I knew nothing about Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse until the owner of the B&B where I was staying in Niagara-on-the-Lake (Darlington House) told me about it over breakfast. She described it as an intimate place, one she especially liked to visit in winter. “It’s a 10-minute walk from Niagara Falls,” she said, “across from the Electrical Development Company. There’s parking there.”
Couples still dream of being married close to Niagara Falls and this property is a popular wedding venue. They treat you well here, like a special visitor. It starts with the welcoming woman who sells you the entry ticket, and continues with all the intelligent information that is posted to help you better understand what you are seeing.
I quickly learn that it was way back in 1894 that Niagara Parks realized it had to grow its own plants in order to do the high quality garden and floral displays that it was responsible for. What’s interesting is that they didn’t stick with annuals and hardy perennials but decided to propagate and produce tropical materials as well.
What started as two small wooden framed greenhouses became a greenhouse complex in 1945 and a Visitor’s Reception Centre and Garden shop in 1980, “complete with modern washrooms”.
The greenhouse, which is just perfect, is covered with a glass dome that is high enough for full-size palms. There are many different tropical plants and over 400 plants in the orchid collection alone.
Tropical birds fly about and there’s a chart with pictures and descriptions of them all—perfect for the want-to-be birder.
There are “teaching moments” here and the Titan Arum display won me over. You see, this gigantic plant that usually grows in the rainforests of western Sumatra, produces the tallest flowers in the world and this little greenhouse in Canada got some seeds and, on May 4, 2012, the flower bloomed. This was not a small deal because it was only the 151st time that a cultivated bloom had been recorded in the whole world. And the height of that bloom? Why almost 8 ft. tall (2.41 m).
There’s only one night that the female portion of the flower can be pollinated so it sends out an odour that smells like rotting meat to attract all comers (the plant is also called the “Corpse Flower”).
The bloom only lasted a couple of days until the flower collapsed. The Showhouse has planted more seeds and most have germinated and although they don’t know when the plant will re-bloom, I would sure go and see it when it does. (A couple of years ago I just missed the flowering of a similar plant—the Rafflesia—in Gunung Gading National Park, Borneo. It is also called the ‘Corpse Flower’ and also claims to have the world’s largest flower.)
Now who couldn’t love a property that would go to all that effort for a tropical plant and so aptly tell you all about it!
It seems that great effort also goes into the changing displays in the showroom. January starts with yellow, pink and blue bulbs to remind us that spring will indeed come, followed a couple of months later by delphiniums and foxgloves inter-planted among hydrangea blooms. The indoor show in summer is made up of Martha Washington geraniums, Reiger begonias and coleus, and by November the focus is on chrysanthemums. It all looks effortless, of course, but, as they explain, requires intensive labour. Cuttings for the large single bloom geraniums come from California in May and must be staked and then trained into blooms that can be 20cm in diameter. The cascading chrysanthemums are produced from their own stock held dormant over the winter. At Christmas, there are many types of poinsettias along with cyclamen, azaleas and paperwhite narcissus.
The outdoor display in summer is fanciful, with rather garish annuals backed by grasses and perennials. Purple is certainly a popular colour this year.
There’s also the rose garden, winding paths and quiet places.
You’ll leave with a smile and perhaps be a little bit smarter.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2015