Canada in full bloom
You don’t have to have a large yard or a green thumb to appreciate the splendour of a beautiful garden. In fact, you don’t have to do any work at all. Gardens are a source of pride and pleasure in many communities across Canada, and they’re popular destinations in their own right.
If you prefer to ride the rails this summer rather than hit the roads, check out the destinations along VIA Rail’s Garden Route. Now in its seventh year in 2012, the program highlights feature gardens and garden attractions as well as many of the 5-Bloom Communities in Bloom award winners from coast to coast.
If you’re looking for a flourishing place for a getaway, here are some sites to inspire your planning.
The Butchart Gardens, Brentwood Bay (Victoria), British Columbia
There’s something to do in every season at this must-see garden attraction. Stroll the grounds by day and enjoy live music at night, like dancing to a big band under the stars or listening to a string quartet in the open-air theatre. The gardens are also family-friendly with a special pavilion for children — complete with an old-fashioned carousel — and it’s one of the few garden hotspots where pets are allowed.
University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, Vancouver, British Columbia
While it isn’t as well known as other local attractions like the VanDusen Botanical Garden, this hidden gem is worth a visit for people eager to learn more about horticulture. There are a variety of gardens representing ecosystems from around the world like the Alpine Garden with its flora from far-off locations like Morocco, New Zealand, Europe and South America. There’s also an Asian Garden, Food Garden, Carolinian Forest and the nearby Nitobe Memorial Garden — one of the top five Japanese Tea and Stroll gardens outside of Japan.
Devonian Botanic Garden, Edmonton, Alberta
Part of the University of Alberta, this facility combines over 80 acres of gardens and 110 acres of natural areas and ecological preserves. Tour the greenhouses to see the collection of arid plants and bromeliads, or visit the Tropical and Sub Tropical Plant and Butterfly Greenhouse. The outdoor gardens include a Native People’s Garden, Peony Collection and the Kurimoto Japanese Garden. In addition to kids’ programs and camps, the garden also offers adult education courses and even a Master Gardener Certificate Program.
Leo Mol Sculpture Garden, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Art lovers won’t want to miss this garden-meets-gallery in Assiniboine Park. Along with the accompanying gallery house, the garden features over 300 pieces of work by artist Dr. Leo Mol including bronze sculptures, ceramics, paintings and drawings. Of course, the sculpture garden is just one of many attractions in the park — look for other features like the formal gardens, a conservatory house, zoo and riverfront cycling trails.
Windsor Riverfront Gardens, Windsor, Ontario
Still associate this city with industry? Believe it or not, it’s also known for its greenery, particularly the gardens and parks along the Detroit River (namely The Ambassador, Assumption and Centennial Parks). In addition to the kilometres of gardens, you can also see some history — like the Canadian Vietnam War Memorial and the replicas of a Hurricane and Spitfire in Jackson Park. In nearby Coventry Gardens, you’ll find the Peace Fountain, the only international floating fountain in Canada. Keep an eye on it — the fountain is programmed to put on a show with lights and water patterns.
Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, Niagara Falls, Ontario
Once you’ve seen the falls, head north for a little romance. In addition to formal gardens, this attraction is famous for its rose garden of over 2400 blooms. The gardens also feature an Aviary housing peacocks, pheasants and geese, and nearby there is a Butterfly Conservatory and Heritage Gardens. Best of all, admission to many of the garden areas is free. If you want to splurge on your sweetheart, take an old-fashioned horse and carriage tour of the garden and nearby parks.
Royal Botanical Gardens, Burlington/Hamilton, Ontario
This living museum has a little something for everyone, including over 30 km of trails, natural sanctuaries, floral displays and collections as well as educational gardens. While many of the gardens focus on particular types of plants, some focus on uses and experiences instead — like the Scented Garden and the Medicinal Garden. In addition, the fishing enthusiasts in the family will want to stop at the Fishway for a look at the local swimmers as they are caught, weighed and released as part of a the local conservation project.
Get the images of skyscrapers out of your mind! Toronto is a top destination for some flower power. In addition to gardens surrounding the CN Tower and the many parks and green spaces throughout the city, these featured gardens offer a little something extra. Casa Loma is a historic landmark in its own right — and what better way to complete a visit than with a tour of the castle’s gardens?
