Spring Tide show is a must-see for local garden lovers

Spring Tide — the annual almost-end-of-winter event at the Gage Park greenhouses — has grown to become a worthy companion to the somewhat more famous Fall Garden and Mum Show every October.

In fact, the two events neatly bookend the local gardening season: while the chrysanthemum show pretty much marks the end of gardening season, visitors to Spring Tide will be inspired to get into their own gardens as quickly as weather allows.

Just for that inspiration, Spring Tide is a must-see for local gardeners and garden lovers. For the rest, it is a joyous, vibrant gala that uses all the colours and forms of spring bulbs to rouse our spirits from winter slumber. It’s not as big as the Mum Show but it has the same elevated level of imagination, planning and generosity of design.

The theme this year is “Spring at the Cottage” and some 10,000 potted bulbs are situated among some 35,000 plants, shrubs and trees. It is lovely, evocative of Ontario’s beloved “cottage country,” and a wonderful respite from the almost-weekly snowstorms that have marked the last four or five weeks.

Visitors will enter through the Tropical House (more on that in a moment) although Spring Tide is in the working greenhouse complex. They’ll be greeted by “Mark’s General Store” — a re-creation (facade only) of any one of the country-road emporiums sprinkled across cottage country. There are tulips and daffodils in the windows, in containers and across the front.

A little farther along, there’s a “fire pit” and, of course, Muskoka chairs, all surrounded by — I’m guesstimating — a thousand or so pots of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other flowering bulbs. Artfully mixed in are heuchera (Canterbury bells), coleus, ornamental grasses and other companion plants. Right across the way, there’s a canoe bobbing in a “river” of blue grape hyacinths, with little ripples of dusty miller and fuzzy-leaved plectranthrus (a.k.a. Swedish ivy). Make sure to look for the succulent-planted turtle and the rabbit.

Next up is the facade of a very old-fashioned cottage or cabin. It’s generously planted, again, with bulbs and companion plants. All of the bulb displays are back dropped by ferns and grasses, small pines and cedars, elephant ear and papyrus. Forsythia is showing its bright yellow flowers.

The massed bulbs, the bright colours, the smell of dirt and foliage and emerging hyacinths, the visual displays all come together in a sensory rush that pulls you away from the snow and ice outside and reminds you that spring (and then summer) is almost here. It’s very life-affirming.

At the end of the bulb displays is “Flo’s Market,” where visitors can buy a pot of flowering bulbs, some summer bulbs to plant at home, and bouquets of cut bulbs. The prices are very reasonable and I predict they’ll sell out quickly. There’s also a café and a vendors’ marketplace, so there are several ways you can spend a few dollars.

But the show itself is free, as is parking off Lawrence Road. At a time when property taxes are taking a bigger jump than usual, it is really encouraging and comforting to see a few of those tax dollars used in such a positive and affirming way. We in Hamilton take the traffic-median plantings, the displays at city hall and in our parks, the Mum Show and Spring Tide a little for granted. We shouldn’t. This is one of the ways a city defines itself. When citizens can freely enjoy artistry, beauty and creativity, everyone benefits. Food and monetary donations to Hamilton Food Share are encouraged and collected. Please support that worthy cause if you can.

Go. Take a bus, walk, bicycle or drive to Gage Park any day up to and including next Sunday (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day) and take in the sights and smells of spring. I promise it is worth it.

Before I end this first column of 2023’s gardening season, a word or two about Gage Park’s Tropical House. This year-round attraction has matured beautifully over the past few years and it is worth a visit — in fact, regular visits — on its own. The tropical trees and large plants allow a lovely mix of sun and shade, the koi ponds are home to quite large fish, and the “under storey” plants that live under the taller plants’ canopy have filled in. When I was there last week, visitors were simply relaxing, reading, having lunch (bring your own), pushing strollers or walking with friends and children. There’s great signage along the pathways.

Don’t rush past it on the way to Spring Tide — or if you must, plan on coming back. This is a civic treasure that not enough people know about.

Final word(s)Open Garden Week is coming! Your opportunity to share your garden or visit other people’s gardens will be in full swing at the end of June. As soon as we nail down the dates, I’ll let you know.

Rob Howard lives and gardens in Hamilton. He’s a garden writer, speaker and garden coach. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Facebook at Rob Howard: Garden Writer.

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