If you love plants then you gotta see this!

Sculptures made totally of living, growing plants.

It’s called Mosaiculture. It’s the art of making sculptures from all living, growing plants. These exhibits tend to be on for a fairly long time so keeping the plants strong healthy and most importantly trimmed so that they don’t overgrow the sculpture is a full time job for a whole bunch of garden staff.

Mosaiculture is a very different from any other form of gardening or sculpture it combines the two. It’s not topiary which is forming sculptures and animals from living shrubs that are pretty much permanent. Mosaiculture is temporary for the most part and a corroboration of both sculptures, metalworkers and horticulture.
First there is the design. This can be anything from a man on a horse to a giant woman’s face. Once the design is decided then the ironworkers determine how to create the structure, the build a steel framework welded together. For smaller sculptures this is all one piece. For the larger ones they are created in several pieces and a crane is used to move the heavy sections together at the exhibition site. They are then bolted together to form the whole sculpture.

Canadian Mountie on his horse sculpture
Canadian Mountie on his horse sculpture

Once the structure had been created it is wrapped in water holding material usually a sphagnum moss mixed with soils and nutrients which are covered in a cloth that is stapled in place with very heavy staples. Some structures also contain complex irrigation systems within the sculptures to water and nurture the plants. However supplemental surface watering is also carried out especially in hot sunny weather.
Once the structure has been completed the painstaking task of installing all the living plants begins. From trial and error over many years Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal (MIM)  has determined the best plants to use. These are usually annuals that come in a variety of different colors but also grow well when kept short and can be easily trimmed and maintained to ensure that the sculptures always look their best. MIM is one of the only companies in the world that does this work so its not surprising that most of the exhibits tend to be in Canada.

Fox and her kit mosaiculture
Fox and her kit mosaiculture. The use of grasses for the fluffy tail is delightful.

This year the Mosaiculture exhibit is in Ottawa Canada. Well, actually it’s in Gatineau which is right across the river from Ottawa. So if you want to visit and fly in then Ottawa is where you want to head for. This year is Canada’s 150th anniversary so to celebrate admission to the exhibit is free! Usually there is a charge to see such amazing sculptures so this years a really great deal. If you have never been to Ottawa then there is a treat in store too. It’s a totally enchanting city with masses of things going on and some majestic buildings and museums.

This is our forth Mosaiculture exhibit and its always a joy to see. If you choose to go, please take the time to appreciate the wonderful work that has gone into these superb sculptures. Its not just the design of the actual sculpture its also all the plants that surround it. These plants create a scene.

Lobster fisherman at sea
Lobster fisherman on sea. Note how well the plants have been used to create frothing waves.

One of my favorites this year was the lobster fisherman. The detail that went into creating the boat and the fisherman and lovely but the sculpting of the earth to plant the Scaevola and blue petunias that mix with dusty miller to form waves on the sea. The whole concept makes the sculpture come alive and is truly delightful.

The delightful use of the long fluffy grasses to create the coat of the musk oxen makes the whole sculpture that much more delightful. Who doesn’t want to take this fluffy thing home with them?

Musk Oxen on tundra
Musk Oxen on tundra

Another of my great favorites was the tundra scene dominated by a large inukshuk, (pronounced in-ook-shook) which is an Inuit (once called Eskimo) creation. These stone monuments are created by the Inuit to help guide them through their arctic wilderness. Here the inukshuk is depicted with a wolf howling up at the northern lights spread across the face of the inukshuk. The whole sculpture is lovely but is made even more so by the wonderful tundra that has been created for it to sit upon. Using red moss roses dusty miller, grasses and other plants to create a colorful landscape it gives the sculpture far more drama. I loved the tundra landscaping here almost as much as the sculpture itself.

Wolf howling at the northern lights up the side of large inukshuk
Wolf howling at the northern lights up the side of large inukshuk. The foreground tundra is superb and so colorful.

The tundra area ranged over a larger area to encompass the musk oxen, polar bear (not pictured here) and the Indian drum dancer as well as the inukshuk. Like to ocean scene earlier in the walk encompassed several different sculptures such as the whale shark, puffins and ships discovering Canada with the horses bursting from the sea as the made their way to the shore.

