One of my absolute favorite wintertime pilgrimages is the Botanical Gardens of Montreal. Less than two hours by car from Burlington, VT Montreal is a surprisingly close Metropolitan area with all of the attending cultural diversity. Food, art, music and museums we would have to travel four hours to reach in the US are close at hand north of the Canadian Border.
Over the course of several visits over the past few years I have discovered several gems that I continue to visit regularly. Sometimes I think that I should make it a point to do something new every time as there is so much to explore in the city, but one spot keeps me coming back, particularly in the colder months. This gem is the Botanical Garden of Montreal and its attending exhibition greenhouse, a lush world of green and color encased in glass. It is one of the premier Botanical gardens in the world, founded in 1931 by a local botany professor and a horticural associate, with the exhibition greenhouses opening in 1956. With its longevity and the vast renovations of the 1980’s, the Montreal Botanical Garden contains many rare and exotic specimens in their mature state.
The exhibition greenhouse consists of a long chain of glass rooms separated by doors and all supporting different themed groupings of plants. There is uninterrupted green, humidity and such a diverse collection that it is easy to spend a good chunk of an afternoon meandering through, and getting a heady dose of oxygen and warmth. Each room has a different humidity and temperature setting, ideal for the winter state of each biome grouping. Orchids, tropical plants and the edible plant room are divinely moist and warm, while the desert, bonsai and fern rooms are much cooler and austere this time of year. It is fascinating to see which plants depend on a period of dormancy for optimum growth while others thrive in year round warmth.
The arid biome room has one of the most diverse collections of cacti, succulents and small trees that I have seen. Barrel cactus, saguaro, aloes of every description, agave, and many more all stand out on the carefully raked sandy soil. Some take many years to achieve full size, and it is a testament to the care and longevity of this world class institution that many of these cacti are so large.
Some of the other rooms in the greenhouse contain collections of succulents, ferns, begonias (I had no idea the variations in their growth forms!), and tropical fruits and spices from across the globe. Of course my favorite room was the orchid and bromeliad room, as most of them are in their full glory in the winter months. Some are rare cultivars and wild types, and the bromeliads join with their lush vegetation and showy flower spikes.
Then there is the bonsai room at one of the terminal ends, with specimens ranging from 20 to 110 years old. Most were bare, dramatic silhouettes, but a few were in the glory of their spring bloom. And the stark simplicity of the displays, joined with the soothing water garden running through the center of the room creates a peaceful feeling.
Every time I walk through these gardens there is always something new to discover, regardless of the time of year.
Until next time!