– By Shirley Roberts – 

Just steps south of St. James Town, Toronto residents and visitors will find an urban gem that is accessible to all, free of charge.  Located on the east side of Sherbourne Street, west side of Jarvis, from Carleton to Gerrard – Allan Gardens stands as a legacy to Toronto horticulture and the history of Toronto itself. 

This park comprises 16,000 square feet of land and includes six conservatories that house various plants and flowers from around the world. In 1858, local politician George Allan, offered the Toronto Horticultural Society five acres of land to develop a garden. A few years later, the City of Toronto purchased the surrounding lands and donated them to the Horticultural Society on the condition that the grounds be free and publicly accessible, a condition that remains in place to this day. Since 2002, the non-profit Friends of Allan Gardens has overseen the revitalization of the park.

Over time, expanded gardens and new buildings housing additional greenhouses were constructed. In the late 1800’s the main pavilion was a popular venue for concerts, balls, conventions and flower shows.  The domed glass Palm House became an easily recognizable centerpiece of the complex. The most recent addition is the Children’s Conservatory which was donated in 2004 by the University of Toronto’s Botany Department. In 2008, space was allocated for two dog parks.  A children’s playground was added in 2015. 

What makes this park special is the combination of open green urban space and the ability to wander through various greenhouses that fill your senses with the sights, smells and feel of the tropics. Exotic plants and magnificent floral displays are exhibited throughout all four seasons. The Spring Hydrangea Show, the Fall Chrysanthemum Show and the Winter Flower Show which houses over forty varieties of poinsettias, are the highlights of the year.

But Allan Gardens is an oasis anytime of the year. Visitors will find various houses filled with palm trees, bananas, citrus, olives, cacti and succulents, tropical flowering plants and orchids. A new initiative, currently in the works, is a partnership with the City of Toronto and the Toronto Garden Society to build a Teaching Garden for budding gardeners of all ages. Stay tuned!

Although the greenhouses have been closed until further notice due to the pandemic, the park remains open, including the children’s playground and dog parks. Visits inside will hopefully align with Toronto’s gradual reopening. In the meantime, to wet our appetite and soothe the soul, virtual tours of what is currently in bloom and additional information about Allan Gardens can be found at https://friendsofallangardens.ca/whats-blooming/sofallangardens.ca/whats-blooming/.