Instant Summer

6 March 2014 — Even a confirmed winter-lover eventually looks for signs of spring. I identify with neighbourhood cats  like this guy, peering out hopefully through the curtains, and still seeing only snow.

cat looking for spring

Phyllis and I are luckier than he is. The Tuesday Walking Society is on the march, out for a hit of instant summer.

Not by hopping on a south-bound plane, either, leaving a big old carbon footprint on the stratosphere. We’re just hopping down a street or two, leaving nothing but neat little bootprints in the snow.

Destination: Allan Gardens. (Here, with a glimpse of the striking “All My Relations” mural painted by First Nations artists to beautify the hoardings around a big water mains project that runs through one corner of the park.)

Allan Gardens, view from S/E

Politician & cultural leader George Allan donated the land to the city in 1858, and the site has been a botanical resource ever since. Today’s complex, built in 1910, provides 16,000 sq. ft. of  space in its various greenhouses — the Tropical House, the Cool House, the Cactus House and more, all clustered around the imposing central Palm Court.

dome of Palm Court, Allan Gardens

Everyone pauses here, partly in delight and awe at the soaring bamboos and banana plants, the Screw Pine, but also to adjust to the dramatic change in climate. We fumble with mitts, toques and zippers, hampered by the humidity that instantly mists our glasses.

Into the Tropical House…

intro Tropical House, Allan Gardens

Warmth, colour, and the pungent smell of earth and plants and growth. Great tangles of plants, such exuberance…

in Tropical House, Allan Gardens

Pathways through the room, long pauses to sniff and (gently) touch, read some labels, drink it all in.

Tropical House, Allan Gardens

Then push through another door, into the Cactus House. I’m so happy with the current state of this room. For a long time it seemed to contain particularly scarred and ancient veterans of the cactus and succulent world, but now, look, it’s a joy.

Cactus House Allan Gardens

A young couple enter the room along with us. They’re chattering to each other, I have my curmudgeonly moment of wishing they’d just (how shall I phrase this) shut up… and then… they do.

They sit side by side, compose their bodies, droop their eyelids, and begin to meditate.  Phyllis and I move quietly, speak softly.

Golden Barrel cacti

I knew the nickname Golden Barrel; I could not have reeled off the scientific name, Echinocactus grusonii; and I most assuredly could never have guessed that it in turn is derived from the Greek “echinos,” for hedgehog. I’ll think of them as Hedgehog cactus from now on.

Not just big, dramatic cacti to call our attention, but delicate tiny succulents as well. Equally sculptural, mind you.

succulent in Cactus House, Allan Gardens

And others, even tinier, tucked into a mossy wreath.

detail succulent wreath, Cactus House

“Sculptural,” I was saying. How about this?

succulent in Cactus House

Those arched, waving arms. I think of octopus tentacles .. and then, no, of ballerina arms. Yes! that’s a much better image.

We walk through the Cool House, with its waterfall, and citrus trees, and a pond. And — Phyllis nudges me, points down — turtles.

turtles in Cool House pond

Then it’s time to button up the coats, pull on mitts & toques, and head out again.

Past armloads of tulips and narcissus at the doorway, harbingers of spring.

spring bulbs, Allan Gardens

And back to winter.

tree in Allan Gardens park

But… isn’t it beautiful?

Leave a comment


  1. beautiful. you could be walking at the holler (in the terrarium). great post!

    • Oh, I’m just imagining meandering through a holler, having nature large all around me. Thanks for making that connection

  2. Rosa de los Vientos

     /  7 March 2014

    I can almost smell the earth and the plants through your photos!!! 😉

  3. Thanks for this, I completely forgot about Allen’s gardens! I should try to get there for some green therapy. This winter has kicked me to the curb!!!

    • Good energy in that building… Lots of little nooks with benches, where you can tuck yourself away and take advantage of, as you wonderfully put it, the “green therapy.”

  4. Thanks for taking me on a walk through my favourite downtown oasis! I simply love Allan Gardens and it has kept me going this winter. Such fun!

    • I was thinking of you during this walk! You take such great close-ups of plants in Allan Gardens, and I thought photos with some longer views of the various “houses” would be nicely complementary

  5. Wow, fantastic cactus shots Penny 🙂

    • thanks — I’ve updated computers & suspect the new photo manipulation tools deserve more credit than my camera & I do…

  6. Really enjoyed my walk with you – reminds me of Wisley in Surrey. Great name ‘hedgehog’ cacti. Photos superb

    • Thanks for that — I always love to feel I have company on my walks. Sometimes I literally do (Tuesdays, for e.g.) but even when alone I enjoy the feeling that my WordPress companions are with me as well. Allan Gardens is not a huge conseratory, but it is a very welcome resource, and right here in my neighbourhood. I suspect the photo quality is mostly a function of my new computer, with up to date photo-management software — I also see a difference


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

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