For Grade 8 student Curtis Evoy, the class trip from Terrace Bay to Toronto, which included a visit to Allan Gardens, changed his life. When he finished high school, he enrolled at Seneca College in Horticulture, and has now spent 29 years working in the field for the City of Toronto, most recently at Toronto’s famed Allan Gardens.
Evoy and his family moved to leafy Leaside 11 years ago. Curtis’s wife, Virginia, had taught at the Children’s Garden School and she thought Leaside would be a good place to raise a family. Their children attended local schools and are now doing post-secondary schooling outside Toronto.
Before coming to Allan Gardens, Curtis spent nine years at St. James Park near St. James Cathedral where his mentor was Kew Garden-trained George Hetherington, and then he worked for 11 years at Riverdale Park in Cabbagetown.
Now, as the supervisor of conservatories and horticultural displays at Allan Gardens, he is in charge of what happens at the conservatory, and for the past year, also at the outdoor park in the block bounded by Gerrard, Sherbourne, Jarvis and Carlton. At one time, this was an elegant neighbourhood, graced by grand houses on Jarvis and Sherbourne. But in recent years, it has fallen on harder times with many shelters and facilities for homeless people dotting the streets.
But the City of Toronto is investing in the neighbourhood, and in this park particularly. Outside, there are benches, a dog-free zone, a children’s playground, all well looked after. The heritage-designated conservatory is in need of some structural work, and City money has been allocated to get this done. There will be technical challenges, in that part of the building contains old growth cypress, which is not easily available anymore.
If you haven’t visited Allan Gardens before, you should definitely put it on your list, especially on a frigid, grey winter’s day. The conservatory is open, at no cost, 365 days a year. An added bonus is that there is a limited amount of free parking for visitors tucked in behind the building off Horticultural Lane. If the weather is good, you can also ride your bike. Curtis says it is exactly 5 km between his house on Southvale and the gardens – a pleasant ride if you choose the route through Rosedale and Moore Park to avoid the Bayview hill.
What you will see as you wander the indoor pathways changes with the seasons. For Thanksgiving, there is the Japanese mum show, followed in mid-November by the Christmas show, where there are 3,000 poinsettias with more than 30 varieties, along with cyclamens and azaleas. The doors between the different rooms in the conservatory signify plants with different climate needs – from moist, warm air, to dry and cool – everything from bananas to cacti. There is also a special show of spring flowers, timed for Easter each year. The High Park greenhouses are the “warehouses” for plants being shuffled in and out, depending on the season.
Keeping all these plants healthy is obviously a big part of Curtis’s job. No pesticides here. Instead, there are shipments of “good” bugs several times a month from Niagara to take on the “bad” bugs. In the colder weather, Safer’s soap is the spray of choice, because there isn’t enough light for the imported bugs.
One more reason you should pay attention to Allan Gardens. Friends of Allan Gardens is an established not-for-profit group working with the City. It has recently been awarded a Trillium grant to introduce a docent program for the conservatory. As a first step, a volunteer coordinator is now being hired. You might consider joining the already 250 people involved so far to get to know this City’s horticultural gem.