teach it passionately during his life. The building of Montreal's Botanical Garden was not all-smooth sailing due to political issues at the time and the economic issues of the depression.

Half a century before Victorin, Penhallow also tried to build one, but his attempts were rejected. What Penhallow's proposal did prove, however, was the link between public health and green space by using Europe's gardens (botanical or otherwise) as an example.Victorin drew inspiration from gardens all around the world, as well as worked with Henry Teuscher (award-winning landscape architect, horticulturalist and botanist) on the design for the Montreal Botanical Garden.

The Gardens:

There are four cultural gardens: First Nations, Chinese, Japanese, and the Arboretum. The Arboretum is the largest at 40 hectares. It has just about every tree that can grow in our climate and is best viewed when the trees are gree, but the runners on the path seem to enjoy the bare trees just fine. Even though it is winter and we all just want to enjoy the indoor greenhouses, there is still beauty and serenity to be found outside, in the stark contrast between the white snow, the few plants, and the building installations. The Chinese Garden is especially beautiful, even in the winter you can feel its rustic and aesthetic appeal.

The Greenhouses:

After being surrounded by the whiteness of the snow for months on, there comes a refreshing sensation with being surrounded by earthy colors and greenery. Before heading straight for the Butterflies go Free Exhibit, take some time to enjoy the permanent greenhouses at the Botanical Garden. On the opposite end is the warm tropical garden where you can find banana trees. The thick air and hanging fuzzy vines create the illusion that you are taking a walk in a tropical rainforest as you learn about the various different plants that can grow on one tree.

On the other end, you have the Hacienda and several other greenhouses. The Hacienda's Spanish and South American style architecture compliment the cacti plants that you can find going all the way to the ceiling or miniatures hanging out down below as "living stones." There is also an oriental themed room with bonsais or penjings called the Garden of Weedlessness. This greenhouse is most like an outdoor garden with a bridge and water running underneath.

The Butterflies Go Free Exhibit:

The first thing you will notice when entering the circular room of the Butterfly Go Free Exhibit is the sound of butterfly wings flapping. Tread with caution as butterflies are literally everywhere and you don't want to accidentally harm one. They are inspiring and you will find other visitors sketching or taking pictures of these delicate creatures. On the floor of the room you can find a glass case with twitching cocoons of butterflies that will be making their way out soon. I most enjoyed the view by the running water where many butterflies were flying about. It is best to go in the morning since the butterflies are more active and if you wear some bright clothing you might be lucky enough to have one land on you or your bag.

Go and see the butterfly exhibit soon because once the weather is warm enough the butterflies will be released from the garden and will migrate to the southern regions of the Americas where they belong.

The Montreal Botanical Garden is an attractive tourist destination that attracts over 800,000 visitors each year; it's also the place to go and escape the winter blues. Montreal University student, Louisa Bielig, says, "Going to the gardens is essentially like a day at a spa for your soul. Large green spaces in the city can be rare, inaccessible, and surrounded by cars - but going to the gardens really removes all that outside noise. The gardens are wonderful spaces for contemplation and relaxation, as they are usually very quiet and full of beautiful flowers. Furthermore, the greenhouses are open all year and can provide some much needed flowers and heat during the winter."

Works Cited

Armstrong Ann. Beyond Eden: Cultivating Spectacle in the Montreal Botanical Garden. MA Thesis. Concordia University. Montreal, 1997. Print

Space for Life. Montreal Botanical Garden, Date of access: February 22, 2015.

Landscape Ontario. "Lifestyle fact sheet: The social benefits of green spaces." Date of access: February 18, 2015.

Disclaimer: With the exception of the main entrance and Marie-Victorin Photograph, which is under the creative commons for Wikipedia, all photographs belong to Sarah Tayeh and are free to use with proper attribution.


Love the topic!! This article really makes me want to explore it this summer!

Oh man—I LOVE the botanical garden. I practically live there during the summer and do most of my reading there.

Every time I visit I secretly want to smuggle out a butterfly! I'm going to have to go check out those critters soon!

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