Horse bursting from the water having swam ashore from the boat that carried it to Canada.
Horse bursting from the water having swam ashore from the boat that carried it to Canada. The dusty miller and Scaevola make stunning foaming ‘water’ cascading off the horses back.

Of course there is always Gaia the mother earth goddess. This sculpture appears in some form in every Mosaiculture exhibit it’s the recurring theme and the most commonly depicted and shared. Its certainly impressive but on its fourth iteration I am far more impressed by other newer offerings.

Gaia the mother goddess a recurring theme at Mosaiculture
Gaia the mother goddess a recurring theme at Mosaiculture. Makes use of petunias and red and lime green potato vines to create her cascading hair.

Mosaiculture is also beloved in China where many of the techniques originated and each time there is an exhibit the Chinese usually produce a sculpture. This year they produced two very complex and totally magnificent ones. The first from Beijing really needs to be studied to understand it.

Dragons in the Rocky mountains
Complex sculpture depicting Dragons in the Rocky mountains

The first impression of course of the giant dragons that reach skyward rising high above the rest of the sculpture. Beneath are the dragon dancers holding the dragons aloft on long sticks just as in real life in dragon dancing. These dancers however are interwoven with small mountain peaks which depict the rocky mountains where a great many Chinese worked to create the railways that were so important to early America and Canada. This railway is depicted in red and white begonias emerging from a tunnel in one of the mountains on the left side of the picture.

Pair of mosaiculture lions from Shanghai exhibit.
Pair of mosaiculture lions from Shanghai exhibit.

Then there are the lions from Shanghai! Wow what a display! A massive complex Mosaiculture to rival anything I have every seen. The largest one at the exhibit it has nine Chinese lions in various poses on stylistic clouds, one dancing on a ball along with a Chinese circle with decorative swirls all fronted by lovely flower beds. This display is truly awe-inspiring. It uses far more plant variety that the other sculptures with the use for fluffy grasses to depict the lions fur and even the unseen underbellies of the lions have been planted with more shade loving annuals. The time taken to create this exquisite sculpture is mind boggling. While I really liked a lot of the other sculptures this was my favorite because of its size, complexity and delightful use of so many different plants to create such a wonderful sculpture, plus I really like Chinese lions.

Large group of Chinese lions is massive mosaiculture display from Shanghai
Large group of Chinese lions is massive mosaiculture display from Shanghai. This stunning sculpture is enhanced by marigolds and begonias in the foreground giving it even more color.

While not the most impressive Mosaiculture exhibit I have seen yet – that prize must go to Mosaïcultures Internationales Montréal 2013 at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. This exhibit was much larger and more impressive, plus the setting the botanical gardens offered much better backdrops to the sculptures where there is no distraction of high rise apartment buildings, hotels and bridges.
The first mosaicultures were held at the Montreal waterfront with a backdrop of grain silos, but somehow this seemed better and more fitting that apartment blocks. However focus on the sculptures and the buildings don’t matter.
Sadly almost all the Mosaiculture exhibits tend to be in Canada, most often in Montreal. Others have been held in China (2006), Japan (2009) and Turkey (2016). The only exhibit in the U.S. was in Atlanta botanical gardens in 2013-14. Most commonly these exhibits seem to be held every 2-3 years so if you want to see one then head to Ottawa this year. Next time it may be a lot further away and less accessible. Only some of the exhibits are pictured here so go see the others for yourself.  It’s really a site worth seeing and should not be missed.

Killer whale
Killer whale
indian drum dancer
indian drum dancer

Join the world Counting birds this February

Be a citizen scientist for up to four days and have fun doing it.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up soon February 17-20 2017.  It’s your  opportunity to join with people from around the world to look at the bird populations everywhere.

You can count those at your own bird feeder or for the more ambitious you can travel around and count birds in may areas.  Many people get a group together and make a day of it.  You can even have a competition between local groups and see how many different sightings you can achieve in one day or over the four days of the event.

Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.  It was later joined by Bird Studies Canada when bird enthusiasts from Canada started reporting their own sightings.  Every year the number of reports has been growing and in 2013 it went global with countries all over the world now reporting on bird sightings.

The Great Backyard Bird Count website. gives detailed instructions on how to count birds and how to enter the data into the citizen science database.  It’s a great activity to people of all ages and an wonderful family event that everyone can enjoy.

