Larger than Life

Nothing Can Top ‘Imaginary Worlds’ Towering Topiaries on Display at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens

If nature sparks imagination, Atlanta Botanical Gardens is a premier spot for playing pretend. Look long enough at a flower, and it becomes a fairy, a bush becomes a bear. This summer, the garden takes plants to a new level of whimsy in its exhibition “Imaginary Worlds.”


Atlanta Botanical Gardens adds 14 new sculptures to the Earth Goddess, Shaggy Dog and frogs that are permanently displayed at the gardens. The topiary-like sculptures first visited Atlanta five years ago and have now returned bigger than ever. The new characters include a phoenix taking flight at Alston Overlook, a mermaid sunbathing by a fountain and a sleeping princess on the Great Lawn. Atlanta Botanical Garden’s second location in Gainesville will have a few characters ranging from an ogre to panda bears.


The exhibition’s creators, the nonprofit International Mosaiculture of Montreal, have put a spin on the art of topiaries by using thousands of groomed plants to create impressive installations ranging up to 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Since January, horticulturalists have spent weeks covering steel forms, created in Montreal, with mesh fabric and have stuffed them with soil, sphagnum moss and carefully arranged perennials and annuals. The fact that there are nearly 200,000 plants per sculpture is echoed by equally impressive irrigation systems beneath the sculptures.


Each installation uses a combination of plants to create mosaic-like patterns and mimic the texture of scales or fur. For example, the colorful tail of a peacock will be made with vibrant alternanthera, also known as Joseph’s coat plants, and comes in a variety of hues including reds, greens and yellows. Pilea, a small vining plant that quickly and smoothly covers any surface and rebounds quickly after shearing, is used to make the “skin” on the sculptures, such as Earth Goddess’ face.