Outside the trees are withered and bare. Nearby, there's an oasis where flowers mingle with art.

The Royal Botanical Gardens, just outside Burlington, is hosting two indoor art shows. The first, "SculptArt," is set in a thriving Mediterranean garden. Inspired by childlike imagination, sculptures of fairies, boats and dolls sit amidst the rich greenery.

The second show, "Earth Art," is set in a large hall filled with natural light – a welcome sight in a winter of so much darkness. Curated by well-known art critic and author John Grande, the show features six pieces by an eclectic group of Canadian and international artists.

In "Earth Art," the works vary in their subjects and media, but each belongs to the category of nature-based art, which Grande explains, refers to "sculpture in nature, made with nature." Artists in the show not only use organic materials; there's also a respect for nature inherent in their work, Grande says.

To demonstrate, consider British Columbia-based artist Michael Dennis's piece Royal Couple. The sculpture features two human-like figures carved out of cedar. They embody royalty through their majestic postures and size.

Dennis's respect for nature is evident in the material he used. The cedar comes from tree trunks discarded by a logging company. He's also careful to retain elements of the tree's shape in his sculptures so the viewers can see not only human gestures, but also gestures of the trees.

Grégoire Ferland, another Canadian in the show, also demonstrates respect for nature. His piece Kouokiao (crossing the bridge) looks like a stainless-steel bridge or scale. Cutout images of city buildings hold up a steel plank. A rock hangs from one side of the plank. Look carefully and you'll spot the moss growing on the rock that requires the sculpture to be watered daily.

Usually with a scale, the heavier side tilts down due to the weight. Yet in Ferland's hands the side of the plank where the rock hangs is lifted up, suggesting "nature is keeping it in balance," Grande says.

Other works in the show rely upon materials the artists found in the grounds of the Royal Botanical Gardens. Santiago-based artist Pilar Ovalle combined materials from the gardens with materials she found on nature walks in Chile. Her piece Venus and Marte features two smooth, wooden heads that face each other. Etched on one are images of the constellations.

The work represents "the balance between the male and female in all of us," Grande says. It also speaks to universal connections and "our place in the greater cosmology."

Like Ovalle, artist Alan Sonfist drew inspiration from the gardens. Sonfist, one of the early earth artists, is known for a piece in the 1960s where he recreated a pre-colonial forest in New York City. For the "Earth Art" show, Sonfist visited the gardens in August and took pictures of the pink-orange petals of a flower named Canna indica.

Then he created a photo-based work where the petals appear in a mandala pattern. The word mandala, which comes from Sanskrit, represents wholeness and can be a model for the structure of life. The bright pink petals in Sonfist's work are a testament to the beauty that can be found in nature – a much-needed reminder on days when the city's sidewalks are filled with slush.

Earth Art and SculptArt close on Jan 18. A new exhibit devoted to glass works opens Jan. 23. For more information
http://www.rbg.ca/