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Culture Concierge:

April 28, 2013

Beautiful Creatures

Think topiaries on steroids when Atlanta Botanical Garden hosts 19 living sculptures of fauna—made of florals & lush greenery

By Nancy Staab

  • Photos courtesy of Atlanta Botanical Garden. Photos by Chris Kozarich and Joey Ivansco

How Does Atlanta Botanical Garden Grow? With a mythical menagerie of fantastical beasts—butterflies, unicorns, cobras, friendly ogre and a giant 25-foot Earth Goddess

The cobra The cobra "living sculpture" at Atlanta Botanical Garden

Atlanta Botanical Garden raises its cultural bar each summer with showcase exhibits, featuring dazzling artists like glassmaker Dale Chihuly in 2004, the whimsical, oversize sculptures of French artist Niki de Phalle in 2006 and the sculptures of Henry Moore in 2009. This year, the garden is rolling out its green carpet for “Imaginary Worlds: Plants Larger than Life”-- a menagerie of overgrown creatures straight out of a fairytale book, such as unicorns, butterflies, cobras, a friendly ogre, bunny rabbits and a larger-than-life Earth Goddess. These imaginary creatures are all constructed of lush greenery and florals, overlaid in elaborate patterns, over gigantic sculptural frames of steel. Think shaped topiaries on steroids or perhaps a fantastical float in the Rose Bowl Parade.

The unicorn The unicorn

The 19 monumental figures are charmingly scattered throughout the entire garden from the main lawn, which sports twin goldfish spinning and playfully spouting water in the fountain, to the Cascades Garden housing the gigantic, 25-foot Earth Goddess. The magical figures are likely to sneak up on you as you turn the corner, lending an air of enchantment to the entire tour. The twin cobras with rearing heads are spectacular in their height and patterning, but we also love the friendly, snaggle-toothed ogre that will delight children and adults alike.

The tradition of figurative topiary, or “mosaic-culture,” dates all the way back to the 16th-century, when European princes and wealthy aristocrats commissioned gardens full of wonders, surprises and delights-- from trick fountains and 3-D “embroidery beds” to these "living sculptures." The Atlanta Botanical Garden’s current menagerie were carefully transported in pieces from International Mosaic Culture of Montreal in 15 refrigerated trucks for this, their first U.S. show, and re-pieced and re-grown on-site. Thousands of meticulously groomed plants (mostly annuals) were planted into soil-and-sphagnum moss-filled netting covering the steel form. Intricate irrigation systems beneath the surface will keep the forms lush, green and flowering all summer and fall.

Our suggestion: visit the Garden on Thursday nights when it stays open late, May through September, for weekly Cocktails in the Garden and chef demos. Sip cocktails or wine as the sun sets and the DJ plays, while discovering these fabulous green beasts in their lush habitats.


“Imaginary Worlds opens May 6 and will be on exhibit through October. Atlanta Botanical Garden is open Tues. through Sunday from 9AM to 7PM (or until 10PM on Thursdays). Admission is $18.95 for adults, $12,95 for children ages 3-12, and free to Garden members. For more information and tickets visit or call 404.876.5859.


Twin fish in the fountain Twin fish in the fountain