Muttart greenhouses are colourful sites for sore eyes 🌱

At this time of year, the Muttart Conservatory greenhouses start to feel like ships sailing with their cargo of hope toward a city hungry for a dose of colour.

“It’s just something that people are missing because we haven’t seen a lot of colour for a couple of long, long months right now,” said Sarah Birmingham, Muttart Conservatory Team Lead. “Plants are just good for everybody.”

Like the “Bellinto Red and White” Fuchsia hanging from the top of the blog post.

And the “Aromance pink: Nemesia fruticans blooming below:

And what will be a beautiful yellow flower called “golden Butterfly” Argyranthemum frutescens:

And the rest of the thousand-plus flowering plants and vegetables, herb gardens and sun-shade planters being seeded, grown and transplanted in the 3,870-square-foot facility in the shadow of the conservatory pyramids in Edmonton’s river valley.

Growing happiness

Birmingham is in the happiness trade.

“We’ve had really long winter, and it has not been that sunny out, so, you wake up, it’s grey, there’s not a lot of happy news going on, so, in order to get people feeling happy, we have to give them something that makes them feel happy,” she said.

Early spring is production season at the greenhouse as it readies the plants for transport to City parks and for sale to the public.

“The beginning of March is when some things start trickling in, but, for example, this week we had 10,000 plants come in,” Birmingham said. “We bump them up and grow them on, so the end product is a big, beautiful blooming plant for the people who are buying them from the plant sale. The stuff that goes into districts is picked up throughout the month of June and, so, by the end of June, the greenhouse is almost empty again.”

Calibrachoa or Bloombastic Rose Quartz being transplanted into larger containers. 

Computer green thumbs

As it always is, the plant sale goes next month. But this year’s plant variety will be different because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the sale will feature online ordering and curbside pickup.

“We’re creating right now our plant list, the availability, the colours, the information and then people can go online to choose their product and make their purchases virtually,” said Birmingham.

“The idea is they come to the back of the facility where the greenhouses are and we can fill their car with their order. It’s a new way of doing things, so we can keep our physical distance, but, at least, getting plant material out to those people in desperate need of some colour.”

The plant sale is getting a hand from City of Edmonton colleagues growing the website for ordering and digital payment. A website for sore eyes, maybe. 😉

“This year’s plant sale wouldn’t be possible without the help of our in-house tech team,” said Rhonda Norman, Director of River Valley and Horticultural Facilities.

“They have worked so hard to quickly transition the plant sale to an online environment so Edmontonians can enjoy the purchasing experience from the comfort of their home.”

The Muttart Online Plant Sale takes place in the second week of May. More details will be released on the Muttart’s Facebook Page, so stay tuned for more information.

This 44 x 12 metre greenhouse is temporary home for tropical plants, including dahlias available in the annual plant sale and plant that will adorn public buildings

Gardening in COVID times

The safety measures in place to protect workers against the coronavirus have altered the way greenhouse crews grow about their work.

“We are just trying to keep people distanced from each other,” said Birmingham. “People are transplanting at their own benches. There are staggered break times. There are staggered start times. So, we’re trying to still be in touch with each other, just at an appropriate distance.”

The Muttart crews are also tending the collection of plants in the main Conservatory pyramids, which are temporarily closed to the public while the buildings are renovated.

Next stop: public spaces

Later this spring, City colleagues truck the outside-ready plants from the greenhouse to City of Edmonton signs, cemeteries, golf courses and parks. So everyone gets in on the colour.

“Then, everyone gets to enjoy them on that scale,” said Birmingham.

For the companion piece in our Plants and Animals series, check out the animals.