Christmas at Allan Gardens

Allan Gardens is both an urban park and an indoor botanical garden located in Toronto, Canada.  There are six historic glass houses covering over 16,000 square feet that are filled with plants and flowers from around the world. A visit to Allan Gardens is a delight any time of the year, but it is the  Christmas Flower Show that I really look forward to.

The entire conservatory is decorated and filled with thousands of flowering plants, dozens of poinsettia varieties (not my favourite plant, but I kind of like this hanging treatment).


Last weekend was the opening of the flower show and by chance that was the day we chose to go. I’m glad we did because there were cookies…and really good ones too (kudos to Toronto Parks for the high quality baked goods).

Xmas at Allan Gardens2The greenhouses featured the usual swaths of red along the pathways thanks to the poinsettias…

But, there were a few surprises too. Like the wreaths featuring succulents and airplants, and the succulent “Christmas tree”.

The most spectacular display involved topiary people. I loved the floral clothing that adorned the mannequins. But, I have to say I thought their dark green bodies  were kind of bizarre and detracted from the artistry of the plantings.

Topiary People

Topiary Lady

Topiary Lady2Topiary HeadThe male mannequins were dressed up in bark and leaves!

Perfect HelleboresThe white hellebores were particularly lovely

Morning GloryA morning glory in bloom reminded me of summer.

Fleur en Vogue royal cyclamenThis lovely cyclamen is called Fleur en Vogue. It has the prettiest back side ever!

The show is on until January 11, 2015. Check out

Going Bananas

Incorporating large tropical plants into our gardens is a trend that continues to grow each year. I love the hit of drama that plants like hibiscus, oleander and bananas create.  Regretfully, I don’t have enough room in the house to bring them inside for the winter, so I shell out more money than I want to at the garden centres every spring. Banana Seed packetBut, last year while flipping through the Vesey’s seed catalog I came across bananas from seed. Yes, bananas from seed! Would it be possible to grow bananas from seed to a size large enough to make an impact in my garden? I must admit I was sceptical. The seeds, Musa ensete, also known as Ethiopian banana are described as fast growing and can grow 20 feet high in warm climates. Well, for $5.50, why not? I thought 20 feet was a little optimisitic, but who knows? I received 6 seeds, of which 4 germinated. I planted them indoors in February and transplanted them into bigger pots twice before they went into the large clay pots  where they lived outdoors all summer.

Banana (Musa ensata) in August
Banana (Musa ensata) in August

My bananas reached about 6 feet tall before the frost hit them in late Ocotber. They were magnificent,  and the big success story of my garden this year.

Apparently, you can winter them over indoors. But, I figure for a few dollars I’ll definately grow them from seed again.  It was easy! I have already ordered and received mine. (I’ll plant them in late January). This time I bought a bigger packet, 13 seeds for about $10.00, more than I need, but I’ll give the extra plants to my gardening friends (who will love me forever).

Vesey’s has a great little video on their website that tells you how to grow bananas from seed:



The Garden’s Last Hurrah

It’s mid-November and still, there are blooms on the shrub roses.  And, though the Japanese maple is all dressed up in the rich, burnished tones of autumn, it has not dropped a leaf yet. But, I know it’s all a game, because today it snowed and that is my signal that it is officially winter, at least in my garden. It’s a relief really –  more worrying about the state of the garden – no more weeding, no more planting. It’s time to dream about next spring.

Toronto’s Centennial Conservatory

It’s getting cold out there and winter is going to be upon us very soon. Can’t go south? No matter, if you live near Toronto, you’ll find paradise just a short drive from home.

Centennial ConservatoryThe Centennial Park Conservatory, a 12,000 square foot glass house, is truly one of Toronto’s hidden gems. This little known indoor oasis in Etobicoke is guaranteed to lift your spirits. As soon as you step inside, a whiff of the tropics transports you away from winter’s reality.

Bird of Paradise4The main glass house features many rainforest plants including fully grown banana and palm trees, bird of paradise…even ginger, fig and guavas grow here.

Orchid Display

Foggy clouds of mist swirl around a display of orchids and bromeliads.

In the Tropical HouseThis tapestry of colours makes a fitting back drop for the pastel-hued budgies who chatter incessantly in a nearby cage. One of the birds loves to put on a performance for those who pass by.

AloeVeraAdjacent to the main green house are two more wings. The bright, south wing is hot and dry. It is dedicated to desert flora with dozens of varieties of cacti, yuccas and succulents in bloom. Aloe vera, best known for the jelly-like substance inside the leaf that sooths cuts and burns, are blooming with abandon, their eye-catching, pumpkin coloured spires putting on a spectacular show.

