09 September 2016

Life Under Glass: Toronto's Allan Gardens

From professional botanists to home gardeners, the City of Toronto's Allan Gardens Conservatory has something for everyone.  Located downtown on the south side of Carlton Street, between Jarvis and Sherbourne Streets, this complex of six greenhouses covering over 16,000 square feet features a diverse permanent collection of exotic plants from around the world, as well as seasonal flower shows throughout the year.  Allan Gardens Conservatory is open between 10:00am and 5:00pm daily, and admission is free.  

The centrepiece of the conservatory is the Ontario Heritage Act-listed glass-domed Palm House, built in 1910 and housing various species of palm and banana trees, as well as tropical vines.  Flanking each side of the Palm House are two warm, humid Tropical Houses containing orchids, bromeliads, begonias, and flowering ornamental plants of the gesneriaceae family.  The Cool Temperate House hosts those plants requiring a cool but frost-free climate, such as camellias and jasmine, as well as species native to Australia and the Mediterranean.  In the Tropical Landscape House, cycads, ginger plants, hibiscus trees, fruit trees, and green jade vines thrive, while the Arid House features a wide variety of cacti and succulents.          

Allan Gardens traces its history to 1858, when local politician George Allan gifted a five-acre plot of land to the Toronto Horticultural Society on which to develop a garden.  Adjoining land was purchased by the City of Toronto in 1864 and leased to the Society with the condition that the grounds be publicly accessible and free of charge.  Mounting debt incurred by the Society forced the sale of the park and surrounding land to the City of Toronto in 1888, after which the city invested in improvements and expansion, including the construction of a new conservatory in 1894.  Following his death in 1901,  the city named the park after George Allan.  Although a major fire on 6 June 1902 destroyed a horticultural pavilion and much of the conservatory, a new domed Palm House was opened in 1910, followed by two new greenhouses in the 1920s.  A rejuvenation of the park between 1956 and 1963 included the construction of additional greenhouse wings and the acquisition of additional land, which brought Allan Gardens to nearly 13 acres.  The University of Toronto Botany Department's historic greenhouse (built in 1932) was moved to Allan Gardens from its location at College Street and University Avenue and reopened in 2004 as the Children's Conservatory.

And now, following MoMI's visit to Allan Gardens on 31 August 2016, a photographic tour of this gem of Toronto's horticultural community...            

The domed Palm House, set amongst landscaped gardens and walking paths.
The Victorian style Palm House, built in 1910.
Inside the Palm House, palms, banana trees, bamboo, and other tropical plants luxuriate in the warm, humid conditions. 

A fiddleleaf fig (Ficus lyrata), native to west and central Africa.

A pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) nestled in low shrubbery.
A view from the walkway around the outer edge of the Palm House.

The high glazed-glass dome of the Palm House provides a perfect, brightly-lit environment for the many banana plants on display.  A cast iron bench offers visitors a pleasant spot from which to appreciate the botanical specimens on display. 
One of several palms in the Palm House.  According to a plaque, palms date back 85 million years and comprise nearly 2,500 species of palm found around the world.  It also notes that palms are an important economic plant, providing construction materials, food, fuel, and oils.  Nevertheless, the clearing of land for growing crops is threatening about 90 species of palm, with 9 species previously known to science now thought to be extinct.  

Banana plants.
Golden bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris 'Aureo-variegata').  Bamboos are a woody sub-group of the grass family and are cultivated in the Far East and in tropical, sub-tropical, and warm temperate regions.  A fast growing plant, bamboo grows in dense clumps in it natural habitats.  
A central path cuts through the Palm House, providing an easy path into the two greenhouses located on either side.
The entrance to the Cool Temperate House.
A Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) in the Cool Temperate House.
A waterfall and pond in the Cool Temperate House, surrounded by a diverse range of plants from Australia and the Mediterranean.
Lemon trees.
A lush and verdant collection of plants and trees in the Cool Temperate House.

A koi pond with a decorative lead sculpture depicting the story of Leda and the Swan from Greek mythology.  An interpretive plaque notes that 'Leda was the Queen of Sparta. Noted for her great beauty, she liked to bathe in the river Eurotas, where Zeus, King of the Gods first saw her. To be close to her, Zeus metamorphosed into a white swan, and made a fierce eagle pretend to be pursuing him. Taking pity on the swan, Leda took him under her arms to protect him, not knowing that the great white bird was the mightiest of the gods. Zeus proceeded to seduce her and following their union Leda produced two eggs.  One of the eggs produced Helen (the future Helen of Troy) and Pollux. From the other, came Castor and Clytemnestra, the children of her husband Tyndareus. The story of Leda and the Swan fixed the amorous connotation of swan symbolism for centuries to come.'     
A pathway winds through the Cool Temperate House.
A Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla), native to Norfolk Island, located between in the Pacific Ocean, between New Zealand and New Caledonia.
One of Allan Gardens' two Tropical Houses.
A cycad.

One of the Ponderosa lemon trees.
A closer view of the enormous fruit hanging from the Ponderosa lemon tree.

A Port Jackson fig (Ficus rubiginosa), a species of flowering tree native to eastern Australia, in the Tropical House.
A colourful Billbergia pyramidalis bromeliad, native to Brazil, Venezuela, French Guiana, the Lesser Antilles, and Cuba.
A variegated species of the Port Jackson fig.

A Queen sago (Cycas circinalis) rises above a colourful and diverse bank of bromeliads.
Queen sagos amidst a bank of bromeliads in the Tropical House.  The Queen sago is the tallest of the cycad species, and grows from Australia to East Africa.
A small footbridge crosses a tranquil turtle pond in the Tropical House.\
A wooden shed with a waterwheel inside the Tropical House.
Turtles sun themselves on the rocks surrounding the pond.

A closeup of the colourful and varied species of bromeliads growing in the Tropical Houses.

The Cool Temperate House.
A Kashmir cypress (Cupressus cashmeriana) in the Cool Temperate House.
Looking down the length of the Cool Temperate House.
The other Tropical House at Allan Gardens, this one located off the north side of the Palm House. 
A Parlour palm (Chamaedorea elegans), one of the smallest palm species and a popular choice in Victorian homes due to its compact size and tolerance of lower lighting conditions.
A member of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation tends to the plants in one of the Tropical Houses.

Variegated red-yellow hibiscus flowers add a splash of colour against the deep green foliage.
A papaya tree in the Tropical House. 

A small Queen sago (Cycas rumphii), native to Indonesia, New Guinea, and Christmas Island. 
A large Queen sago in the Tropical House.
The Arid House, containing a large selection of succulents and cacti.
A bed of cacti and succulents, dominated by the tall, spiny Madagascar palm (Pachypodium lamerei), which is not actually a species of palm.

Various species of cacti, including the prominent Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), occupy a rocky bank in the Arid House.

A ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) native to eastern Mexico.  Despite it's common name, it is not actually a palm species.

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