It’s traditionally held in February because the three science groups wanted to create a snapshot of the distribution of birds just before spring migrations ramped up in March.  After the event went global in 2013 it gave them a much richer and detailed snapshot of birds wherever they are in February, regardless of seasons across the hemispheres.

Check out their website if you are interested.  Plug in your area and they will even give you a checklist of all the birds that you are likely to see in your area.  All you need to do is count how many and add it to the checklist.  Then when you are all done enter it into the database.  It’s fun to watch their real time map light up with little dots as people all over the globe enter their data and it gets pinned on the map.  They also have a bird photography competition for the more ambitious, so don’t forget to take your camera along when you are bird watching.

Giant flock of grackles at our farm
Giant flock of grackles at our farm

So start thinking about it now and plan out what you want to do.  If your climate is mild making a day of it can be really fun.  Pick several different locations to visit and see how many different birds you can find.  In colder locations a little more enthusiasm may often be needed but it can still be a rewarding and different family or group event to participate in.  Some organizations offer group trips or location suggestions where you can go and view birds.

Our own Master Gardener group organizes such a get together at our local park where birds can be spotted.  I don’t go because I can see more birds on my farm than they have in the park.  I do the backyard bird count every year in honor of my cousin Peter Ryder.  He was a great bird enthusiast and would have loved to participate in this venture but sadly he died of lung cancer before this event went global (he lived in England).  However I like to keep his memory alive with this event.

More and more scientists are beginning to realize the power of the citizen scientist and realize that everyone has something that they can contribute that can be very valuable.  After all you don’t need a degree to count birds people have been doing it since the stone age.  So whatever you choose counting through the window from your living room armchair  or out for a day trekking join in the fun and become a scientist at least for one day.

Chatsworth Cranberry Festival.

Actually a craft show come flea market.

Chatsworth is a village in the center of the massive New Jersey Pine Barrens. Actually it’s the largest village in this massive 3,000 square mile area of pine forest, swamps, cranberry bogs and blueberry fields. For most of the year it’s a small quiet village of about 800 people but one weekend in October it explodes with people.

This festival has grown from humble beginning as a actual cranberry festival to a huge ‘craft’ show. It has been years since we last attended the show, at least 15 maybe more. This year we decided to take another look. The event begins at 9 am and being early birds we decided to get there when it opened. We knew it would be busy and parking is always a problem. We arrived at 9.03 am and the place was already thrumming. There were people everywhere with locals jumping up and down trying to get you to park on their little side street or front lawn for $5.00. We opted to drive farther into town and park in the local school. The website said that the parking here would be $5.00 but it had changed to $10.00 by time we arrived. Checking online after we came home seems from what others have said that this is a common yearly practice. Still it was closer instead of hiking half a mile from the earlier parking options.

Obviously a lot of other people decided to start early too. The stalls were all busy, and there were a lot of them. Every square inch of the main street in this little town is covered in vendors. They cover parks, open lots and cram onto the front lawns of the houses, it seems everyone in the village gets in on the act.

Portion of the crowd at the Cranberry festival

Its certainly grown a lot since we were last here, but sadly the concept of the ‘cranberry festival’ has been demoted to almost but not quite yet non existent. When the festival started in 1983 there was much more of a cranberry theme. When we first attended back in the mid 1990’s it was still strong. By that time the parade had gone, too many people in the way, but there was still a lot of cranberry theme in the event. There was a cranberry show which highlighted the different kinds of cranberry and cranberry competition for best all around. There was a photo contest, a recipe and tours of the local cranberry bogs to watch the cranberries being harvested. One corner of the town was piled high with boxes of fresh cranberries which were sold by the scoopful. It was small town America at its best.

Today things are very different, gone are the competitions, the cranberry tours, and this year the recipe and photo contests were eradicated. There are still a few people selling cranberries along with cranberry preserves, cranberry chili sauce and a cranberry baked goods but they need to be sought out. Most are clustered around the White Horse Inn which is the center of the town and the vendor check-in point.