Cacti House 1jpg

Whether you are a plant fancier hoping to get a glimpse of something unusual or just want a little respite from our too long, cold Canadian winter, a visit to this botanical heaven is perfect little “holiday” not far from home.

Centennial Park Conservatory, 151 Elmcrest Rd., Etobicoke, ON, 416-394-8543, Free admission and parking, Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.


President’s Choice Plant Report Card 2014

Each spring Loblaws invites garden writers in Southern Ontario to gather and check out plants the Loblaws team has chosen to offer its customers. I look forward to this event eagerly every year because not only do we get to have a look see, but we get to take home plants to plant and try in our gardens. The following fab four were outstanding performers in my garden this summer:

 I love the  tropical look of hibiscus and usually opt for one in a standard (tree) form. But this year I couldn’t resist ‘Fiesta’. It’s a bush type covered in large blooms in the prettiest colour imaginable.   Reds, oranges and yellows blend together to create the hues of a tropical sunset.

Dragon Wings BegoniasIt is hard to believe that in this container, there is only 1 plant.  It’s a Dragon Wing Begonia. The plant is massive and loaded with blooms and never needs deadheading. It has proved itself a humming bird magnet too.

Elephant Ears Loblaws The gigantic leaves of Colacasia (Elephant Ears)make a dramatic statement in the garden. Because they like lots of water I planted it close to the bird bath. Between the overflow of water when filling the bird bath and the birds themselves splashing about, the plant gets plenty of water!

Hardy Figs LoblawsMany people think that our climate is too cold to overwinter figs. But, this one is hardy and perfect for my Zone 6 garden.  It has a dozen small figs developing and they should be ready to eat in a month or so. After that, I plan to plant it in the ground and look forward to more figs next year.



5 of the Most Gorgeous Gardens on the Globe

There’s still a couple weeks left of summer, so take advantage and head to one of these gorgeous gardens and see them while they’re still in perfect bloom. From Zen-like water gardens to UNESCO World Heritage sites, here are some of the best places to take in the blooms of summer.

Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, Niagara Falls, Canada

Credit: Veronica Sliva

Located just north of Niagara Falls, the Niagara Parks’ Botanical Gardens are at their blooming best in summer, with more than 40 hectares overflowing with perennial borders. They are laid out in cutting-edge designs with both the latest plant introductions and old-fashioned favourites. The formal parterre garden and world-famous rose garden with over 2,400 roses offer visitors lots of inspiration. The Butterfly Conservatory on the grounds is a lush paradise filled with tropical plants and a beautiful waterfall. It is home to over 2,000 butterflies, including 45 different species. Not far is one of the most photographed spots in the world, a 40-foot wide working Floral Clock, where over 20,000 plants are used to create the clock’s face in an intricate carpet of colour. The design changes twice a year.

Mainau Island, Lake Constance, Germany

Credit: Veronica Sliva

Known as the The Flower Island, this 45-hectare island is one enormous garden filled with glorious blooms all year round—a true paradise for garden lovers. Plants are in bloom from March through October, with snowdrops and crocus in early spring, tulips, azaleas, peonies, rhododendron and narcissus in early summer, hydrangea and roses in mid-summer, and late blooming perennials and dahlias in the fall. In August, the perennial borders are at their peak with gorgeous groupings of tall ornamental grasses that make perfect companions for the swaths of deep red heleniums and bright gold rudbeckias that spill into the walkways. Perhaps the most unique feature on the island is the Italian Flower and Water Staircase. It involves a rush of water tumbling down Italian Renaissance-inspired stairs, ending up in a pool far below. The effect is breathtaking.

Les Jardin d’Annevoie, Belgium

Credit: Veronica Sliva

Though most of the world’s important gardens have water features of some kind, none compare to the waterworks at Les Jardins d’Annevoie in Wallonia (the French speaking region of Belgium). Charles-Alexis de Montpellier, a local iron merchant, started Annevoie in 1758 by excavating over 20 pools and ponds and adding 50 fountains, cascades and waterfalls. By 1776, Annevoie Gardens was finished and the water has been flowing non-stop ever since. What is most amazing is that the fountains are spring-fed and operate solely by gravity, without the use of pumps or machinery. There are multi-level pools and fountains. There are gardens too, with formal parterres dressed up with seasonal blooms.Though the floral plantings are pretty, Les Jardins d’Annevoie is really about the water.

