‘Tis the Season

Allan Gardens, Toronto

Allan Gardens, Toronto

There may be only four seasons when it comes to gardens, but no matter where you are on the ‘I love Christmas spectrum’,  we all know that there is another season and we all have a tradition or two to celebrate it.  One of my traditions is to visit Allan Gardens in downtown Toronto.  I realize this may not mean much to anyone whose Christmas traditions include going for a swim along the Amalfi Coast, but if you were ever to step through the door of Allan Gardens on a cold, December day – which includes anything below 16 in my books – you would understand.

Detail of enormous wreath hanging over entrance.

Detail of enormous wreath over the entrance.

It’s not just the magic of being transported to the tropics.  Every year the gardeners transform the greenhouses in new and unexpected designs.

The Victorian Christmas is a popular theme. Last year the central area of the ‘Dome’ was turned into a succulent fireside setting.  And that’s succulent in the literal sense.

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If you're lucky, carollers will be strolling through the greenhouses during your visit.

If you were lucky, carollers would have been strolling through the greenhouses during your visit.

On the drive down, I wondered what the gardeners had come up with this year.

Where the fireplace had stood the year before was a grand piano.

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Love the epiphyte boutonnière. (just in case – an epiphyte is a plant that gets everything it needs from the air)

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A floriferous audience.

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A floral Fascinator and a surprising upgrade for the lowly Dusty Miller and carnation.

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The greenhouses are in the shape of a horse shoe, with the Dome in the centre.  On the north side is one of two tropical greenhouses.

A simple, but elegant treatment at the entrance to the adjoining greenhouse.

A simple, but elegant treatment at the entrance to the adjoining greenhouse.

Papyrus is the dominant plant in one of three ponds along the path.

Papyrus is the dominant plant in one of three ponds along the path.

A lush assortment of tropical plants lines the path.  Throughout the rest of the year Brugmansia, aka Angel’s Trumpet, papyrus and water hyacinth are the stars, but amidst the hundreds of plants brought in for the Christmas display they are barely noticeable.

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As part of the magic, the Poinsettia’s sap has been temporarily rendered nontoxic.

A citrus topiary.

In 2013 a citrusy topiary decorated the cycad border.

At the far end of this greenhouse is a plant from the Jurassic era – a Doon Edule cycad.

Having survived millions of years, the cycad is now an endangered species - not because of global warming or pollution or even destruction of its natural habitat.  Poaching is the greatest threat to its survival.

Having survived millions of years, the cycad is now an endangered species.

The greatest threat to the survival of the cycad is not global warming, or pollution, or even destruction of its natural habitat, but its own inherent beauty and uniqueness, which has led to widespread poaching by unscrupulous plant collectors.

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Birch bark sentinels guard the threatened cycad.

Across from the cycad is the entrance to the Arid Greenhouse.  It wouldn’t have been easy working around the permanent plant collection in here, but the gardeners still managed to continue the Christmas theme.

The entrance to the 'Arid Greenhouse' is close by.

Pink and red Kalanchoe add splashes of Christmas colour to the prickly permanent display.

A wreath of succulents.

A wreath of succulents.

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The blue-gray colouring minimizes moisture loss, a prime concern of all the plants in this greenhouse.

And under the Christmas cactus, an aloe vera in bloom. Who knew it had a  flower.

Under a Christmas cactus, a rare sight – an aloe vera in bloom. Who knew it had a flower?

From here we retrace our steps back to the Dome and then on to the south side of the horse shoe.

I hadn't noticed the back of the gowns before.

I hadn’t noticed the back of the gowns before.

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At the front of the central island a Kashmir Cypress is underplanted with azaleas and cyclamen.

It’s a bit cooler in the Temperate Greenhouse.  Although none of the plants in here would survive Canadian winters, unlike tropical plants, they all need something we humans could benefit from – a periodic, cooling-off period.

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Cyclamen thrive in the cooler temperatures of the Temperate Greenhouse.

There is a lot going on in this greenhouse, but I’d say the star attraction is Leda’s Pond.  It took me a couple of years, but I finally caught on.  The Victorian Urn in front of the Kashmir Cypress sets the tone for each year’s display.

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One year the urn was decorated in red, white and green. (BTW – those pine cones are wired on.)

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The same red, white and green colour scheme was repeated in Leda’s Pond.

This year's colours were silver and turquoise.  What had the gardeners come up with for Leda's Pond?

This year’s colours were silver and turquoise. What had the gardeners come up with for Leda’s Pond?

But there is no hurrying to get to Leda with all the wonderful design ideas along the path.

But there is no hurrying to get there with all the wonderful design ideas along the path.

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You never know in which greenhouse the little train will be.

Cyclamen and Hellebore.

Cyclamen, aka ‘Sowbread,’ and Hellebore.

It strikes me as rather odd that the elegant cyclamen is also commonly known as ‘Sowbread’.   And it’s not just a few, dour English who have given it this unlikely name.  The French call it pain de pourceau and in Italian it’s pan porcino.   Apparently pigs are partial to its tuber.

This year there was a new - at least to me - form.  A kind of upside down cyclamen.

This year there was a new – at least to me – form. A kind of upside down cyclamen.

A (non-gardening) friend who was visiting with me thought it looked weird, but I loved it.

A (non-gardening) friend who was visiting with me thought it looked weird, but I loved it.

Leda, as I had guessed, was all dressed up in silver and turquoise.

Leda, as I had guessed, was all dressed up in silver and turquoise.

The entrance to the last greenhouse is just to the right of Leda’s Pond.

A blast of hot, humid air welcomes you into the Tropical Greenhouse.

A blast of hot, humid air welcomes you into the Tropical Greenhouse.

The Poinsettia is king here.

The Poinsettia is king here.

Even if you think you don’t like the now ubiquitous Poinsettia, it is hard not to be impressed.

A multi-story Poinsettia.

I hadn’t seen this multi-story version before.

I know red is the true Christmas colour, but the pinks were my favourite.

I know red is the true Christmas colour, but the pinks were my favourite.

Like the Bougainvillea, what we call the flower is actually a specialized leaf called a bract.  The true flowers are the insignificant and not at all attractive yellow knobby things in the centre

Like the Bougainvillea, what we call the flower is actually a specialized leaf called a bract. The true flowers are the insignificant (and not at all attractive) knobby things in the centre.

The roof of the little shed.

The roof of the little shed by the pond where the turtles hang out.

The epiphyte again, this time as a ball, like those we hang on our Christmas trees.

The epiphyte again, now appearing as a ball, like those we hang on our Christmas trees.

In 2014 the shed was decorated in a more subdued - and in my mind, more elegant

This year the shed was decorated in a more subdued – and in my mind, more elegant – pink and white colour scheme.

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Although not quite as many as this, there are almost always orchids in bloom in this greenhouse.

There are lots more orchids, in a miniature greenhouse, safely beyond the reach of wandering fingers.

More orchids, including some rare species, are safely behind glass, beyond the reach of wandering fingers.

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And finally, on the wall at the end of the greenhouse a wreath decorated with Amaryllis candelabra.

I made my way slowly to the exit.  There were lots of visitors now – young and old, and going by their accents and appearance, from many different parts of the world.   All here for a bit of enchantment.  ‘Tis indeed the season.

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