Season’s Greetings

The last few winters in Toronto weren’t the worst in recorded history but they sure felt like it.  A violent ice storm hit the city just a few days before Christmas of 2013.  Hundreds of the big old trees that make it such a green city toppled under the weight of the ice, crashing onto houses, hydro lines and cars.   Thousands were left without hydro for days – some for almost two weeks.  As freezers and fridges warmed up, food bought for Christmas feasts went bad.  Decades old house plants died, as did hundreds of geckos and goldfish and all manner of tropical pets.


When back-lit by the sun, the ice-coated trees were a beautiful sight. Much easier to appreciate if you weren’t among the thousands without hydro.


A lacy pattern in a cedar branch.


In some places the driving rain froze on an angle.

Februrary 2015 was the coldest month in 140 years.  With the wind chill, the temperature often dropped to -40 C.  The city’s Public Health Department issued 23 extreme weather alerts, up from 12 the previous year.  So when it was time for the folks in charge of Allan Gardens to choose the theme for this year’s Christmas display, ‘Celebrate Winter’ seemed like a good idea.  It sure beat moaning and groaning – or ignoring it, my preferred strategy.

As usual, the display is as beautiful as it is original.  There’s just one ‘problem’.  This year it looks like we’re headed for one of the warmest winters in history.  Outdoor skating rinks are closing and golf courses re-opening.  Today, Christmas Eve, the forecast high was 17 C, which by the way is a LOT warmer than the temperatures I experienced on Lake Como back in September.  Obviously there is not a snow flake in sight.


Christmas Eve day. If it weren’t for the red bows and wreaths around the entrances, it could easily be taken for a lovely spring day. Which is what it felt like.

Each of the five greenhouses illustrates ways to celebrate the rigours of a (typical) Canadian winter.  Since it’s all under glass this leads to some rather curious juxtapositions, but once you get over the absurdity of it all, it’s delightful.


In the central ‘Palm House’ – Go skating.


Another skater, surrounded by very beautiful – and very tropical – Poinsettias and clothed, at least on top, in succulents that would succumb at the first frost.


Opposite the skaters, a male figure that somehow brought to mind the king of some tropical island, rides a toboggan amidst the Poinsettias and banana trees.

The temperature drops noticeably when you go through the doors into the Temperate greenhouse.  Unlike the tropicals, all the plants in here need a rest period, but do not tolerate temperatures below freezing point – ie. a ‘normal’ Canadian winter.


When you’ve done enough skating and tobogganing, you can go watch the birds.


Below the Kashmir Cypress, a Canada goose all dressed up.


There’s a lot going on here but if you look closely you’ll see a couple of birds perching on the slender branches of the ‘Fingered Lemon’.


Cardinals have taken over the Ponderosa lemon tree. It is said that one lemon from a tree in their native habitat, Maryland, can produce enough juice for three lemon meringue pies.


This lovely creature in a palm tree nearby may not be biologically correct. I for one, do not care.


Further along, more cardinals perch on grapevine trees growing in a cabbage patch.


At the end of the island, the branches of an enormous Norfolk Pine shelter birds and nests.


At the south end of the greenhouse a Canada Goose looks like it’s about to dive bomb an unsuspecting Leda.


Leda and the (notorious) swan.

There are two tropical greenhouses.  The one to the north of the Dome is more peaceful but there is still lots going on here.


An elegantly understated portrayal of Christmas is provided by this Hibiscus flower.


Purple balls decorate a slender Mahogany tree. No dining tables, but wonderful flutes are made with the wood of this tree.

During one of the Victorian Teas sponsored by the Toronto Botanical Gardens, Curtis Evoy, Head of Allan Gardens, explained that they had planned to ‘build’ the snowman with Dusty Millers. But there had been a crop failure, so they used succulents instead.


Another classic Canadian winter activity. Build a snowman.

From the tropics we go through the next set of doors into the Arid Greenhouse.


It may be arid, but there’s lots of colour here too.



A framed succulent ‘painting’.


A Christmas Cactus blooms on cue.


And if one of your fragile Christmas balls breaks, not to worry. Just plant a succulent in it.

The last of the greenhouses is one of the favourites.  Whenever I’m doing a tour and the group arrives at the back door – the one that gives directly onto this greenhouse – I know I’m in trouble.  And it’s not just the turtles.


The strange cob-webby things the green and red balls are hanging from are Epiphytes, plants that get all their nutritional needs from the air.


Behind the decorated cob webs, the roof of a little hut is covered with a riot of Poinsettias. In the background the ‘Dome’ of the central greenhouse.


An Amaryllis candelabra.


And what, you may ask is this?

It’s an Amaryllis. To make a point, the gardeners have hung it by its roots to show that all the nourishment for the flower is contained in the bulb. So don’t ruin things by overwatering!


As if to show how healthy it is, in the week between my taking this photo and the preceding one, it sprouted a second flower stem.


An upside down Amaryllis candelabra.

And finally, on the other side of the hut, the water wheel and a glimpse of what sometimes seems to be the star attraction – the turtles.


Wishing you all, no matter what your faith – or climatic zone – a wonderful holiday season.


















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2 Responses to Season’s Greetings

  1. Ron and Wendy Hutchinson says:

    Thanks Donna-really enjoyed that Allen garden virtual tour ! All the best to you for 2016!

    Wendy >

    • donnafenice says:

      Thanks, Wendy. Glad you enjoyed. Every year I am amazed at the enchanting, beautiful and sometimes witty vignettes they create for the enjoyment of all. All the best in the New Year! Donna

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