Villa D’Este, Tivoli, Italy

Credit: Veronica Sliva

Villa d’Este, near Rome, was created by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, the son of Lucrezia Borgia and grandson of Alexander VI, the infamous Borgia pope. D’Este, a failed candidate for the papacy, accepted the governorship of Tivoli where he set about resurrecting an old villa. By the time he died in 1572, the villa was an architectural wonder decorated in the style of the late Renaissance. Today it is a magnificent UNESCO World Heritage site. But it is the early Baroque terraced gardens that are really extraordinary. Taking advantage of the dramatic cliffs and slopes of Tivoli, d’Este commissioned a landscape of sculpted gardens unlike anything previously seen anywhere in the world. Scattered among the many terraced gardens and walkways are over 500 fountains are set in pools, along mossy avenues, in grottoes and cascading down as waterfalls.

Bressingham Gardens, Bressingham, England

Credit: Veronica Sliva

Bressingham Gardens, a privately owned garden open to the public, is the genius of the Bloom family. Alan Bloom and his son Adrian each have created a six-acre garden, called the Dell and Foggy Bottom. Together with three linking gardens, there are close to 1,000 species and varieties on display. No matter what the season the gardens inspire both serious gardeners and casual visitors. In summer the gardens are exuberant and overflowing with colours and textures resembling an artist’s canvas.

Moth Orchids – oh so easy!

Pink Phalaeonopsis
Moth Orchid (Phalaeonopsis) – pretty in pink

Growing orchids used to be a horticultural mystery for many indoor gardeners, something to be feared and left to the experts and keen hobbyists. It is true that among the 20,000 species and some 100,000 artificial hybrids there are some types that are very fussy about their environment and not for beginners. But, it’s a myth that orchids are difficult to grow. And, thanks to tissue culture (a modern method of propagation where thousands of plantlets can be grown from a small piece of a parent plant) many new cultivars have been bred specifically for the indoor conditions of our homes. Nowadays, most grocery and big box stores offer Phalaenopsis or moth (because of their moth-like shape) orchids for under $20.00. What a bargain! It’s no wonder that this type of orchid is now probably the most popular houseplant in North America.

Phalaenopsis Centennial Conservatory
Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis) growing at Centennial Conservatory in Toronto

Native to Indonesia and Java, these orchids are one of the easiest orchids to grow and make ideal houseplants.  The plants have broad green leaves that spread outward. They display their flowers on arched sprays and may produce several branches. Although they look delicate, they are in fact very sturdy. One stem can carry as many as nine or more large, waxy, flat flowers that bloom for a 3 months or even more. Often a second flowering occurs within the year.

In the wild, most orchids do not grow in soil at ground level. Most orchids in the wild are not rooted in the ground. Known as epiphytes, they lodge themselves in the debris found in the crooks of trees, sending out aerial roots that absorb nutrients and moisture from the rain.

Blue Orchids?

Blue Orchids
Blue Orchids

The flowers come in a wide range of sizes and colours, from stunning pure whites through pastel and deep pinks to yellows and peachy shades. You may have even noticed some in colours that are  rather unnatural looking, such as a deep royal blue. This colour does not occur in nature. Growers are always trying to do things that nature can’t manage and manipulating colours is one of them.  Though not every one’s cup of tea, these “designer” colours appeal to those who want something different. The colours fade to a softer pastel tone as the orchid matures. But, don’t expect them to re-bloom in the same colour—the second time around, its back to basic white.

Watering: Most orchids die from too much love and attention, commonly called over watering. There are several schools of thought on the “right” way to water an orchid. About once a week I take mine to the sink and aim a gentle spray of tepid water on the plants for a few minutes. The water drains right through. A friend of mine fills the sink with water and lets the pot sit in the water for half an hour and then drains them. That’s a tad too risky for me. I could easily forget about them and too much water eventually means root rot. I’d end up with a dead orchid. Lately I have read that putting a few ice cubes on the top of the pot and letting it melt into the roots is another easy watering method. However, these are tropical plants and I can’t imagine that the frigid temperature of melting ice can be good for them. The truth is, on occasion I have totally neglected my orchids for weeks at a time and they do just fine.

Light : Moth orchids like moderate to bright light, never in blazing sun. You can tell by the plant’s leaves if it is getting the right amount of light. Rather than very dark green foliage, you want leaves that are a light to medium green. Too much direct light causes the leaves to sunburn, turn black and then they die.

Humidity: Moth orchids enjoy moist air. A humidity level of 55-75% is ideal. Placing your plant on a tray with pebbles increases the humidity around the plant. Be sure that the pot does not sit directly in the water. Gently misting plants early in the morning also helps.

Fertilizing : Orchids do not require a lot of fertilizer. In spring and summer feed once a month with a balanced houseplant fertilizer (20-20-20) mixed at half strength. In the fall and winter fertilize every 3 weeks at 1/4 strength.