Selection of Cranberry preserves on sale
Selection of Cranberry preserves on sale
Fresh cranberries for sale
Fresh cranberries for sale

Most of the ‘festival’ is just one giant craft show. Festivals.net one of the best sites for craft vendors reports that there are 150 craft spots with 14 food vendors. It also reports that the show is juried, which usually means that vendors have to have decent quality before being allowed to exhibit. This might be true for part of the show and there were some fairly decent craft booths in one portion of the show. However the rest of it is more like a giant flea market than a craft show. This section is obviously not included in the 150 craft spots and there are way more vendors that this in attendance. However there is an enormous amount of buy/sell merchandise on sale. There were also way more than 14 food vendors. This was certainly needed since 14 vendors could not possibly have handled the massive throng of people attending the show. There are at least two specific food vendor areas with other vendors dotted around as well. One area has food vendors in circle with picnic tables in the center and a stage with live music at one end. This was the only stage that we located during this years festival.

Food vendors at cranberry festival
Food vendors at cranberry festival

The number of people estimated to attend is high, Festivals.net stated reported 75,000, this is the number stated by the organizer. However many articles written about the event including one by the New York Times from way back in 1997 gives an estimate of 100,000. So its hard to believe that the number has not increased greatly since that time. There was certainly a much larger crowd there than the last time we attended.

Its obviously something for people to do on a sunny October day and its promoted as one of the most attended festivals in New Jersey. The weather this year was wonderful, bright sunshine all day long. It started off cool and coats were needed during the first section of vendor exploration, and at this point a coffee would have been nice. However by time we had ambled through the crowds to the vendor selling coffee it had warmed up so much that the coats were returned to the car and ice cream was more the desired food. A local vendor outside the White Horse Inn claimed to be selling cranberry ice cream but sadly it turned out to be more of an artificial tasting water ice come sorbet with far to much what tasted like artificial sweetener in it.

Everywhere there were people carrying large parcels and oddly shaped items from purchased from vendors. If you come to the festival bring plenty of cash. Chatsworth’s location in the center of the pine barrens means there is no cell tower close and cell phone coverage is spotty and limited. Most vendors who do take credit cards cant because they are unable to get a signal. Keep your family together as calling the lost member and arranging a meeting spot is impossible. I saw many people attempting this and becoming agitated with no signal and being unable to contact lost family members.

stalls at cranberry festival
stalls at cranberry festival

Interestingly information on what happens to the proceeds of the cranberry festival are sketchy. The festival itself is run as a non profit organization and the brochure that the festival puts out, which has no information about Chatsworth or anything to do with the village at all, states briefly that the ‘proceeds go to benefit the White Horse Inn’. Checking the festival website produces no more information about the White Horse Inn or what its for at all. A little more investigation reports that the festival was started to raise funds to restore the White Horse Inn which was in a very bad state of repair. The project was awarded a grant of $45,668 in 1991 from the New Jersey Historic Preservation Bond Program to help with restorations.

A New York Times article from 1997 reported that Ms. Mary-Anne Thompson an environmental lawyer who helped found the festival in 1983 as an educational, agricultural and cultural celebration of the Pine Barrens estimated that it would take an additional $100,000 to turn the White Horse Inn into a Pinelands museum and senior center. An article published in 2008 by NJ.com stated that the renovation cost was now at $800,000 and restoration was still not complete. Most of this money has been covered by the proceeds from the cranberry festival and of course the grant. The New York Times article reported that the festival was estimated to gross over $100,000 per year at that time (1997). It’s hard to understand how restorations are not completed by now, some 33 YEARS after the project was first begun. It’s also hard to understand why all the money from the festival is still going to fund this restoration and why there is so little information about the Inn, its purpose or anything about the suggested museum.

More recently the other historic landmark the General store known as Buzby’s has come up for sale. The current owner Marilyn Schmidt bought the place in 1998 when she was 67 years old. At that time the place had been vacant for seven years and was in a very decrepit state. The old building built in 1865 needed to be gutted to the walls and restored to its former glory. This was achieved a matter of a few years and Schmidt has operated the store for the past 18 years. Now at aged 87 she want to retire. The store which is the only one for at least a 10 mile radius is a landmark. Sadly there are no takers to purchase the store which has been on the market for at least two years.
The amazing thing to me is that one old lady (with help of course) can completely restore a building and have a store running in only a few years while the White Horse Inn with masses of funding from the Cranberry festival is not completed after 33 years.  If Chatsworth is so concerned about its history and heritage why not use some of the funds from just one year of the festival and buy the general store to add to their historic collection and allow this valiant, courageous proud American lady to have a good retirement.