A hu­mid hide­away

The Hamilton Spectator - - STYLE - KATHY RENWALD

It’s warm, it’s calm and it’s free.

You may know the Gage Park Trop­i­cal Green­house from the Mum Show, but its deep­est charm is in win­ter when it’s a hu­mid hide­away.

Visit when the side­walks are icy and the snow is grey; a bird of par­adise awaits.

“We’ve been cooped up for weeks, house­bound, we popped in for a break from win­ter,” says Peter Smith.

He and his wife, Glo­ria, have been to the green­house twice this month. They’ve been trekking in from their Stoney Creek home for years. “It’s so lovely here,” adds Peter. Lovely it is. Even an off the rack be­go­nia gains a lit­tle glam­our in this set­ting.

The se­cret is in the fo­liage, the lay­ers pro­duc­ing a depth of pat­tern just wait­ing to be cap­tured on can­vas. Snake plants, ivy, ferns, rub­ber plants are all good sol­diers for their more ex­otic flow­er­ing neigh­bours like or­chids, plume­ria and bird of par­adise.

In the cen­tre of the green­house, the big ca­noe-shaped leaves of the bird of par­adise brush up against the glass at the peak of the ceil­ing.

“It’s 18 feet tall, it lim­its the nat­u­ral height of some of these plants,” says Mar­cia Mon­aghan, su­per­in­ten­dent of hor­ti­cul­ture for the City of Hamil­ton.

We are walk­ing by the ma­jes­tic trop­i­cals along the flag­stone path that me­an­ders through green­house, past ponds and wa­ter­falls and the Woolly Pocket liv­ing wall.

“That’s done re­ally well, we just wa­ter by hand and the plants are thriv­ing,” she says.

The Woolly Pocket is the sim­plest con­trap­tion, made of a felt-like ma­te­rial, and formed with pock­ets for plant­ing. In the green­house, the curved liv­ing wall is planted with cro­tons, ferns, rub­ber plants, fi­cus and other trop­i­cals thriv­ing in the hu­mid con­di­tions.

What about bugs? If you’ve tried to grow cit­rus or bay plants in­doors, you know all about scale and mealy bug. Here, pest con­trol is by crit­ter-to-crit­ter com­bat. Bee­tles and mites are re­leased by hand, or find their own way off tags af­fixed to plants. It’s a sys­tem called sus­tain­able crop man­age­ment, made by Biobest. Judg­ing by the health of the plants, it’s work­ing well.

Gage Park Trop­i­cal Green­house is 40 years old and some of the plants have been here since the be­gin­ning, roots plung­ing be­neath the two feet of pot­ting soil and into the earth be­low. As charm­ing as the fa­cil­ity is, it’s be­com­ing creaky with age and is about to be re­placed. Con­struc­tion of a new green­house be­gins in the spring and will take a year to com­plete. Head­room for the trop­i­cals will in­crease to 35 feet, the plant­ing area ex­pands by 3,000 square feet to 9,000.

“The tur­tles are com­ing back, and we’ll have free-flying birds too,” says Mon­aghan.

Two ponds and a wa­ter­fall are in­cluded in the de­sign.

And there will be a big dig. Some of the plants will move, as is, into the new space. Some will be prop­a­gated from cut­tings, some won’t sur­vive the shock, and oth­ers may be des­tined for a big plant sale.

“We’re think­ing about that,” says Mon­aghan.

In the mean­time the green­house is a land­scape of lush­ness and about to be fluffed up for the Spring Tide Bulb Show run­ning from March 10 to 17. The theme is Canada 150.

There’s no ad­mis­sion. Just show up and en­joy the hu­mid hap­pi­ness.

PHO­TOS BY KATHY RENWALD, SPE­CIAL TO THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Bird of par­adise are among the biggest plants in the Gage Park Trop­i­cal Green­house.

This liv­ing wall is planted in fab­ric pock­ets.

These cro­tons are as colour­ful as flow­ers.

Off the rack be­go­nias have a beau­ti­ful fo­liage back­drop at the Gage Park Trop­i­cal Green­house.

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