Gardens and Green Houses in Toronto
With beautifully landscaped gardens and free public greenhouses displaying vast collections of plants from all over the world, Toronto is a gardener’s paradise.
At 19 Horticultural Avenue, you’ll find Allan Gardens Conservatory. Covering 16,000 square feet, the Conservatory is famous for its extensive collection of rare and tropical plants species, spread across six greenhouses. It is named after the eleventh Mayor of Toronto, George William Allan, who donated the land that made the establishment of the gardens possible.
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The gardens were founded in 1858 and, over the past 150 or so years, have developed gradually. The central building was originally the Pavilion Hall, built in 1879, but destroyed in a fire in 1902. Eight years later, Toronto architect Robert McCallum designed and oversaw the Palm House, which still stands today as the gardens’ focal point. Inside the Palm House visitors can find bamboo, bananas and a stunning screw pine, or Pandanus utilis. With its numerous brace roots and long, pointy foliage, the screw-pine, native to areas such as New Guinea and Madagascar, is not a pine at all, and is actually more closely related to the palm tree.
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1924 saw the building of the Cool House, which contains the Kashmir cypress (for the Latin buffs, Cupressus cameriana), a beautiful blue-grey weeping conifer; fruit trees and a relaxing water feature. With 1956 came the northern Tropical House, a lush greenhouse filled with brightly-colored orchids. The southern Tropical House and the Cactus House were relocated to Allan Gardens from Toronto’s Exhibition Park over the course of the 1950s.
You can let your dog run free in the Dogs Off-Leash Area and a playground provides entertainment for children. Allan Gardens is free to enter and is open 365 days a year.
Centennial Park Conservatory
Centennial Park Conservatory, at 151 Elmcrest Road, is Toronto’s other popular public greenhouse area. Spread over 12,000 square feet, Centennial Park contains three greenhouses and, as in the case of Allan Gardens, entry is free.
One of the highlights of Centennial Park is its show house, which contains special, temporary displays, determined by the season. They change eight times a year, so a new experience is always on offer. The Christmas show is particularly memorable. A poinsettia festival brings the greenhouse to life with vibrant red colors and evening festivities, conducted by candlelight, draw enthusiastic crowds. During the spring, you can wander among delicate lily displays and the fall brings the vibrant yellows, pinks and purples of chrysanthemums.
All year round, the tropical house offers a warm atmosphere and is a particularly inviting escape during the cold winter months. Entering the tropical house takes you into a steamy world of lush fruit trees, bearing guava, citrus and bananas; verdant palms; golden and orange birds of paradise; and red bromeliads. Budgerigars fly around freely, occasionally landing on visitors, and cockatoos cry out for attention. At Toronto’s Centennial Conservatory, you can experience all the warmth and diversity of the globe’s equatorial regions without facing the expense and hassle of taking a long-haul flight!
Centennial’s third greenhouse, the Arid (or Cactus) House provides another shelter from Canada’s chilly winter, with its warm and dry atmosphere and bright lighting. Here, you can marvel at curiously-shaped cacti, examine spiky yucca plants and study the intricacies of succulents.
Bay-Adelaide Cloud Gardens Conservatory
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In the middle of downtown Toronto, on Richmond Street West, the Bay-Adelaide Cloud Gardens Conservatory offers yet another quick winter escape. Much smaller than Allan Gardens or Centennial Park, it is just half an acre in size. Built in the 1980s, Cloud Gardens was designed by a collaborative group, comprised of artists, Margaret Priest and Tony Sherman, the MBTW Group/Watchorn Architects, Sampson Neuert Architects and Baird, who received a Governor General Architects’ Award for his contribution.
One of the highlights of Cloud Gardens is a five-story high waterfall. Climbing the stairs that wind around the powerful stream of rushing water provides a relaxing break from the busy urban center of Toronto. The other half of the complex features a grassy lawn and trees. There is also a greenhouse, the atmosphere of which aims to reflect a mountain ecosystem. At the top of Cloud Gardens, you will find a monument to the construction workers of Toronto. It was designed by Margaret Priest and created by the Building Trades Union.
Toronto Botanical Garden
The Toronto Botanical Garden has its headquarters in Edwards Gardens, a public park run by the City of Toronto at 777 Lawrence Avenue East. A volunteer-run organization, the Botanical Garden’s aim is to promote the practice of gardening, through providing inspiration, education and information. Those with a green thumb can access specialized gardening courses, attend lectures and workshops, ask for advice and use the Garden’s impressive library of horticultural publications.
The Toronto Botanical Garden runs seventeen small gardens, spread over four acres of land. These are used for display purposes and to provide interested green thumbs with practical experience and hands-on lessons. They are a fantastic resource for those planning on creating or extending their own gardens, because they provide accessible models.
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Each year, the “Kitchen Garden” is replanted and re-landscaped with a new theme. In 2011, the garden reflected the food and gardening culture of Ireland; in 2010, it was based on Italy; in 2009, the Ukraine; in 2008, India; in 2007, the Caribbean and, in 2006, Japan. Toronto has a significant multicultural population, so there are plenty of resources available to pursue an ongoing project of this nature. In taking a tour of the Kitchen Garden, visitors learn how to grow fruit and vegetables organically and sustainably, deal with pests and apply techniques such as crop rotation and companion planting.
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Another of the Botanical Gardens included in the seventeen is “Nature’s Garden.” This valuable asset teaches visitors how to grow gardens that imitate Toronto’s natural ecosystems. For example, one section of the garden has been developed as a Carolinian Forest, based on alkaline soil and featuring sassafras and eastern redbud. Native shrubs, including golden current and bush honeysuckle, have been grown to prevent erosion. “Nature’s Garden” plays an important role in encouraging environmental awareness and developing interest in conservation amongst visitors.
Toronto Botanical Garden is open all year round and admission is free. If you wish to support the organization, you can become a member, which provides you with access to all their services and gives you discounts on shopping and dining at the Garden.