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.
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.
On the drive down, I wondered what the gardeners had come up with this year.
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 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.
At the far end of this greenhouse is a plant from the Jurassic era – a Doon Edule cycad.
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.
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.
From here we retrace our steps back to the Dome and then on to the south side of the horse shoe.
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.
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.
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.
The entrance to the last greenhouse is just to the right of Leda’s Pond.
Even if you think you don’t like the now ubiquitous Poinsettia, it is hard not to be impressed.
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.