Unique plant structures and exotic blooms captivate at every turn. (ALBERT PARSONS)
All the plants in the collection are labelled. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
A few non-cacti/non-succulent tropical blooming plants provide colour in the Conservatory. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Wide brick pathways make wandering about the Conservatory easy, even for those folks who have mobility issues.
(ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
This dish garden includes a couple of the many echeveria in the collection.
(ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Is anyone the victim of the winter blahs and longing to walk in the sunshine through a beautiful garden, enjoying the smells of growing plants while strolling around without a jacket, just in shirtsleeves? At this time of year, that yearning might apply to quite a number of people and I can recommend just the place where you can do all that and more.
If you, a group of gardening friends, or even a group that you belong to that seeks out unique destinations as part of the group’s mission, is inclined to take such a trip, be advised that this destination is in our own back yard less than an hour’s drive in many cases. I am referring to the Conservatory at the International Peace Garden.
This would be a wonderful day trip for anyone but particularly those who enjoy viewing interesting and unique plants because their new Conservatory building houses North America’s largest collection of cacti and succulents, including the world’s largest collection of echeveria. Some of us grow echeverias, succulents grown for their attractive fleshy foliage, in our summer gardens and there are those who attempt to overwinter them indoors.
The Peace’s Garden’s acquisition of this phenomenal collection of more than 5,000 cacti and succulents came about somewhat by accident in that a Minot resident, Don Vitko, decided a few years ago that he could no longer care for and house his vast collection. After fundraising efforts in his home city failed to raise enough funds to create a display building for his collection in Minot, he agreed to donate the collection to the Peace Garden.
Although the plan was to move the collection gradually, the timetable was fast tracked abruptly last year due to flooding in Minot threatening the very existence of the collection. The plants were hurriedly transported to the Garden and placed temporarily in the annual greenhouses forcing the Garden to buy some of their bedding plants this spring as some of their growing space was occupied by the collection.
The first phase of the new Conservatory building was complete, however, and more than 1,000 of the potted cacti and succulents were put on display in the new building, still leaving more than 4,000 still housed in the annual greenhouses until their anticipated move into the completed phase two part of the building, which is to occur sometime in 2013.
Although only about a fifth of the collection is on display, these 1,000 plants are well worth a trip. The variety of plants is astonishing, ranging from cacti native to North America to an African collection and even some very rare specimens such as one of only three pilocereus keyensis in existence in North America; it is extinct in the wild it originated in the Florida Keyes.
Another unique feature of the Conservatory display is a collection of Pilocereus cacti, which are pillar cacti with long hair-like material growing out of their trunks. There are only 56 kinds in the world and the Vitko Collection has 53 of them.
The Conservatory is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. There is a nice little café in the building that is also open for business during the same hours, so you might include lunch as part of your outing plans.
There are no attendants at the Peace Garden gate at this time of year but you can proceed through the gate and follow the signs to get to the Conservatory, stopping at the Administration Building if you want information. There is no admission charge to the Conservatory itself but donations are greatly appreciated.
If you choose to visit the Conservatory display in late winter, you will find some of the plants will be in bloom, but the most prolific blooming period is mid-March until mid-May. Since part of the reason to visit the Peace Garden in mid-winter is to escape the winter blahs, you may decide to visit before the prime blooming time; I’m sure you will be so captivated by the Vitko Collection that you will want to return again, perhaps when many of the plants are in bloom in April.
While many folks travel thousands of kilometres in the wintertime to escape the winter blahs, if you are not one of these people, you might consider getting a group together and driving to the International Peace Garden and spending a day wandering among the wonderful cacti and succulents displayed in the Conservatory. If you failed to impress this Valentine’s Day, maybe the offer of a drive to the Peace Garden will redeem you! Happy Valentine’s Day!
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 7, 2013