Allan Gardens – Christmas 2017

It’s beginning to look a lot like…..peacocks? That’s right. At Toronto’s Allan Gardens, it’s beginning to look a lot like a beautiful peacock feathered with colourful succulents will be ready to strut his stuff well in advance of the Christmas Season.  I was there yesterday and got a sneak peek from gardener Mikkel Schafer, who is the designer of this year’s feature topiary (see my video below)  Made of colourful flowers of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana and various echeverias…..

Allan Gardens-Succulent Peacock-Christmas 2017

…. the big bird is preening himself amongst the alocasias and bananas in the grand Palm House, the glass-domed centre of the five-glasshouse structure.

Allan Gardens-Palm House-banana

Mikkel was still working on the peacock’s neck, which is made from pine cone scales and leaves of silver dollar plant (Xerosicyos danguyi).

Allan Gardens-Succulent Peacock neck-Christmas 2017

I loved the kalanchoe ‘eyes’ in his tailfeathers, below.

Allan Gardens-Succulent Peacock-kalanchoe and echeveria eyes

In the Tropical House, below, the succulent Christmas tree was already finished and standing in its place of honour amidst the bromeliads. It will greet many visitors when this year’s edition of the Allan Gardens Christmas Flower show opens on Sunday December 3rd, with seasonal music from noon to 4 pm. The floral displays will be in place through the holiday season daily from 10 am to 5 pm until January 7, 2018.

Allan Gardens-Succulent Tree-Christmas 2017

Look at the detailed work here…..

Allan Gardens-Succulent Tree-echeveries and kalanchoes

Mikkel posed with his topiary moose in the Temperate House.  Its antlers are encrusted with mosses and lichens.

Mikkel Schafer-Allan Gardens-Topiary Moose

This mossy tree in the Temperate house…..


….is hung with decorations, like these cool silvery ornaments made from the velvety leaves of lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina).

Allan Gardens-Lambs Ears Christmas ornament

This one is fashioned from the dark seedheads of blackeyed susans (Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’).

Allan Gardens-Rudbeckia seedhead Christmas ornament

Spiced orange pomander balls deck this topiary tree made from the leaves of red oak (Quercus rubra).

Allan Gardens-Red oak leaf & spiced orange pomander ball topiary tree

The pool in the Temperate House is a favourite destination for many, especially little kids counting the goldfish. It’s edged with azaleas this week.

Allan Gardens-Pool & Fountain

Head down into the Tropical Landscape House where…..

Tropical Lanscape House-Allan Gardens

….. apart from the usual gorgeous blossoms like hibiscus….

Hibiscus-Allan Gardens

….. there is a trio of Cryptanthus-adorned topiary trees under the magnificent cycad.


The Arid House will look like a sparkly yuletide desert by early December, when the lights are in place amidst the spectacular collection of succulents and cacti. (This photo is from a previous Christmas).

Allan Gardens-Arid House-Christmastime

I made a short video to whet your appetite for a seasonal visit to Toronto’s wonderful Allan Gardens this holiday season.  Please note, the show runs from December 3 to January 7th.

But rest assured, if you miss seeing all the beautiful Christmas touches, like this lovely wreath in the Tropical House…..

Allan Gardens- Christmas Wreath-2017

…Allan Gardens Conservatory is a cozy, leafy oasis throughout Toronto’s long winter months when a parade of flowering bulbs, tropical blossoms and spring bulb flowers beckons. Do make a date to go!

Allan Gardens-Tropical Array

Behold the Jade Vine

In March, when the streets of Toronto are still lined with dirty snowbanks and the temperature hasn’t moved much above freezing for months, you can step into the jungle heat of a tropical rainforest as quickly as parking your car in the little lot behind Allan Gardens.  And there, just as you walk into the humid air of the first greenhouse, is a pendulous vision in turquoise.  Or is it celadon?  Or perhaps jadeite, the pale, blue-green mineral that fetches a fortune when it’s carved into pendants and rings?  Yes, that’s the colour exactly and why the sight of the jade vine in bloom is so transfixing, for it’s a colour found rarely in nature, and certainly not arrayed as impressively as this long dripping necklace of flowers, which can reach 18 meters (60 feet) in the wild, but is kept well-pruned here and in a second tropical greenhouse at Allan Gardens.

One of two jade vines at Toronto's Allan Gardens.

One of two jade vines at Toronto’s Allan Gardens.

Jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) was discovered in 1841 on the jungled slopes of Mount Makiling, on the Philippines’ Luzon Island, by members of the United States Exploring Expedition led by U.S. Navy Lt. Charles Wilkes.  One can only imagine how startling that apparition must have been, but we are left only with the description of the Harvard-based botanist Asa Gray, who had locked horns with Wilkes previously and elected not to join the voyage.  As part of the task of describing the thousands of plants collected by the multi-ship expedition, which ranged from Honolulu to Antarctica and involved several violent skirmishes with the natives (Wilkes was court-martialed at the end of the expedition, but acquitted), Gray named the vine in 1854. Its species epithet macrobotrys means “large grape cluster”, referring to the fruit.  The genus name derives from the Greek strongylos or “round”, and odon or “teeth”, referring to the rounded teeth of the calyx.  A member of the bean family,jade vine is bat-pollinated in the wild, thus it must be hand-pollinated in greenhouses to bear its fruit, which can grow to be melon-sized. This has been done over the years at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew Gardens in England, where seed conservation is an ongoing focus, especially in the face of loss of rainforest habitat.

Jade vine flowers hang in long trusses, or "pseudoracemes".

Jade vine flowers hang in long trusses, or “pseudoracemes”.

If you love this colour of blue-green and would like to bring it to your own garden, remember that paints and stains can introduce any hue of the rainbow, even those that are only found in the rarest of plants.  For me, that was as simple as adding a turquoise Muskoka chair to my cottage garden, where it offers a perfect perch from which to enjoy my wildflower meadows.

A Muskoka chair at my Lake Muskoka cottage - not quite jade-vine coloured, but close.

A Muskoka chair at my Lake Muskoka cottage – not quite jade-vine coloured, but close.