As the snow melts and spring erupts in a festival of fragrant blossoms, Canada’s flourishing public gardens are a magnet for nature-loving visitors. From grand botanical gardens to exotic arboretums, there are hundreds of gardens to explore, as diverse and colourful as the country itself.
From east to west, here’s just a few unmissable public gardens.
Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens, Nova Scotia
The Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens at Acadia University is well worth the 90-kilometre drive from Halifax. We’re talking six enchanting acres of flora and fauna that reflect the ecosystem of the Acadian Forest region, with its deciduous woodlands filled with majestic red oaks towering 70 feet above the ground.
Make sure you check out the Medicinal and Food Garden, filled with plants that were used by the local Indigenous peoples and early European settlers, and the Conservatory that features native plants all year round. This means you can experience the Acadian Forest even when the province is covered in snow.
Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden
Calling all plant nerds! Meander the 3.5 kilometres of nature trails and soak up the serenity at the Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden just minutes from St John’s in Newfoundland and Labrador. This 100-acre oasis includes more than 10 cultivated gardens, a fairy-tale land of peaceful pathways, bridges, and magnificent flora local to the area and harking from further afield.
You’ll love the quaint Garden Café, serving gourmet sandwiches, home-made quiche, desserts, and eco-friendly packed lunches to take with you as you stroll the magical gardens.
Kingsbrae Garden, New Brunswick
This colourful masterpiece is an ideal pit stop for visitors to picturesque St. Andrews by-the-Sea in the maritime province of New Brunswick. This is a town that knows a thing or two about gardening and its horticultural heritage is in full bloom at Kingsbrae. Stroll around more than 50,000 perennials in themed gardens, past eye-popping sculptures, through old-growth Acadian forests, and keep the camera ready to capture local birds and wildlife. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, treat yourself to mouth-watering cuisine made with locally-produced ingredients at the Garden Café.
Rideau Hall, Ottawa
Find shade under one of 10,000 trees on the grounds of Rideau Hall in downtown Ottawa, home to the Governor General of Canada. The 79-acres of heritage gardens and landscaped grounds are festooned with perennial flower beds, rose gardens, lush green lawns, and wooded hideaways. Look closely and you’ll see little plaques attached to many of the trees proclaiming which visiting VIP planted it. There are trees planted by John F. Kennedy, Princess Diana, and Nelson Mandela, to name a few.
While you’re there, check out the residence’s state rooms where the Governor General welcomes dignitaries and presents Canada’s highest honours to worthy recipients.
Mackenzie King Estate, Gatineau
Nestled in Gatineau Park, Quebec, this is one public garden that will set your imagination on fire. Wander through the charming cottages and historic ruins that hark back to the 1940s when Canada’s 10th Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, called this place home. Along with acres of magnificent manicured gardens, you’ll also discover historical exhibits in the museum at Mackenzie King Estate and endless trails to explore on foot.
Roger-Van den Hende Botanical Garden, Quebec
Doubling as an educational laboratory for the University of Laval, this stunning public garden is like a living, breathing, mind-blowing encyclopedia of native and ornamental plants from Europe, the Americas, and Asia. Every one of the 4000 species are arranged by botanical family, a practice rarely seen in modern-day botanical gardens. Plant enthusiasts will love the herbacetum featuring displays of diverse blooms that share a common family, and even amateurs will get a kick out of the modern sculptures, water garden, and rose garden.
Toronto Botanical Garden
It’s hard to believe Canada’s most highly-populated city could house an urban sanctuary of this size. Explore four acres of flourishing, diverse gardens at the Toronto Botanical Garden and make the most of the kids’ programs designed to educate little ones about nature and conservation. Follow the prehistoric reptile tracks to the Dinosaur Garden, filled with plants that were on the menu for dinosaurs eons ago, and check out the Alphabet and Sensory Gardens designed to help children learn through interaction with nature.
Visitors of all ages will love the intoxicating Kitchen & Herb Garden full of aromatic elixirs that feed the body and soul. The Beryl Ivey Knot Garden is ridiculously photogenic, with its artistic evergreen hedges pruned and shaped into abstract geometric patterns.
Assiniboine Park Conservatory, Winnipeg
With its fascinating climate-controlled indoor tropical gardens, outdoor zones, and one of the best zoos in Canada, you could easily spend an entire day at the Assiniboine Park Conservatory in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Roam the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden with its flourishing flowers and glittering ponds, renowned as a significant cultural landmark in Canada. Stroll the winding paths through the English Garden and breathe in the dizzying fragrance of the Formal Gardens with their orderly arrangements of eye-popping flora. Make sure you leave time to visit the Assiniboine Park Zoo, boasting the world’s best Arctic species exhibit, including polar bears, arctic foxes, snowy owl, and muskox.
The University of Alberta Botanic Garden
Framed by rolling hills, the University of Alberta Botanic Gardens in Edmonton has everything from ecological preserves and greenhouses, to aromati herbal gardens and butterfly havens. The most northerly botanical garden in Canada erupts with colour, particularly in the magnificent Patrick Seymour Alpine Garden, adorned with alpine trees and vivid rhododendrons. Visit the greenhouses, home to a gaudy explosion of butterflies, succulents and orchids, and don’t miss the Garden’s newest addition, the 4.8-hectare Aga Khan Garden, an extraordinary contemporary interpretation of Islamic landscape architecture in a northern climate. This visually-stunning experience includes secluded forest paths, granite and limestone terraces, tumbling waterfalls, fruit orchards, and more than 25,000 trees, perennials, and wetland plants.
VanDusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver
Who doesn’t love a garden maze? The VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, British Columbia, features an Elizabethan Maze of epic proportions. Weave your way through the 3000 pyramidal cedars or, if the thought terrifies you, take a bird’s-eye view from above at the observation terrace. The oriental Stone Garden is well worth a look, with its vertical outcroppings of rock symbolizing islands a dry lake, and the garden sculptures scattered throughout are so naturally placed they seem to spring from the earth itself. VanDusen’s visitor centre is a carbon-neutral building and a perfect example of sustainable living, with its power and water generated by the building itself, through solar panels and other eco-friendly strategies.