Do you guys remember that Canadian childrens’ television show from the ’80s about that umbrella tree? Under the Umbrella Tree was that really cute, totally campy show by Noreen Young. It centered around this woman named Holly (played by an actress named Holly) who lived in this little Victorian home on Spring Street in Ottawa, Ontario. But before I go any further, it’s really important to note that behind the lens, this “home” was a dollhouse…which I will elaborate on down the page. Because. I have. A theory.
In her home, Holly had these “pet friends.” (They were puppets.) Iggy the Iguana lived in the bookshelf. Jacob the Blue-Jay lived outside in the tree, flying in through the porch door. (I have the faint feeling that if and when Holly closed the door, Jacob would peck at the glass pane with his beak or totally get insecure over his current friendship status with Hol.) Then there was Gloria the Gopher. She lived…get ready…under the umbrella tree, in the middle of one of those circular couches, the proverbial hearth of Holly’s home.
So, I don’t know what this means for the hierarchy of the characters, but if anyone was Queen B, Gloria was it. As a kid, anyone who watched this show probably drooled over the idea of having a circular couch that they could hide away in, and I sort of have this morbid conclusion that the tree had to be kept watered and lively or else the pets would all disappear. But that’s just me being a total creep.
I also think (in reference to what I was about to say earlier) that there’s a little theory to be explained behind Umbrella Tree. This world was a make-believe setting within a make-shift set. You know how Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood started its show each episode with an aerial view of his ‘hood? It looked like one of those mats you see in a pediatricians’ offices with streets and stop signs and houses. The secret ingredient to a childrens’ show is to add multiple textures. Real life. Claymation. Puppets. Illustration. In other words, maybe Holly herself wasn’t a real person, maybe she was a figment of this imaginative world where the pets were real, and Holly was the strange one. (You’re never going to find that Victorian fixer-upper in Ottawa, you know what I’m sayin’?)
Now, the theme song:
Do you ever wonder, what can happen under, under an umbrella tree / Sunny days or thunder, your friends are waiting under, under the umbrella tree / So come on everybody, see you up at Holly’s, ’cause there’s no better place to be / In your imagination, you’ll find an invitation, under the umbrella tree!
Then you’d see a little clip introducing you to the creatures: Gloria, Jacob, Iggy…and their good friend Holly!
There’s a subliminal message here. And I think that message is female empowerment. It’s like: “Hey, even if you’re a 30something woman living the ‘burns of Ontario, and even if you haven’t found your mate, all’s never lost, when you’re an educated and confident lady with a gaggle of friends (real or fake.) At least you can escape to this land of animals who love you for who you are. Sad, in a way. But, also kind of sweet.
Episodes were educational: the meaning of a holiday, the importance of exercise, how to build, cook, preserve, honor, or respect something. I remember one ep when the lights went out in a thunder storm so they retreated to the basement. Holly taught them to get creative and not rely on the modern technologies to keep themselves entertained. A few guests would show up at the door from time to time, their neighbor friends: Louis Bird, Mitzi the dog (Gloria’s BFF), and Jacob’s number one comrade: Chuck Chickadee! I also faintly remember an elderly woman that had a hard time hearing and would often come and check on Holly. She was like, Mr. Magoo’s widow or something…
The original show aired on CBS in Canada from 1986-1993. And then it went into syndication on The Disney Channel in the U.S. from 1993-1996.