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.
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.
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.
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.
There are two tropical greenhouses. The one to the north of the Dome is more peaceful but there is still lots going on here.
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.
From the tropics we go through the next set of doors into the Arid Greenhouse.
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.
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!
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.