March 26, 2016

Playing in the dirt at the Sunnybrook Estates greenhouse

The Sunnybrook (Hospital) Volunteer Association's GreenThumbs:  Growing and selling plants for a good cause



Volunteering in this greenhouse over a Toronto winter seems ideal in several ways. You get to play around in the dirt (usually a soil-less mix) with bulbs, seeds, cuttings, etc. when it's frigid outside and contribute to a good cause through the sale of your work. And by April, perhaps, you're ready to play outside.


I dropped by the greenhouse for the first time several weeks ago on an unusually warm March morning. One of the GreenThumbs' volunteers, Carole Barry, discovered me on Facebook from my previous posts about the various Flower Shows at another (public) greenhouse or, more properly, Conservatory at Allan Gardens. ("GreenThumbs" is the name of the volunteer group specifically working in the greenhouse and is part of the larger Sunnybrook Hospital volunteer association.) She mentioned that I should visit the Sunnybrook greenhouse, check out its operations and get the story out.


It's an interesting story indeed!


Sunnybrook Volunteer Association greenhouse hanging baskets by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook Volunteer Association 
greenhouse hanging baskets 



The greenhouse is located on the Sunnybrook Estates, near the well-known Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre (Hospital). You can see the greenhouse attached to the McLean Coach House below:




Sunnybrook Volunteer Association McLean Coach House by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook Estates  
McLean Coach House  




Sunnybrook McLean House greenhouse exterior by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook McLean House 
greenhouse exterior 


It's not a particularly large greenhouse. I estimate there's about 100 feet long by 15 feet wide (apologies to metric purists!) of growing space with a small "office" next to the entrance. There are also two small rooms used to force bulbs and over-winter dormant perennials.


The history of the greenhouse is quite a saga. It was built in the 1930s but by the late 1980s, it fell into a state of serious disrepair and neglect. Around that time, two volunteers re-potted soon-to-be trashed tulip and daffodil bulbs, over-wintered them and sold them the next spring as a fundraising effort (proceeds to the Hospital). I assumed they made the argument that more fundraising dollars could be raised if a proper greenhouse was available. So in 1990, the initial renovation occurred and the greenhouse was saved from demolition.


Source: A Short History of the Sunnybrook Estates greenhouse


After another 20 years, the greenhouse was really showing its age. A new glass roof was needed and a group of individuals and businesses donated material, time and expertise to replace the glass panels. You can read more about the specific players involved in the 2010 repairs in this PDF produced for all the volunteers at Sunnybrook Hospital. (Look for the section titled "Corporate Donations Help VolunteersRestore Their Greenhouse.")


So the greenhouse is still standing, with a new furnace to boot!




Sunnybrook Volunteer Association greenhouse succulents by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook Volunteer Association 
greenhouse succulents 



I met Stacey McIndless, one of GreenThumbs' Convenors, who graciously showed me around. Here are some pictures showing what was on the shelves ready to be sold or getting bigger for a future plant sale.



Sunnybrook Volunteer Association greenhouse primroses by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook Volunteer Association 
greenhouse primroses



Sunnybrook McLean House greenhouse Persian Shield cuttings by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook McLean House greenhouse 
Persian Shield cuttings 


What are the sources of plants? According to Stacey, the volunteers receive spent (already flowered) bulbs from Toronto Parks and Recreation, and perennials, seeds and tropical plants from garden centers and the general public as donations. The greenhouse group also buys flowers and bulbs at wholesale prices for the Ontario Food Terminal and then mark up the prices.


Besides potted plants, the volunteers (in a group called "GreenThumbs") sell finished hanging baskets and other seasonal baskets (for Easter and Christmas for example) to Hospital staff and visitors and participate every spring at the Toronto Botanical Garden's "Get a Jump on Spring" event.


According to one source, GreenThumbs work is a "major year round growing and marketing operation that contributes over $20,000 a year...to the hospital." Not bad for a structure that was slated for demolition 25 years ago. Of course, this is all made possible by the volunteers and public and private donations.




Sunnybrook McLean House greenhouse shelves by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook McLean House 
greenhouse shelves


It's hard to see from this angle but the shelves were full of cuttings of zonal geranium and many tropical plants.




Sunnybrook McLean House greenhouse tray of succulents by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook McLean House 
greenhouse tray of succulents


Sunnybrook Volunteer Association greenhouse succulents ready to be potted by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook Volunteer Association 
greenhouse succulents ready to be potted 



Sunnybrook Volunteer Association greenhouse Echeveria by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook Volunteer Association 
greenhouse Echeveria 



Sunnybrook Volunteer Association greenhouse begonias by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook Volunteer Association 
greenhouse begonias 



Sunnybrook McLean House greenhouse Echeveria  by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook McLean House 
greenhouse Echeveria  


Sunnybrook Volunteer Association greenhouse potting table by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook Volunteer Association 
greenhouse potting table 



Sunnybrook Volunteer Association greenhouse sowing seed by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook Volunteer Association 
greenhouse sowing seed 

Tools of the trade:


Sunnybrook McLean House greenhouse hanging garden tools by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook McLean House 
greenhouse hanging garden tools




Sunnybrook McLean House greenhouse watering cans by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook McLean House 
greenhouse watering cans



Sunnybrook McLean House greenhouse plant labels by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook McLean House 
greenhouse plant labels


I loved this label! I'd hate trying to explain the saying to non-gardeners though.


Sunnybrook Volunteer Association greenhouse humour by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook Volunteer Association 
greenhouse humour 



Sunnybrook Volunteer Association greenhouse shelves by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook Volunteer Association 
greenhouse shelves




Sunnybrook McLean House greenhouse hanging baskets by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook McLean House 
greenhouse hanging baskets


Stacey mentioned that most of GreenThumbs' volunteers are retirees who don't have gardens anymore and wish to continue growing plants without the worry of looking after a large property. The greenhouse operates from September to June and is open from Monday to Friday 9:30-12:30 p.m.

Want to buy plants from the greenhouse (or check availability)? The direct number is 416-480-6100 extension 2444.

Interested in learning more about volunteering at the greenhouse and at Sunnybrook Hospital in general? Here's the link: Volunteering at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

On my way out, I couldn't resist taking these pictures of the emerging crocuses. Proof that spring is somewhere around the corner here in Toronto.


Sunnybrook McLean House greenhouse purple crocus by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook McLean House 
greenhouse purple crocus



Sunnybrook Volunteer Association greenhouse yellow crocus by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Sunnybrook Volunteer Association 
greenhouse yellow crocus