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Canada: Hot House Discussion series brings life to greenhouse in winter

Outside may have been bitterly cold and cloaked in ice this month, but inside the small greenhouse in Trinity Bellwoods Park the temperature was 30 degrees Celsius and the orchids and geraniums bloomed in vibrant white and fuchsia.

The greenhouse, which was donated in 2008 by a television gardening show, is property of the City of Toronto and is run by the greenhouse committee of volunteers. It’s used in the spring by about two dozen area gardeners to start seedlings and in the summer as a storage shed. But, for years it sat largely unused during the winter months, despite the fact on a sunny winter day it can feel like spring in the hot house (a green house with a furnace).

“I just thought it was a shame that it sat empty in the winter because it has to be heated or the water pipes would freeze,” said Gene Threndyle, a gardener by trade who lives in a nearby Artscape building.

“It is a little bit of an orphan,” Threndyle said. “But it had all the potential to be a tiny little green getaway.”

Threndyle started to bring the flowers and plants from the shared courtyard at his building to the greenhouse for the winter months. He built some rustic looking shelves and trellis and the greenhouse committee purchased some stools for the space, Threndyle said.

But, animating the space in winter didn’t stop there. Originally the idea was to open the greenhouse in the winter, sell coffee and invite people in. Because of bylaws and rules around selling coffee or food, they decided against it, but that is when Threndyle said he and a neighbour came up with the idea of a winter discussion series in the community greenhouse in Trinity Bellwoods Park.

“There are no laws against having a discussion group, and if you are going to have people gather around for a discussion you might as well have coffee,” Threndyle said.

The Hot House Discussion series was launched last winter and according to Threndyle they proved to be popular.

The series was titled the “don’t ask an expert” discussion series and featured a series of speakers who had an interesting story to tell, but weren’t deemed an expert.

“The idea was to get people in here to talk about stuff that they know about or that they did,” Threndyle said. “Not that they have a PhD in it.”

The second season of the discussion series was launched a few weeks ago and will run on Sunday mornings through March.

There have been two Hot House discussions so far this season.

On Jan. 5 Jutta Mason, one of the people behind the revitalization of Dufferin Grove Park, talked about the importance of food in public space especially parks; on Jan. 12 Kathleen Byers, the dancing crossing guard from Brockton, shared her story with the discussion group.

Talks take place from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Threndyle said they often keep the greenhouse open to visitors well into the afternoon. In addition to coffee served, this year they have students from George Brown College bringing in scones and cookies they made.

The next Hot House Discussion will feature Bob Barnett, who is the principle founder of the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy, an environmental organization that buys, or gets by donation, land along the Niagara Escarpment and protects it from development in perpetuity. Barnett is an architect who took this on about 16 years ago after having hiked the full length of the Bruce Trail.

Coming up in February Emiko Sekiguchi, who works at both Ursa and Swan restaurants, will be giving a talk on their experiment growing greens for Ursa restaurant in containers on their roof.

Threndyle said they plan to have a number of food-themed talks.

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