A humid hideaway
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.
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.