Springtime at Allan Gardens
Updated: Jan 24
WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU? The seasonal flowers at Allan Gardens + intoxicating smell (even though the mask) + colours
Wow, this year’s weather was a bit challenging for the Easter Bunny, wasn’t it?
However, spring was in full swing in the greenhouses of Allan Gardens. And we will still be able to enjoy the fragrant spring arrangements for some time to come.
Allan Gardens (19 Horticultural Avenue, at Carlton and Sherbourne, open 365 days a year, 10 am to 5 pm, free admission) offers a different landscape each season.
At the beginning of the season, the arrangements are more vibrant. Then, fading flowers gradually give way to the flowers of the next season. Which means that it is pleasant at any time to come and smell the flowers.
Don’t go with a photographer!
You can walk through all the greenhouses in two minutes... but who does that?
Little advice for the impatient: don't go to Allan Gardens with a photographer! When I go there, it takes me at least an hour to observe everything, with the naked eye and behind the lens. For us photographers, the experience is meditative, an excuse to take the time to look, to take in all the beauty in the details and to admire the textures.
We currently can see the glass dome in all its splendour for the first time, for the good reason that the tall palm and banana trees are no longer there! The view is clear and this dome built in 1902 is really superb. But don't cry. They are renovating the place and I read in the comments on the Allan Gardens’ Facebook page that the "tenants" will all come back, but three plants.
The entrance to the greenhouses is now at the back, on the west side and the visit starts with the cactus greenhouse. The administrative offices on the south side will be expanded. They have other great ambitions that should finally use the whole park to its fullest. You can read the details in the plans at friendsofallangardens.ca.
Visiting with kids?
With children, I like to transform the visit to the gardens into an "I-Spy" game (a different way to admire beauty). We look for leaves with a different pattern, or the colour red... or animals. On my visit, there was a rabbit made of greenery, carp in the pond, turtles near the water wheel, and a small bird which entered the greenhouses through an open door. And don't miss the two large giant dogs in the two off-leash dog parks north of the greenhouses.
Probably due to the renovations, the small train was not running in the long greenhouse when I visited.
A good complement to this outing, before or after playing in the beautiful outdoor playground on the west side of the site, is to have lunch at Chew Chew's Diner (186 Carlton St). In addition to the stunning train mural on its exterior wall, the diner exploits the railroad theme inside with faux railcar windows. On its all-day breakfast menu, you'll find the All Aboard Special, the Great Canadian Rail Omelet, the Big Track Burger and more.
A little bit of history
The land was owned by George Allan, who donated it to the Horticultural Society of Toronto in 1858. A rustic open-air pavilion was first built for concerts, displays and gatherings. In 1879, it was replaced by a large three-storey pavilion suitable for use as a concert hall. The Society eventually turned over management of the park and pavilion to the City of Toronto.
After the great pavilion burned down in 1902, the City built a majestic Edwardian dome of cast iron and glass. The Palm House has been the landmark of Allan Gardens since 1910.
While you're there
Cabbagetown is a 10-minute walk eastbound on Carlton. You'll pass Labour of Love, one of my favorite gift stores (and not just because it's always well stocked with my Toronto Best Urban Gems walking guide), and the little fine grocery store of caterers Daniel et Daniel.
For a more off the beaten path, head west to the corner of Carlton and Jarvis to see Equilibrium, the 23-story work by Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel. Then head down Jarvis to turn west on Gerrard Street. Many don’t realize that Ryerson University is only a 10-minute walk from Allan Gardens.
At 43 Gerrard Street, you will find the entrance to the pretty Ryerson Community Park. It leads south to carless Gould Street, not far from Café Balzac and the Ryerson Pond with its large boulders. Be sure to check out the modern architecture of the student pavilion at the corner of Gould and Yonge.
This post is a complement to local author Nathalie Prézeau's latest walking guide: Toronto BEST Urban Strolls available in Toronto’s major bookstores, on torontourbangems.com/shop and amazon.ca or indigo.ca. We also deliver or contact the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange for a pick up with a discount at 299 Booth Avenue, in Leslieville.