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In the heart of a plant sculpture

Monumental Dougherty – Preparing the site for the collective work
Credit: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Lise Servant)
Monumental Dougherty – Preparing the site for the collective work
In the heart of a plant sculpture

Seven-thirty on a misty morning. I get to the Montréal Botanical Garden. Everything is calm and quiet...or almost. My bird friends are there, constantly on the job!

I’m a longtime regular at the Garden: I’ve been coming to the wonderful urban oasis for more than 65 years. But this particular morning is special. Today I’m not just a “visitor” – I’m a volunteer for an extraordinary event: the Dougherty Project.

Contributing to the unusual

I present my pass to the guard, who lets me through with a big smile. The persistent dreary weather of the last few days doesn’t seem to have affected him in the slightest.

I head happily over to the site. I’ve got all my paraphernalia with me: work gloves, bug repellant, sunscreen, water, hat, raingear. The menacing clouds are letting me know I’ll possibly make good use of that last item at some point in the afternoon.

Since I’m curious by nature, I did a little reading up on Patrick Dougherty, and came across a number of photos and videos of his majestic plant sculptures around the world. His work is original, to say the least. Made up exclusively of long plant stems woven together in harmonious structures, his creations seem to emerge from a different world. The artist normally assembles them in the open air, in enchanting settings.

I’m really in a hurry to get to work, even though I don’t know precisely what that work will consist of yet.

Cord, pruning shears and mutual assistance

I reach the site. Immense bundles of willow stems are laid out on the ground. The quantity alone is impressive. I spot the collective work some distance away, construction on which began only two days before. I move closer – it’s fascinating!

There will be nine of us, including Patrick Dougherty and his two assistants. Our job is to bend long, very sturdy willow stems, already planted in the ground, then join them together with cord. These form the base of the plant sculpture. Visitors will complete it progressively throughout the summer.

Despite the rain, the atmosphere stays dynamic and cheerful. The bad weather becomes a secondary element compared to the infinite pleasure of being there and of taking part in this wonderful adventure.

We work in teams of two or three. Several hands are required to get the sometimes stubborn stems to behave. Mutual assistance is an effective tool!

Back to childhood

Little by little, cute bubble houses linked by long snaking corridors take shape before our eyes. Once the basic structures are finished, we put in finer stems, woven into waves, to create walls, doors and windows.

The work is physical, creative and lots of fun! I have the impression of revisiting a piece of my childhood, back when I’d help my brother build cabins in the woods on our family camping trips. I feel good, relaxed and totally aware of the privilege of being able to enjoy this very special experience.

And then it’s over. I’m drenched, exhausted and starving, but thrilled by what is truly an outstanding experience. And I’m looking forward to the next time. The task is far from finished: two other sculptures will come into being in June and July.

To learn more:

  • Visitors can contribute to the collective work until September 4. Patrick Dougherty will be on hand at the Botanical Garden in June and July. For the dates and times of the artist’s attendance, consult our Web page.
  • Patrick Dougherty also talks to us about this memorable nature experience at the Botanical Garden in this blog.

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