Monday, 28 March 2016

Allan Gardens on Easter Monday

When today dawned grey and with drizzle threatening there seemed a need for a cheerful and colourful antidote.
Looking west across the Don Valley to St. Jametown

I decided to take Scylla and walk over to Allan Gardens, Toronto's historic cast iron and glass domed Conservatory, the Palm House section built in 1910. The original 5 acre parcel of land was donated to the city by George Allan in 1858. A structure was erected and in 1864 the city, on the condition that the grounds were accessible to the public and admission was free, turned over the park to the Horticultural Society. In 1888 the park and its buildings were returned to the city. Today Allan Gardens remains one of the gems of the city, designated under the Ontario Heritage Act and open to the public, free of charge, 365 days a year!

The grounds surrounding the Conservatory look sad and inert at this time of year. The treasures are all under glass;  there are five different climatic zones, each with its own temperature and humidity. 
Allan Gardens with its central Palm House

The Palm House greets visitors with its still life of a floral jazz musician seated at the upright piano playing under a tree festooned with Easter eggs. There are hydrangeas everywhere, blue and pink, some with variegated foliage.
The pianist seated at the upright piano
Coloured Easter eggs dangling above the keyboard
Pink hydrangea with variegated foliage
And the blue version

The room to the left has lots of forced bulbs, schizanthus in various hues from cream to fuchsia and visiting Easter bunnies. Schizanthus is sometimes referred to as the poor man's orchid.
An antique iron urn filled with schizanthus and variegated ivy

Schizanthus close-up

Agapanthus, one of the true blue flowers
A pair of Easter bunnies

But for me today, the highlight is the bromeliad room. There are turtles in a little pond under a water wheel and orchids, still in their own pots, but submerged into the soil. But mainly it is the wonderfully varied bromeliads.

Bromeliads are a huge family, numbering up to 3000 named species and 56 genera. The poster bromeliad is the pineapple. But Spanish Moss (which is neither Spanish nor a moss) is also part of this vast family.
Spanish Moss
A close-up of a Spanish Moss flower 

Bromeliads can be terrestrial which means they grow in the ground. Habitat can include bright and sunny sandy beaches all the way through to the shaded humusy understory of a forest. Saxicolous species grow on rocks and epiphytes thrive on other plants or even non-organic supports like telephone poles and wires. Epiphytes have the ability to take moisture and nutrition from the atmosphere and so are sometimes referred to as "air plants".
A bromeliad "ball" in full bloom

Bromeliads have in common a spiral arrangement of leaves, in a single plane, called a rosette. The bases of the leaves may form a water reservoir, or catch basin, for moisture and nutrition like leaf litter. Terrestrial bromeliads which are lacking this water reservoir rely on their roots for water and nutrient absorption. The roots of epiphytic bromeliads harden off and are used to fasten the plant to its host. People sometimes refer to epiphytes as parasitic plants but this is an unjust allegation. Epiphytes do not steal from their host, merely use it as a support.  

There was a wall display of bromeliads all with their red flower stalks at exactly the same height. I asked one of the staff gardeners how they managed such amazing synchronicity. She replied, "We bought them." A welcome reminder that even the professionals take short cuts. 
The hanging display of beautifully coordinated bromeliads in bloom

By the time I left the skies had opened up and I wished Scylla and I could take a short cut home!
View looking east to Riverdale from Cabbagetown

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