Plus: Greenhouses, Garden Shows & Garden Tours
Great gardens in Ontario. Garden tourism is growing! Discover botanical gardens open to the public, heritage gardens, greenhouses, plus popular gardening events and tours in Ontario.
not a gardener, BUT I do love visiting gardens for the fresh air, cool breezes,
beautiful scenery, wonderful scents, the sound of birds, and some healthy but
relaxing exercise. To me, a day trip to a garden is like going to a
spa: fun, relaxing, and good for your physical and mental well-being. Here are
some gardens in Ontario that are open to the public.
Above: A quiet spot in the Royal Botanical Gardens near Hamilton.
Royal Botanical Gardens
The biggest and best-known garden in Ontario is the Royal Botanical Gardens, which straddles the border of Burlington and Hamilton. The gardens began partly as a make-work project during the Depression of the 1930s. They include spectacular flower beds, a large greenhouse, a rock garden with a tea room, a huge arboretum with the country’s largest lilac dell, and wild marshy paths that take you through a protected conservation area known as Cootes Paradise (popular with birders). For pictures and more information, see my article about the Royal Botanical Gardens.
More Hamilton Heritage Gardens
The Royal Botanical Gardens aren’t the only public gardens in Hamilton. Although they’re much smaller, these have their own charm as well: the historic gardens at Dundurn Castle, Whitehern House and Garden, and Gage Park in the east end of Hamilton with its greenhouse with its flashy annual Mum Show. The Mum show is a real showcase of garden design and features an amazing variety of chrysanthemums:
Niagara Falls Ontario Gardens
Some of the most frequently-visited gardens in Ontario are found in Niagara Falls. The Niagara Falls Parks Commission maintains acres of parks and gardens all around the famous Falls. These include the Queen Victoria Park (facing the Falls), the Floral Clock, and The Floral Showcase greenhouse. The Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens with its school for gardeners is a must-see for gardening fans. The Butterfly Conservatory is worth visiting for its tropical plants as well. Bird Kingdom, also in the Falls, is a commercially-operated mini-rainforest under glass, full of botanical delights as well as exotic birds from many lands.
Above: Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens.
Gardens in Ottawa & nearby
Ottawa, Canada’s capital, boasts several gardens: Central Experimental Farm, Commissioners Park, and Rideau Hall’s gardens.
Maplelawn Historic Gardens was designated a national historic site mainly because of its one-acre walled gardens which are considered “the best preserved of the few known surviving examples of early 19th century walled gardens in Canada”. The house is now a restaurant but the grounds are a park run by volunteers and open to the public for free (although they do accept donations to help with maintenance costs).
Near Ottawa, in Gatineau Park, just across the border in Quebec, you’ll find a fabulous and famous garden, The Mackenzie King Estate. This is the former summer home of Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King. On the grounds you’ll also discover several “ruins” of buildings that King brought to the property to decorate his garden. While you’re there, you can also tour the property’s buildings and dine at the Moorside Tearoom.
Oshawa’s Parkwood Estate in Oshawa is one of the most stunning house gardens in Ontario (certainly one of my favourites). Formerly the private domain of the founder of General Motors Canada, the garden is now open to the public. You can tour the grounds for free, but there’s a fee to visit the mansion (well worth it!). We had lunch outside in the pavilion facing the fountain. They also serve afternoon tea.
Above: Parkwood Estate Garden fountain.
Way up in northern Toronto at 777 Lawrence Avenue East you’ll find two gardens: Toronto Botanical Gardens & Edward Gardens. Access to both is free. During the summer they offer garden tours lasting 90 minutes but check their web site or call ahead to find out when they’re on, as they’re not that frequent. The garden also offers courses, classes, seminars, camps, lectures, and workshops throughout the year as well as concerts during the summer, an organic farmers market, and a cafe with an outdoor patio.
Interested in heritage gardens in Ontario? They’re an increasingly popular type of garden these days. If you’re planning to plant heritage flowers in your own space, and want inspiration, check out the historic gardens at Spadina House and Casa Loma.
Guildwood Park out in Scarborough has some lovely flower beds surrounding its curious collection of ruins. Also in Scarborough is the Rosetta McClain Gardens with its pretty rose garden, ornamental shrubs and scented gardens and Braille maps.
The Toronto Music Garden at 475 Queen's Quay West on the waterfront, in addition to being a lovely (and rare) place to relax along Toronto’s over-built shoreline, hosts outdoor concerts during the summer.
Windsor Riverfront Gardens
In Windsor you can explore 6 kilometers of parkland and 8 parks and gardens lining the Detroit River with a view of the Detroit skyline. Among the surprises are contemporary sculptures located in the Odette Sculpture Park (look for the penguins on the rocks) and The Peace Fountain, the largest “floating fountain” in North America, which is lit at night and used as the backdrop for fireworks and concerts. (Note to nature lovers and birders especially: in Windsor, you’re only an hour’s drive from Point Pelee National Park.)
University of Guelph Gardens
The University of Guelph Arboretum has 5 themed gardens, including an English Garden, a Japanese Garden and a wildlife garden. Although it’s part of the university, the public is welcome to explore.
Gardens is one of the newest gardens in Ontario. It's a unique garden centre (selling plants and equipment) that has several
gorgeous gardens open to the public
(admission fee applies). On weekends during the summer (weather permitting)
they put on 10 minute musical fountain concerts. They also offer workshops and
even “massages in the garden”. In 2013 they won the New Garden Experience of
the Year Award. You’ll find them in Wilsonville near Brantford Ontario.
Above: Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens
Garden Tours & Garden Festivals
Cities and towns all across Ontario host annual garden tours. For a fee (usually between $10 and $40), you can purchase a passport that will get you into the private gardens of various homeowners in a city. These are generally fundraisers for different cultural organizations, such as the Toronto Botanical Gardens’ Rosedale Garden Tour or the Grand Durand Garden Tour in Hamilton. For a list of upcoming garden tours, check the events page on the www.canadiangardening.com site.
Garden festivals in Ontario usually feature a variety of different events. These include:
“Garden tourism” is on the rise in Ontario and local tourism agencies are starting to see it as a way of attracting visitors. The Ontario Garden Tourism Coalition has a handy site that is province-wide to help you plot your journey down the garden path: http://www.ontariogardentourism.ca.