Alice’s Wonderland

Atlanta Botanical Garden brings the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat to Midtown.

They’re painting the roses red down at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

The Red Queen’s troops, the Cheshire Cat, a ridiculous chess game, a White Rabbit (and his pocket watch) and yes, Alice, are part of this Wonderland that opens May 11 at the Midtown attraction.

Called “Imaginary Worlds: Alice in Wonderland,” the exhibit brings 31 enormous topiary-like sculptures to the Atlanta garden and seven to the Gainesville Botanical Garden.

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The creations are composed of metal frames, stuffed with soil and covered with living plants. Using such tools as oversized sheep shears and tiny thread cutters, the garden’s horticulturalists closely clip the plants — such as stonecrop and cedum — so that they resemble sheets of living color. The result is both organic and unearthly.

A worker makes last minute pruning adjustments to the Atlanta Botanical Garden's new plant sculpture exhibit "Alice in Wonderland. RYON HORNE / RHORNE@AJC.COM

Credit: Ryon Horne

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Credit: Ryon Horne

This week, as members of the garden’s crew put the finishing touches on the oversized knights and pawns of a gargantuan chess board set up near the Skyland Garden, Linda Lindeborg, and her friend, Linda Fowble, both from Suwanee, gazed at the familiar characters.

“It takes me back,” said Lindeborg. Placed among 12-foot-tall chess pieces were heart-shaped trees featuring white blossoms that the Red Queen insists should be painted red.

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“We all knew it when we were children, but like a lot of classics, you tend to forget parts of it, some of the details,” said Lindeborg. “This brings it all back.” Dressed in hats and sunglasses for the sunny weather, the two Lindas said they are looking forward to returning with a few family members. “I can’t wait to bring my grandson,” said Fowble.

The White Rabbit at the Atlanta Botanical Garden's "Alice in Wonderland." RYON HORNE / RHORNE@AJC.COM

Credit: Ryon Horne

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Credit: Ryon Horne

Nearby, posed in the middle of the Skyline Garden pond, was the installation’s most impressive piece, the 27-foot-tall White Rabbit. This rabbit may have been late for an important date, but he looked relaxed, as he floated in an upside down umbrella. The rabbit, the umbrella, and the rabbit’s top hat, all were clad in colorful, living plants.

The older figures returning from last summer, including the Dragon, Pegasus, the Goddess, the Mermaid, the Woolly Mammoth and the Camels, have been updated with new color schemes composed of different plants, said exhibitions manager Emily Saccenti.

The sculptures are designed by Mosaiculture International of Montreal, where the metal frames were fabricated. Gardeners began stuffing and planting sections of the sculptures back in January, working inside Buford greenhouses, before trucking the sections to the Midtown garden in April.

The dragon sculpture, returning from last summer, is one of the oversized sculptures created of metal frames and living plants. RYON HORNE / RHORNE@AJC.COM

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“We have to water these every day, sometimes twice a day, sometimes more,” said Christina Newton, as she trimmed the silver falls dichondra growing on the chest of one of the Red Queen’s playing-card soldiers. Newton is a horticulturalist who is part of the six-person team that installs and maintains these creations.

The densely planted, closely cropped plants become patches of color — brushstrokes — in the hands of these artists. Some are so finely woven they appear to be made of fabric.

But there are some colors that nature doesn’t provide on a regular basis, namely: blue. In the Disney cartoon version of the Lewis Carroll story, Alice is dressed in a blue pinafore. In this tableau you will find Alice sleeping near the Cheshire cat. Though the artists fashioned her white blouse from dichondra and her blonde hair from creeping Jenny, her blue pinafore was a challenge, finally resolved only by dyeing some moss.

“It’s still a living thing!” said Saccenti.


“Imaginary Worlds: Alice in Wonderland”

Atlanta Botanical Garden

9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, May 11-Oct. 27. $18.95-$21.95. 1345 Piedmont Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-876-5859.

Gainesville Garden

9 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, May 11-Oct. 27. $5-$8. 1911 Sweetbay Drive, Gainesville. 404-888-4760.