Re-blooming: It’s about the temperature
Moth orchids enjoy much the same temperature as we do. Minimum temperatures at night are about 18° C (65° F), with warmer temperatures during the daytime. After flowering, cut the stem back to just above a node leaving around 20 cm (8 in) of the stem. Often a secondary spike or flower is produced from this node.  In winter providing a couple of weeks of cooler temperatures 13° C (55° F) will encourage flowering. An easy way to do this is to place your orchids close to a window where the temperature drops at night.

Re-potting: Orchids rarely need re-potting. You will notice over time that the roots will just trail over the pot. That’s ok.

Propagation: Sometimes you’ll notice small plantlets (called keikis) on the flowering stalk. After the plantlets have three leaves and 7.5 cm (3 in) of roots they can be cut away and potted up.

The Orchid Garden at Centennial Conservatory, Toronto

Take a Road Trip to See Orchids: You may not be able to see orchids growing in the wild, but you can visit a conservatory nearby to see how they grow. Besides orchids these glass houses have beautiful indoor gardens with lots of greenery and colour to help chase away winter blues.

In Toronto, Ontario, Canada visit: Centennial Park Conservatory, 151 Elmcrest Rd, Toronto  or Allan Gardens Conservatory, 19 Horticultural Avenue, 416-392-7288

The Tuileries dressed in pink - fabulous asters in bloom.

Paris in Autumn…when everything is pretty in pink

Eiffel Tower in Autumn
Eiffel Tower in Autumn

How many times have you heard people swooning over visiting Paris in the spring? I swoon too. But this year, rather than in spring, I spent a glorious few days in Paris in late autumn and I have changed my tune. There is much to be said about visiting the “City of Light” towards the end of the year. The crowds are gone and tourists do not dominate the attractions. Real Parisians are out and about and as long as I didn’t wear bright white running shoes the locals couldn’t tell I was from somewhere else, that is until I opened my mouth, and even then they seemed to have more patience with my fumbling French.

The Louvre
The Louvre

I’m not very good at standing in line for anything and on previous trips have avoided visiting the Louvre because the crowds were too much for me. This time it was different. There were no line ups!

The Venus de Milo. No one blocking my view!
The Venus de Milo. No one blocking my view!

Once inside this massive art depository I was amazed that the Venus de Milo and I were within touching distance. Of course, I didn’t dare try and touch but I did get a clear photo of her without anyone’s head in the way.

A lone gardener sweeps leaves in the tuileries garden.
A lone gardener sweeps leaves in the tuileries garden.

Looking out one of the Louvre windows, I could see the Tuileries Gardens (Jardin des Tuileries) in the distance where a solitary gardener was sweeping fallen leaves. I noticed the gardens still had lots of colour, but it was mainly pink. How could that be? Autumn colours should be gold, yellow and burgundy…shouldn’t they?

The Tuileries dressed in pink - fabulous asters in bloom.
The Tuileries dressed in pink – fabulous asters in bloom.

After having a look at the Mona Lisa I headed outside to investigate those flashes of pink. They turned out to be asters (variety unknown). The absence of the so-called autumn palette of colours was a little jarring. Could pink be the new colour for fall gardens? I wondered and set off to roam the streets of Paris to find out if I’d somehow missed a garden trend.

Award winning art exhibition for breast cancer awareness.
Award winning art exhibition for breast cancer awareness.

At the magnificent Hotel Sully, a restored 17th century former mansion in the Marais district, the colour pink was also featured. A series of images of women’s’ torsos and breasts were hung on the exterior walls and in the garden tree-like wire sculptures were festooned with pink ribbons.  The photos, by visual artist Kaliko, won the Estee Lauder Pink Ribbon Photo Award for breast cancer awareness. The exhibition was named the Jardins d’Espoir (Garden of Hope).

Located close to the Gare de Lyon , the Cremieux Street is a pedestrian street paved since 1993,
Located close to the Gare de Lyon , the Cremieux Street is a pedestrian-only  street known for its colourful houses.

The streets of Paris never fail to enchant me. Rue Crémieux, near my hotel, is a narrow street stretching 144 metres from rue de Bercy to rue de Lyon. It is most notable for its  colourfully painted houses (of which only one is pink). The entire street is lined with plants growing in containers (no pink here). Who says you need a patch of earth to have a garden?

Temptation at a flower shope.
Temptation at a flower shop.

The weather was cool enough that most florists had samples of their wares out on the sidewalks – like this one, a staging of buckets of roses in many shades of pink.

