In the summer, the Niagara Floral Showhouse is surrounded by extensive rose gardens, a stunning water feature embellished by water lilies, and a fragrance garden where plants are identified in Braille for people who are visually impaired. It’s a stunning display of floral brilliance.
But just because summer gives way to winter, frost chills the air and a blanket of snow covers the ground doesn’t mean the Floral Showhouse is any less vibrant. The colours just move inside for a series of spectacular floral shows that fill the gap until the blissful warmth of summer returns.
For over 60 years visitors have come to this lush oasis, a spot of serenity just a short walk from Niagara Falls. Collections of orchids, succulents and other tropical plant species are on display throughout the year, while tropical birds flitter to-and-fro amongst the greenery, chirping merrily as you admire the exotic cultivars.
“There’s always something new in bloom to keep things fresh and interesting,” explains Joan Cornelius, Manager of the Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse. “We have a series of eight showcases over the year timed to change with the seasons, but our winter and spring events are some of our most popular. They represent a dose of cheer while the rest of Niagara Parks’ extensive gardens are covered in snow.”
The first of the winter and spring events is the chrysanthemum showcase, running from October through November. “It’s one of our strongest shows but it comes at a time of year that’s quieter in Niagara Falls so it’s perhaps not as well-known as the others, which is a shame because it’s spectacular,” says Cornelius.
The mums on display aren’t the hardy mums one sees in garden centres in the autumn. Instead, they are delightfully bright perennial mums, providing one last welcome dose of summer before the skies turn grey for the winter. There are brilliant pinks, lavenders and whites in one display, and in the other—an homage to autumn— yellows, bronze and shades of oranges. The showy mums are a combination of cascading varieties in baskets (trimmed to grow down instead of their natural direction, up towards the light), bush varieties standing as much as three feet tall, and stately exhibition mums, single stems topped by a lone bloom measuring as much as 8” in diameter.
With the exception of the Christmas tree itself, perhaps no plant is more representative of the yuletide season than the poinsettia. A native of Mexico that can grow as much as three meters tall in the wild, it became attached to the holiday through the legend of an impoverished young girl walking to church on Christmas Eve, ashamed she had nothing but weeds to give baby Jesus. Moved by the child’s piety, Jesus miraculously transformed the weeds into beautiful blooms, known forever after as Flores de Noche Buena, or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night’. The legend and the flower were brought back to the United States in the 19th century by Joel Poinsett, American ambassador to Mexico. Soon, the poinsettia became as much a part of the North America holiday season as it has traditionally been in Mexico.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the poinsettia forms the backbone of the Niagara Floral Showhouse’s Christmas showcase. There are as many as 1,000 poinsettias emblazoning the greenhouses in festive colours—the traditional reds and whites of course, but also purples and pinks and other, more exotic shades. In addition to unusual colours, there are also unusual varieties on display, such as double-red and curly bloomed, as well as spectacular exhibition poinsettias with a single bloom atop a long stem. Mixed among the poinsettias are other holiday flowers like cyclamen, narcissus, paperwhites, and Christmas cactus.
“The highlight of the display is a massive Christmas tree made up of 150 poinsettias. It’s towering and full of Christmas cheer,” says Cornelius. “We’re also excited to be adding something new this year. We acquired the collection of Cullen Gardens Miniature Village and we will be adding some of these buildings, lit-up and in little scenes, to the displays for Christmas.”
The Christmas Showcase is my favourite. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself cheerily humming a Bing Crosby song before long, and will leave with those familiar warm embers—the kind that only come around once a year—in your stomach. Take time out from wrapping and decorating to experience this holiday tradition.
Spring comes early at Niagara Floral Showhouse, thanks to garden party that is the Spring Show. The stars of the show are forced mixed bulbs that have come to represent spring—tulips and daffodils—as well as forced spring-blooming shrubs, such as rhododendrons bursting with big-pedaled flowers.
“It’s a kaleidoscope of colours, essentially a mixed garden look that builds anticipation for the coming spring. It’s also ever-changing
because bulbs are short-lived and require replacement all the time. From week to week the show is changed and re-imagined a bit,” explains
Cornelius, explaining that the show runs through April with a brief
interruption for the Easter Show.
Just as poinsettias have come to symbolize Christmas and form the foundation of the Christmas Show, so too has Lilium longiflorum
become synonymous with Easter and serves as the core of Niagara Floral Showhouse’s Easter Showcase. Better known as the Easter lily, Lilium longiflorum has long been associated with the spring holiday. According to legend, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, some of these beautiful flowers were suddenly found growing in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray the night before his crucifixion. It’s said that these flowers took seed where drops of Jesus’ sweat fell to the ground as he prayed, and suddenly sprouted when Jesus was resurrected. As a result, the flower adorns churches at Easter.
Easter lilies also add serene beauty to the Niagara Greenhouses from Palm Sunday for three weeks through to Easter weekend.
“It’s a beautiful display, with Easter lilies forming a giant cross in honour of the holiday,” explains Cornelius. “This used to be our most popular event, but times have changed and in the 30-years that I’ve been here I’ve see attendance drop a bit. People are busy this time of year and in general less religious, but it’s a shame because this really is a special tradition.”
Rounding out the spring season is the May Hydrangea showcase. As one would expect, the display is dominated by dozens of rhododendrons bursting in whites, pinks and blues and the heady aroma of this shrub in full-bloom. Somewhat unconventional are the hydrangeas in massive hanging baskets measuring 5-feet across, on which the tropical birds roost and sing merrily. Adding vertical interest are masses of forced
delphiniums and foxglove.
“This is my favourite show. It just screams spring—soon, the gardens of Niagara Parks will be in full bloom—and is so unique,” she enthuses.
Another spring attraction at Niagara Floral Showhouse is the pending bloom of Titan Arum, a giant among plants. A native of the equatorial rainforests of Sumatra, Titan Arum is the largest flower in the world: the corm (essentially a tuber from which it grows) can weigh as much as 100kg (225 pounds), and the behemoth flower produced can reach up to 3 metres (10 feet) in height. The flower has to be large to produce enough scent to attract nighttime pollinators. Those expecting the pleasing aroma of a rose or lilac will be disappointed, however; Titan Arum smells like rotting flesh to attract pollinating flies and carrion beetles. Unlike most flowers that bloom annually, Titan Arum can take years upon years to bloom, and then only for a single day or so.
Niagara Floral Showhouse has several of these showstoppers, and can boast of hosting the first and second blooms when two bloomed in April 2012. Two others are expected to bloom sometime in the spring of 2016 (progress and expected bloom dates will be updated on the Floral Showhouse blog). “It’s probably the most exciting botanical event in the world,” says Cornelius simply, “there’s nothing else like it.”
Even as the weather outside is grey and dreary, wind chilling you to the bone and frost hanging off of every breath, Niagara Floral Showhouse remains bursting with vibrancy. Like an oasis of colour in a desert of snow and cold, it’s a welcome reprieve from the long winter months and through its ever-changing showcases offers a window into spectacular botanical worlds. The greenhouse casts an enchanting spell, compelling you to visit each month to see what’s blooming.
By: Andrew Hind