Fans of Winnie the Pooh may or may not know that the pudgy yellow bear with a fondness for honey was indeed a real bear who was named for the Canadian city of Winnipeg.
It’s an adorable story, which is why visitors to the Streuber Family Children’s Garden in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park encounter the likeness of the bear in sculptures and horticultural displays.
While Winnie the Pooh should be reason enough for anyone to visit Winnipeg, an exciting new indoor garden that opened in late 2022 in Assiniboine Park caps off years of planning and planting that has transformed the 100 year old park into a global attraction for gardeners.
The Leaf in Winnipeg
The Leaf is a glass-enclosed destination for all seasons with four distinct biomes, plants that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, and one of Manitoba’s hottest new restaurants.
We visited on a rather dreary winter day in early December and The Leaf had an immediate impact on us. The warmth, the bright colors, and the intriguing designs pulled us in and invited us to explore.
With more than 12,000 trees, shrubs, and other plant life to explore, we were delighted to wander for hours.
The Plants in The Leaf
The Leaf bills itself as a place that tells the story of the relationship between people and plants. It is the only such garden in North America that takes such an approach to its exhibition.
I enjoyed a story told in one display about Eugenia Druyet Zoubareva, a native of Cuba, who immigrated to Canada, and now helps care for the plants at The Leaf. She recalls one of her favorite childhood treats made from boiled sugar cane called “raspadura.” Her exhibit is adjacent to the sugar cane plants.
In front of the kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra), we learned that it is native to Mexico, Central American, and northern South America. While it is cultivated commercially for its cotton like seed fiber and is used to make life jackets, we also learned that native cultures have used it as a diuretic, a treatment for headaches, and for Type II diabetes.
But we also learned that a kapok tree is a sacred symbol in Maya mythology. They believed that the kapok tree was rooted from the center of the earth and is the connection between heaven, earth, and the world below.
Some of the plants within The Leaf are quite rare, including three wallaby pines (Wollemia nobilis), also called a dinosaur tree. They are considered one of the most endangered plants in the world and three of them thrive in the Mediterranean biome of The Leaf.
Just right of the entrance to the Tropical Biome, take a moment to search for the Pelagodoxa palm. That tree is thought to be extinct in the wild, yet the gardening staff has successfully cultivated these in Winnipeg.
One of the most striking features of the glass building is the 60-foot-tall waterfall that cascades into a Koi pond where all of the fish are named after Star Wars characters. The waterfall was designed by Dan Euser, a Canadian landscape artist who designed the water feature at the 9/11 Memorial in New York.
We rode an elevator up six stories to the Butterfly Garden where blue morphos, monarchs, and other beautiful creatures that settled on flowering plants, dishes filled with fruit, and on our shoulders. The space includes a hatchery and demonstration area that demonstrates the life cycle of butterflies.
And then we had lunch at Gather Craft Kitchen, which bills itself as “globally inspired modern prairie cuisine.” Most fruits and vegetables come directly from the gardens within Assiniboine Park. Otherwise, Manitoba farmers and growers supply the kitchen with the freshest local products.
And because we’re all gardeners here, I must recommend one of the many botanical cocktails at Gather. It’s called The Pleasure Garden, a combination of Beefeater Gin, Crème de Cassis, Maraschino liqueur, mulled wine, and cherry bitters. It’s delightful.
When You Go
While we visited in the winter, we look forward to returning in warm weather months to explore the six outdoor gardens that cover more than 30 acres adjacent to The Leaf. These include an Indigenous Peoples Garden, Kitchen Garden, Performance Garden, Seasonal Garden, and the Grove, which is an arboretum.
In addition, Assiniboine Park is home to the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden, a Ukrainian sculptor who immigrated to Canada after WWII. Also plan time to explore the English Garden, a casual space of free-form beds and a monument to Queen Victoria.
Although it’s not gardening, we highly recommend the Journey to Churchill exhibit at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. In connection with the First Nations of Manitoba, the zoo has developed a comprehensive and close-up understanding of polar bears and the Arctic ecosystem. With nine polar bears, this is the largest such facility in the world.
Winnipeg is a vibrant city with a year-round appeal. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is worth a full day of your time. We enjoyed a day shopping, eating, and exploring at Pineridge Hollow. Among the attractions in this rural space is the Digging Deep Greenhouse which will give you so many ideas for things to do at home.
We had a wonderful experience at the historic Fort Garry Hotel. If you are a fan of Hallmark Christmas movies, stay here. The hotel is a popular location for filming. There’s a great spa, a yummy restaurant, and the Fort Garry is centrally located.
For more information, visit www.tourismwinnipeg.com.
A travel writer from Kansas City, Missouri, Diana Lambdin Meyer is an award-winning member of the Society of American Travel Writers and Midwest Travel Journalists.