Spiders invade Royal Botanical Garden during kid-friendly exhibit

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HAMILTON — Roses and lilacs aren’t yet in bloom but nature enthusiasts can escape the winter cold by visiting a spider exhibit making its Canadian debut this week at the Royal Botanical Gardens.

Spiders Alive, developed by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, runs through mid-April.

Seventeen species of arachnids will be on display at Canada’s largest botanical gardens near Hamilton, Ont. In addition to live critters, the show will feature a 100-million-year-old spider fossil, bilingual days, a climbable spider model for kids, a children’s pyjama party and an after-dark adult social.

An estimated 50,000 people are expected to visit the exhibit, which follows one last year that focused on frogs.

The winter exhibit is part of the botanical gardens’ efforts to cater to families with young children, says spokesman Nick Kondrat.

“Hopefully they develop a relationship with the Royal Botanical Gardens and see all the other things we do and ultimately develop a lifelong appreciation for nature and the natural world and the environment,” he said in an interview.

Admission includes entry to the indoor atrium and Mediterranean Garden that features plants currently in bloom as well as four formal gardens within the 1,100 hectare nature reserve and 32 kilometres of nature trails that welcome leashed dogs.

The vast property situated within the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve is a frequent stop for migratory birds, making it a coveted spot for bird watchers, photographers and artists.

Come spring time, the outdoor gardens begin buzzing with visitors looking at blooms ranging from tulips to lilacs and roses.

The RBG has one of the most diverse lilac collections in the world and the rose garden underwent a $3-million rejuvenation last year to introduce hardy varieties that bloom from mid-June throughout the summer.

The gardens also feature a summer music series, Shakespeare at the rock garden, culinary events along with a pumpkin trail and Christmas displays attractive to children.

Outside groups were contracted last year to conduct concerts in the arboretum, a vast area that is home to dogwood, cherry, magnolia, lilac and native trees.

“You’re not going to get a concert venue with that kind of scenery in very many other places,” said Kondrat.

The not-for-profit facility receives funding from the province, city of Hamilton and Halton Region.

The gardens is the only one in Canada with a royal connection. King George V granted a royal charter in 1930 as it changed its name from Westdale Park.

“We’ve really done a lot of work to try to make sure that this is a year-round kind of event facility beyond just the horticultural collections that we have been known for over 80 years.”

It has a mandated educational component and offers courses for all ages, camps and school programs. It is a conservation leader, helping to eradicate much of the carp from the marshland of Cootes Paradise which flows from Lake Ontario. It also works on turtle recovery to prevent roadside deaths.

Although Hamilton is known as a steel capital and industrial city, the gardens offer free access to greenspace used daily by residents and Borer’s waterfall, one of several accessible in the Hamilton area.

“A lot of people who haven’t made their way down here are surprised to see how many beautify natural areas that we actually have.”

If you go:

Dates: Jan. 19 to April 14

Venue: The Royal Botanical Gardens, 680 Plains Road West, on the border between Hamilton and Burlington, Ont.

Prices: Adults $18, youth/student/senior $15, child 4-12 $10, child under 4 free; Free with membership except Spiders After Dark.

For more information: https://www.rbg.ca/

Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press