A Trip to Allan Gardens Conservatory
Toronto has just come out of the worst February on record. As we entered into March, we reached 43 days in a row with sub-zero (Celsius) weather. The ice in the harbour is over 18 inches (almost half a meter!), so thick that the ferry service to the Toronto Islands has been suspended. Still is. A thick layer of snow covered everything and it had been so cold that there was a crust of ice on the snow, creating a glistening shall. All these months of dark and the monochrome palette of white, grey, brown, and black has made us hunger for colour and warmth. (as always, click on photos to embiggen)
Luckily, there is a place where you can find this, even at the beginning of March in Toronto. Last weekend, The Boy and I went to the Allan Gardens Conservatory. It was our first visit there, which is sort of strange. The Boy is a Toronto native and I’ve lived here for over 30 years, yet never made it inside these lovely greenhouses. I’ve driven by it multiple times, each time thinking I should go there someday, but somehow never quite getting there. It turns out I was waiting for the perfect time and last weekend was it.
As we entered the park I looked up and saw something flying far ahead. It very much did not look like the standard urban birds and in fact, watching a flock of pigeons frantically milling around, I knew something was up. And then I saw it. It was the red-tailed hawk! Well, I’m not 100% sure, but the silhouette was very definitely not a Peregrine falcon — it was bigger, thicker. The branches of the trees in the park got in my way for a solid shot, but that didn’t matter. It was a real privilege to see it again. I’m pretty sure the pigeons didn't share my feelings, though.
The Allan Gardens Conservatory has been around for a while. In fact, the central Palm House was built in 1910 and modelled after similar structures in the UK. It’s one of the things that attracted me to it — it looks like something out of an old sepia postcard. The Conservatory is comprised of six greenhouses, each focusing on a particular theme.
We opened the door and walked inside. And I stopped, not dumbstruck, but colour struck. After The Boy gently suggested I move forward so other people could enter the greenhouse, I got moving again, going into the Palm House.
Green was all around us. The Palm House is filled with plants, low, medium and high (as is the rest of the greenhouses). No matter where you look, there was something interesting to see. True to its name, this first greenhouse was filled with different palms, including banana palms! But what I mostly focused on was the green, the flowers, absorbing the colour, drinking it in through my skin.
It’s not until you see living plants that you know how sparse the winter diet is.
My camera was a tad overwhelmed, too. Coming in from the cold to the humidity of Palm House had my lens fogging up. Which made for an inadvertent, but very interesting filter.
I developed a few favourites among the greenhouses, one of which was the Arid House, displaying cacti and succulents. I don’t know what it is about cacti that I find so fascinating — it might be the thorns, the interesting shapes, the variety of ways nature has found to create life in a forbidding landscape. Whatever the reason, I was enthralled.
My other favourite was on the other end of the spectrum, housing a lush, tropical landscape with several water features. How can you not love a place where this is one of the first things you see?
As we moved through this greenhouse, we heard the sound of trickling water and at the end of one path, we found a water nymph surrounded by flowers and aquatic plants.
Over the past month, I had heard much about Spring flowers from friends in Denmark and Vancouver. They have even been nice enough to share photos of these flowers with me, which has been much appreciated (and only occasionally cause for whimpering). But it’s okay, because I’ve had just had a massive dose of Spring. It counts, even though it was indoors.
Turning away from the water nymph, we wandered up and other path and found the second water feature, complete with wildlife. At first, I thought they were little statues, but no. Real, live and somewhat snooty looking. Turtle? Tortoise? I can never remember the difference.
It took us almost 2 hours, but we eventually were full enough of green that we could wander into the cold and monochrome landscape outside. Spring will come here, too, in a month or maybe two.
Until then, we can always go back to Allan Gardens.