Yes, believe it or not, this full-sized sculpture illuminated from within is considered a lantern!*

I just visited the Gardens of Light show at the Montreal Botanical Garden and it’s absolutely spectacular!

Every year in September and October, the MBG lights up at night and offers extra opening hours in the evening so visitors can take full advantage of it.

A Short History

A few strands of Chinese lanterns at the entrance recall the first version of the Festival of Lights 25 years ago.

This colorful show began 25 years ago when the MBG imported hundreds of lanterns from China to light up their newly opened Chinese Garden. At the time, it was called “The Magic of Lanterns” and the lanterns were simply commercial ones, like those you could see anywhere in China. There was one single sculpture illuminated from within, all in yellow.

The exhibition has grown considerably since then, and now also includes the Japanese Garden and the First Nations Garden. This year’s “lanterns” are nothing like typical Chinese lanterns, but rather multicolored sculptures illuminated from the inside. This year includes the largest lantern sculpture ever presented at the MBG: a giant Chinese dragon that seems to rise from the waters of the garden’s main pond.

Visiting Garden by Garden

The show starts with the most spectacular part: the Chinese Garden.

This vast garden, freshly reopened after two years of renovation, is in itself breathtaking enough and certainly worth visiting during the day, but at night? Well, words simply fail me! You’ll be bowled over.

The dragon seems to dance on the water of the main pond.

This year, the theme is the Chinese dragon, the symbol of China, shown as an enormous illuminated sculpture that emerges from the main pond with its long undulating tail covered in blue scales. Chinese legend has it that the dragon lives in the heart of the oceans and clouds and is both beneficial and dangerous.

One of the dragon’s nine sons.

This year, the dragon is accompanied by its nine sons, each more colorful than the previous one. Around them dance red-crowned cranes, symbolizing the long friendship between twin cities Montreal and Shanghai. The effect is breathtaking!

20171004F Claude Lafond, Espace pour la vie.jpg
The Sacred Tree in one of its color permutations. Claude Lafond, Espace pour la vie

This is the first time the First Nations Garden has been included in Gardens of Light event. It features the Sacred Tree, a giant poplar illuminated by changing light projections that evoke the seasons and the perpetual transformations of nature. In this garden, a soundtrack lets us feel the heartbeats of Mother Earth and hear the crackle of fire as well as bursts of thunder.

A wall of the Japanese Pavilion serves as a screen to project images of autumn in Japan.

Don’t expect such brilliant color in the Japanese Garden. The lighting is softer and reveals the colors and textures of the plants while emphasizing the elegance of the pavilions and the garden’s natural harmony. It’s an invitation to slow down and enjoy the changing colors.

When You Visit

The Chinese dragon during the day.

Ideally, you’d arrive at the Montreal Botanical Garden during the day so you can see the three gardens during the daylight, then to go back in the evening, when it’s dark, for the light show. That’s what I did and it’s amazing how the gardens change completely when they are illuminated: it’s like visiting three entirely different gardens!

Pumpkins to Come

Photo: Espace pour la vie

If you can wait a few more days before visiting, there’ll be a second show at the Montreal Botanical Garden this fall: the Great Pumpkin Ball in the main greenhouse. It will run from October 6 to 31. It too is repeated yearly, just before Halloween


This year’s Gardens of Light show opened September 8, 2017, and will end on October 31, 2017. If you can’t make it this year, don’t worry. The MBG is already hard at work preparing next year’s show! Expect pretty much the same dates, so you can already book “travel to Montreal to see Gardens of Light show” on your agenda!

The Montreal Botanical Garden normally closes as dusk, but, during the show, ticket sales are extended until 9 pm, even 10 pm on Fridays and Saturdays as well as on Sunday, October 8th. You can stay for an hour after ticket sales end.

There is no special rate for the Gardens of Light event: it’s included in the usual individual rate. You’ll find this year’s rates by clicking here.

The Montreal Botanical Garden is located at 4101 Rue Sherbrooke East in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. There is ample parking on the site and a subway station (Pie IX) nearby.

Enjoy your visit!

*Unless otherwise indicated, all photos are mine, but, of course, feel free to share them. Just credit laidbackgardener.blog.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

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