Jardin du Luxembourg in autumn.
Jardin du Luxembourg in autumn.

Next stop was the Luxembourg Gardens in the 6th arrondissement. The gardens, created in 1612 , surround the palace built by Marie de Medici. Covering almost 60 acres, the grounds are laid out with trees and shrubs, flower beds and fountains. I found that pink was very much a feature in these gardens too.

I’m still not sure if pink is the new autumn gold (I’d need more time in Paris to investigate) but Parisian gardeners gardens seem to be playfully messing with tradition!

Chihuly – Better in a Garden than a Gallery

To be honest, normally I don’t skulk around art galleries. So how is it that I found myself in a long lineup at the Museum of Fine Art in Montreal?  Not that I don’t appreciate art, I do. But, I would rather spend time in a botanical garden any day than in an art gallery. However, here I was on a sunny afternoon lined up with others far more cultured than I waiting far too long to see a Dale Chihuly exhibit.

Outside the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Outside the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Who is Dale Chihuly you may wonder? Chihuly is to glass art what Christian Dior is to fashion. He’s huge – a glass sculptor who is known for his glass art pieces that are recognizable due to their grand scale and vibrant colours.  His work is exhibited around the world in museums, historic sites and gardens.

At the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona
At the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona

I first saw Chihuly’s work at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona. They seemed out of place to me…at first.  Tucked in among the cacti in the dry, drab desert landscape, the glass sculptures seemed to overwhelm the plants (and I came to see the plants!). But as I made my way through the beds and borders, I conceded that the massive pieces of brightly coloured glass brought the place alive. The searing Arizona sunshine danced on and through the glass, reflecting colour onto the plants and giving them a whole new look. By the time I got to the boat filled with glass balls I was convinced that there was a place for glass art among the greenery. And at dusk artistic lighting illuminated the installations. The effect was magical with the plants and the sculptures taking on an otherworldly aura. I was taken in and mesmerized. Chihuly had a new fan.

The desert comes alive with Chihuly's glass.
The desert comes alive with Chihuly’s glass.

The next time I saw Chihuly’s glass art was in Jerusalem, not in a garden, but at the Tower of David Museum. Though the actual exhibition was long over by then (1999), Chihuly often leaves behind a remembrance piece of artwork after an exhibition.  I came upon a modernistic butter-yellow sunburst hanging from an ancient stone ceiling in the tower and was taken aback.  I felt unsettled, perhaps because the modern sculpture seemed to collide with the historic significance of the place. But then art is supposed to evoke an emotional response isn’t it?  Upon reflection the sculpture’s presence in the room likely made me more aware of the age and importance of the sacred space. Instead of breezing through yet another “old” room I reckon I stayed a little longer because of the art than I would have otherwise.

At the Tower of David in Jerusalem
At the Tower of David in Jerusalem

So, fast forward to Montreal, and here I am jostling for a prime position to see “Utterly Breathtaking” (as the exhibit is named) . Surprisingly, seeing Chihuly’s sculptures in a gallery setting left me cold. Though any Chihuly work of art is spectacular, I did not find this exhibition utterly breathtaking as advertised.  Many of the sculptures are similar to those I have seen in outdoor settings elsewhere – the sunbursts, the spikey things, the hanging chandelier-like structures, even the rowboat full of balls – it was all there.

The RowBoat filled with Glass Balls
The RowBoat filled with Glass Balls

But, it was dark. There were no other objects (such as plants) in the galleries for the light to bounce off. The colours were vibrant for sure, but they struck me as garish without anything else to tone down the hot hues.

Lighted Ceiling Installation
Lighted Ceiling Installation

Everything seemed flat…except for the lighted glass ceiling in one of the display rooms. It was was filled with multi-hued glass balls and sea shapes and drew lots of attention.  Big lounging pillows on the floor allowed visitors to lie down and gaze upward to view the display.

Persian Pear
Persian Pear

I was in and out of there in a half hour and soon found myself in the gift shop in front of a stand of small Chihuly pieces for sale. Most were seashell-shaped like the one above.  All beautiful, but priced at an average of  $7500.00 each they were not moving quickly.

I still look forward to seeing more of Chihuly’s amazing glass sculptures, but for me installing them in a garden is the only way to appreciate them properly. It seems Dale Chihuly realizes this too. He says on his website, “I want my work to appear as though it came from nature so if someone found it… they might think it belonged there.” At Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle there are gardens featuring paths lined with trees, plants and flowers, all intended to make a rich backdrop for Dale Chihuly’s art.  I am hoping one day to visit that garden to appreciate his special kind of garden art.


…the magical world of gardening as seen by Veronica Sliva