life, untanked

By Ai Y.

“The moment that I saw the hibiscus flower within the Allan Gardens conservatory, I was instantly transported back to home, because that is one of the native flowers to Trinidad and Tobago, and I was reminded within the city of Toronto that a piece of home was here.”
– Amanda P.

Allan Gardens collage[a collage of photos from inside Allan Gardens Conservatory, surrounding the exterior of the conservatory] 

The Allan Gardens Conservatory is a free and accessible space open from 10am to 5pm, everyday of the year. The space has a men and women’s washroom, and ramps for wheelchair and mobility device accessibility. They have both a permanent collection and seasonal flower shows, which keeps the visitors senses busy. Allan Gardens Conservatory provides a space that visitors can have a sense of control in the different paths to take when navigating the space, and to have privacy within the built environment (Erickson, 2012). The plethora of stimuli through all the senses within the conservatory brings forth the idea of nature as distraction from stress, pain, or negative thoughts (Erickson, 2012), in addition better energy levels, attention span, and feelings of tranquility compared with non-natural spaces (Lachowycza & Jones, 2012).

Screen Shot 2017-01-09 at 12.25.52 AM[CT map of location of Allan Gardens, retrieved from]

It is located in the centre of Sherbourne St, Gerrard St, Jarvis St. and Carlton St. It is near various “health” related spaces and organizations, such as Sherbourne Health Centre, pwa (people with AIDS), multiple pharmacies, Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto, Anishnawbe Health Toronto, Miziwe Biik Aboriginal Employment and Training, Rekai Centre – Sherbourne Place (a longterm care facility), and many more. Having an accessible indoor and outdoor green space as a restorative space near different types of services that are linked with well being, is important and necessary (Kaplan, 1995; Hartig & Marcus, 2006; Ottosson & Grahn, 2005).

Every section within the garden provides meandering paths, different ambiences and temperatures depending on the plants in the space. The air is warm and humid for its collection of what’s labeled as “exotic” plants, such as cacti, fruit trees (banana, papaya, lemon, orange), and Hibiscus; the controlled temperature is a nice escape from the cold winter in Toronto. The well kept space also has life such as koi fish and turtles in ponds (untanked), waterwheel, decorated interior (with seasonal themes), and seasonal flower shows, which keeps the space with constant life and change. These aspects are some of the ways that foster healing within this space (Beckwith, & Gilster, 1997).

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 10.33.40 PM[the process of creating the video of team avatar’s visit to Allan Gardens Conservatory]

Check out clips from our visit to Allan Gardens Conservatory here!

[photographs from left to right: koi fish in the pond; accessible ramp for mobility devices; waterwheel; cacti]

The plaques/labels by the plants provides opportunities to learn about the plants, some of its medicinal or non-medicinal use, and its roots (of origin).

Allan Gardens park is designed in a way that provides opportunities for movement and physical activity. It also has numerous benches spread out in the park as well as the conservatory along the paths of the garden, opening up the space as a third space -some chat or take a stroll with friends, others spend their lunch breaks there, and others sketch and study in this tranquil space full of life. The conservatory being close to many work places is beneficial for people to see a green space or visit the conservatory to decrease occupational stressors (Stigsdotter, 2004). Spaces within nature that invite social cohesion (Erickson, 2012) and social capital is beneficial to the “health” of people of all ages (Finlay et al., 2015; Heerwagen, 2009)

Spaces that one can access nature has healing effects on the intersecting dimensions of one’s physical, social, spiritual, emotional, intellectual and environmental well being (Erickson, 2012). Engagement with nature or outdoor places facilitates different ways of sociability and social support, as well as memory making, which fosters restoration of good “health” and wellness (Erickson, 2012). This space also has great lighting for taking photographs both with a DSLR camera or with your mobile phone -for endless remembering.

Voices do not echo in the building, which fosters peace and quiet. Though this is a calming place, since the building is not soundproof, the sirens from outside can at times disrupts the quietness.

Despite the gloomy winter weather in Toronto, this therapeutic greenhouse gives space and access to plants that signify warmth, calming sounds and sight/site of living things, as well as a restful distraction from the loud bustling cityscape. Allan Gardens Conservatory in a fast-paced urban city, can be a tool to de-stress (Stigsdotter &  Grahn, 2004).

Every time I visit Allan Gardens, upon stepping out of the relaxed space into the noisy city, everything feels a little brighter, and I feel – mentally, spiritually, psychologically, and physically – at ease.

298[red hibiscus flower]

I recall my colleague Amanda’s excitement when she spotted the hibiscus. She quickly turned to Victoria and I to show us her favourite flower, which reminded her of home -Trinidad and Tobago. She couldn’t resist taking a photo of the flower.

The public has also responded to Allan Gardens as a therapeutic garden, and as a space for place making: “It reminds me of my little African village, particularly the tree from Madagascar is unbelievable.”


Beckwith, Margarette E. & Gilster, Susan D. (1997) The Paradise Garden. Activities, adaptation & aging, 22(1-2), 3-16.

Erickson, M. Susan. (2012). Restorative garden design: Enhancing wellness through healing spaces. JAD: Art and design discourse, 2, June.

Finlay, Jessica., et al. (2015). Therapeutic landscapes and wellbeing in later life: Impacts of blue and green spaces for older adults. Health & place, 34, 97-106.

Hartig, Terry. & Marcus, Clare Cooper. (2006). Essay Healing gardens—places for nature in health care. Lancet, 368, S36–S37.

Heerwagen, Judith. (2009). Biophilia, Health, and Well-being. In Restorative Commons: Creating Health and Well-being through Urban Landscapes. Lindsay Campbell and Anne Wiesen eds. 

Kaplan, Stephen. (1995). The Restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of environmental psychology,15, 169-182.

Lachowycza, Kate. & Jones, Andy P. (2013). Towards a better understanding of the relationship between greenspace and health: Development of a theoretical framework. Landscape and urban planning, 118, 62-69.

Ottosson, Johan. & Grahn, Patrik. (2005). A Comparison of Leisure Time Spent in a Garden with Leisure Time Spent Indoors: On Measures of Restoration in Residents in Geriatric Care. Landscape research, 30(1), 23-55.

Stigsdotter, Ulrika A. (2004). A garden at your workplace may reduce stress. In Dilani A (ed.) Design and health IIIHealth promotion through environmental design. Research Centre for Design and Health, Stockholm, 147–157.

Stigsdotter, Ulrika A. &  Grahn, Patrik. (2004). Garden at Your Doorstep May Reduce Stress – Private Gardens as Restorative Environments in the City. Open Space, People Space: International Conference on Inclusive Environments. 




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