10 facts about the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Earth Goddess, who turns 10 this year

Just like the rest of us, the Goddess benefits from a good haircut

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Atlanta Botanical Garden Earth Goddess Turns 10
The famous Earth Goddess made her debut in Atlanta in May 2013.

Photograph courtesy of the Atlanta Botanical Garden

Is the face of Atlanta a plant-covered sculpture? The Atlanta Botanical Garden’s president and CEO, Mary Pat Matheson, thinks that could be the case. The garden’s lush Earth Goddess sculpture appears on billboards around town and also on Delta in-flight TVs around the world—Matheson herself has received texts from friends on planes who delight in seeing the Goddess pop up in Atlanta promos. At the very least, the Earth Goddess is synonymous with the botanical garden, and this month, she celebrates her tenth anniversary. “She’s a major creature and has a sense about her, and she’s beautiful, and she’s covered in plants,” says Matheson. “So I’m really proud of her.”

To celebrate her anniversary, here are 10 things to know about the Earth Goddess.

She was introduced as part of the Imaginary Worlds exhibit
In the early aughts, Matheson became smitten with Mosaiculture International of Montreal, which creates sculptures by affixing plants to steel frames. The Atlanta Botanical Garden leased several mosaiculture sculptures from the Canadian organization, which constructed the artworks and grew plants on them before cutting the sculptures into several pieces and shipping them to Atlanta. Though the sculptures were custom-designed for the ABG, the Earth Goddess was the only piece Matheson wanted to buy outright and keep permanently. “I knew if we could bring her and make her a permanent part of the garden, that she would become an icon for the garden. And she has,” says Matheson.

She has a sister in Montreal
The Earth Goddess’s inspiration is the Mother Earth sculpture that belongs to Mosaiculture International of Montreal. She’s taller than Earth Goddess at about 50 feet, but she’s not a permanent fixture and comes out only for special exhibits.

She arrived in 23 fully-planted pieces
It took at least three tractor trailers to move the Earth Goddess from Montreal, recalls Jim Smith, ABG’s horticulture manager. “I remember the day that the face came off of the truck. They brought her down here and then craned her into place,” recalls Smith. “It was just kind of amazing.”

She’s about 25 feet tall
The ABG owns sculptures larger than the Earth Goddess, but they’re not currently on display, so she stands the tallest in the garden for now. She resides in the Cascade Gardens, which were once the ABG’s driveway before it was redesigned. “They built this fantastic fountain and then they just decided, okay, we needed a little bit of pizzazz here next to the fountain,” says Smith.

She’s covered in 17,000 plants
The actual number of plants covering the Earth Goddess varies by a thousand or two every year, but it’s typically about 17,000. “Interestingly enough, the hair seems like it’s the biggest part of her body, but actually, the face and the skin comprises about 14,000 to 15,000 of those plants,” says Smith. “Then just a couple of thousand plants to completely fill out her hair with all the colorful plants.”

Atlanta Botanical Garden Earth Goddess Turns 10
The Goddess’s look can change from year to year, based on which types of plants are used.

Photograph courtesy of the Atlanta Botanical Garden

The plants change every year
“For 2023, we threw the color book at her,” says Smith. “We knew this was a special year for her, so we just really wanted her to shine like she never has in the past.” The vibrant blanket of color covering her hair comprises orange and purple SunPatiens, pink begonia, red vinca, and chartreuse duranta. The remainder of the goddess is enrobed in pilea glauca, a vine that will eventually fill in completely.

Not every plant plays well with the Goddess. For example, the first greenery they used on her was sweet potato vine, which didn’t work out as planned. “She got a little bit of a Gumby spike on one side of her head,” says Smith. “It just kind of grew and grew on top of each other and continued to go and it was just uncontrollable.”

She has 13 different irrigation zones
The Cascade Gardens itself doesn’t even have 13 zones, Smith says. “In fact, the arm and the hands section look like a small section of her, but that’s three irrigation zones just right there. So we can dial in the fingertips to get a little bit more water or a little bit less water depending on what we have going on underneath.” The hollow interior of the Goddess houses the irrigation system, so staff can go in and tweak the hydration levels as needed.

Atlanta Botanical Garden Earth Goddess Turns 10
The Goddess is adorned in lights during the annual Garden Lights, Holiday Nights spectacular.

Photograph courtesy of the Atlanta Botanical Garden

In the winter, she becomes the ice goddess
Just like her plants change annually, so do the lights that bejewel her come wintertime. “They sometimes twinkle and sometimes she’s kind of icy looking with cool blues and whites,” says Smith. She remains covered in lights until the end of the annual Garden Lights, Holiday Nights spectacular. “And then she just sits as a bare sculpture. That’s the part that people don’t like. But we have to wait [until about] April 15th; we can’t plant before then,” says Smith.

She needs “haircuts” too
In a few weeks, the Earth Goddess will be ready for her first shearing, and she’ll continue to get one about every two weeks to help maintain her definition. First, though, comes the pinching, where gardeners pinch her plants down to a node. “If you don’t do that, it’ll just continue to grow upwards,” explains Smith. “But if you pinch it, it will grow bushy [and] grow a whole bunch of branches down low.”

What she represents is up to personal interpretation
The Earth Goddess can be anything you want her to be. “If you were to ask me, what a better face for the Garden than Mother Earth?” Smith notes. For him, the Earth Goddess is his baby. He was an entry level horticulturist when he started at the ABG and moved up the ranks as he became her caretaker. “People laugh when I say it, but it’s been 10 years with her, and she is the reason that I have risen up through the garden the way I have,” he says.

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