Sculpture in Real Life

 By Rita Lynn

Back in the 16th century, wealthy European landowners had their groundskeepers create three-dimensional gardens from plants and flowers.  Now called “mosaiculture,” this type of living sculpture uses mostly annuals and flowers, and sometimes perennials, in the process of creating two- or three-dimensional works of art.  Use of the multiple individual plants distinguishes mosiaculture from topiary, in which a single plant – usually a shrub – is pruned to a specific shape.

In mosaiculture, large sculptures and other hefty pieces that are to be raised off the ground require a welded steel framework.  Drip irrigation systems are usually installed once the basic structure has been constructed.  The skeleton is then filled with the growing medium.  Some use a mixture of peat and soil, and others combine clay, straw and manure.  The whole work is then covered with netting.  Such major sculptures can be years in the making and can weigh thousands of pounds.

Much like creating a pattern with mosaic tiles, designers then use plants of various hues, textures, and sizes to achieve the desired effect.  Plugs of individual plants are inserted into the soil medium by poking holes in the netting.  Larger pieces use a staggering number of plants.  Even a modest ten-foot square can include up to 1,500 plants.  Finally, once the sculpture is on display, it has to be pruned and maintained, sometimes being watered several times a day, to retain its original appearance.

Some of the most spectacular displays of mosaiculture are contests sponsored by the Mosaicultures Internationales of Montreal.  These exhibitions take place every three years in Montreal and other selected cities throughout the world.  For an idea of the enormity, complexity, and beauty of these works, take a look at .  You’ll be amazed!

Are you inclined to try this at home?  You could start with a small skeleton shaped of chicken wire or a similar firm but moldable mesh material.  A drip irrigation system could be installed at this time.  Next, fill the sculpted shape with your soil mixture, packing it firmly.  Finally, wrap the entire piece with netting.  Then, for the living surface, use plants with colored foliage for most of the design.  Consider sedums, grasses and ground covers.  When available, native plants are a good choice, because they have the best tolerance to our climate.  Flowering annuals can also be used, but be sure to choose varieties that will retain their size and color throughout the life of the sculpture.  After the plants have been added, you can put sphagnum moss around them.  The moss will not only cover empty spaces, but it will also help retain moisture.  Once finished and on display,  check at least daily to be sure all parts of your figure have enough water, and prune it as needed – every week or so – to maintain its appearance.

Whether or not you’re industrious enough to try your own sculpture, be sure to visit our Arboretum to see the beautiful peacock mosiaculture.  Although not quite on the scale of the pieces created for international competition, it is nevertheless a wonderful work of art and a great gift to those who see it.


“Mosaiculture… More Than Just Topiary, They’re Living Sculptures,”’re-living-sculptures

“Mother Earth, in Plants,”

“About Mosaiculture,”

“Behind the Scenes: Mosiaculture: a complex, meticulous art,”

“In Montreal, Marvels of Green Sculpture,”

“Amazing Plant Sculptures at the Montreal Mosaiculture Exhibition 3013,”

“A Creative Expression: Mosaiculture,”

“Imaginary Worlds: A New Kingdom of Plant Giants,”


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