And while there aren’t many free activities to do in Toronto, a visit to the city’s botanical garden is one you won’t want to miss. During special events like Doors Open, expert gardeners are even on hand to answer your questions and offer advice. If you happen to live in the area you can take advantage of onsite classes in art and photography, or get fit with some yoga.
Mackenzie King Estate, Ottawa, Ontario
Located in Gatineau Park, this picturesque estate of over 230 hectares reflects the love of architecture and landscaping of its former owner, William Lyon Mackenzie King. The historic grounds include three summer cottages, gardens and the ruins that King built on the grounds. Watch for special events like the Estate in Bloom each July and the annual garden party around mid-August — and don’t forget the Canada Day festivities too!
Looking for more? Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm made its debut on the list in 2011.
Montréal Botanical Garden, Montréal, Quebec
It’s known as one of the world’s largest and most spectacular botanical gardens thanks to its 22,000 species of plants and cultivars, 10 exhibition greenhouses and 30 thematic gardens. Visit traditional Japanese and Chinese gardens, and see what a traditional Monastery Garden would look like. Relax by one of the ponds, or tour the Treehouse to learn more about trees and forests. You can even learn more about the practical side of plants in the Economic Plant Garden — which features edible plants and those used in making clothe. If you’re in town for a few days, look for discounted ticket packages to the gardens and other popular attractions.
Roger-Van den Hende Botanical Garden, Québec City
More than 4000 species of plants and cultivars adorn this six-hectare educational garden at Université Laval. Take a stroll through the gardens to see plants native to Québec as well as many imports from around the world, including Asia, Europe and the Americas. For a peek at something out of the ordinary, there are even rare or rarely seen plants among the collections too. The facility is open from the beginning of May through to the end of October, and admission is free.
Reford Gardens, Grand-Métis, Québec
This year marks the 11th anniversary of the International Garden Festival at the Reford Gardens (also known as Les Jardins de Métis ). The festival brings together designers from around the world who create unique experiences — like suspended gardens and a giant pyramid of hay. There will be lots to see and do this summer and fall in addition to visiting the many gardens like the Blue Poppy Glade and the Stream Garden. Complete your visit with a gourmet meal at the Esteven Lodge — a historic house turned museum and gallery.
Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick
Pair the beauty and relaxation of a seaside town with a tour of one of Canada’s most notable gardens. The gardens are a mixture of formal, cultural and even playful elements. For instance, there’s a one-third scale Dutch Windmill and a Knot Garden which features Celtic knots made up of foliage. There’s even a Children’s Fantasy Garden for some playtime, complete with a climbing wall and miniature castle. Organic and container gardening areas inspire and educate visitors too. The site is fully accessible, and even hosts a Scents & Sensitivity Garden for people who are visually impaired.
Halifax Public Gardens, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Take a trip back in time to the Victorian era in the heart of downtown Halifax. Officially opened in 1857, the public gardens are a rare example of a surviving Victorian formal garden that remains true to its character and history. In addition to a traditional choice of flowers, other features of garden include neo-classical statues of goddesses and nymphs, ornate wrought-iron gates and a colourful bandstand. While perhaps not a destination in itself, the park would be a welcome addition to any tour of Halifax.
Another newcomer to the list in 2011 was the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens, a 17 acre site featuring highlights like the Rose Collection — which includes more than 230 cultivars.
Of course, this list is just a small sampling of the many gardens and natural attractions in Canada. For a full list of communities along the garden route, see the VIA Rail website . For more information about Communities and Bloom — and to see what other communities received prestigious 5-Bloom Awards — visit Communitiesinbloom.ca.
When you go…
– Visit the garden’s website for information about what’s in bloom and learn about any rules or etiquette you should know. For instance, some parks don’t permit walking on the grass, and sites with rare and delicate collections may not be suitable for children.
– Check out special events. Watch for festivals, children’s activities, special tours, Mother’s Day events and educational courses or seminars. You might also want to consider extending your stay into the evening to see light shows or live entertainment.
– Be prepared to find your own transportation. Many of the gardens aren’t within walking distance of the train station, but public transit may be available instead of renting a car or taxi.
– If you’re looking to prune your budget, stick to public gardens and parks and facilities located on university campuses. Many of the larger and more spectacular gardens have fees ranging from $8.00 to $18.00, but there often discounts for families, children and older adults.
– Comparison shop for fares. VIA offers a variety of discounts and promotions so it may take a little research to get the best deal. ( For more information, see How to get a deal on a train ticket). VIA also offers package getaways to Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City.