It’s our birthday. Our country is 150 years old. What are you doing to celebrate? If travel is in your future and you are wondering where to go, I have a suggestion: Canada’s great gardens.
Staying in Canada has its advantages: no need to change money, no long lineups to talk to customs officials or risk that they will turn you away and no limit on the amount of stuff that you can buy and bring home. Finally, there are some fabulous public gardens in Canada that even I haven’t seen.
The Butchart Gardens
Let’s start with the grand daddy of them all. Suffice to say that more people visit The Butchart Gardens, near Victoria B.C. than all public gardens that require paid admission combined. But I don’t know that for sure.
What I do know for sure is that this is the most spectacular Canadian garden that you can imagine. I went there for the first time by car when I was 15. My older brother Peter drove me. All I had to do was feed him and pitch the tent each night. I haven’t found a travel-deal quite that good since.
Butchart hasn’t changed much since I saw it over 40 years ago. Then again, it has. I was there, most recently, two years ago and I couldn’t help but notice that the place looks like new.
Management are meticulous in their maintenance of the place. There are many concerts, night illuminations, Saturday night fireworks, a new (2009) Rose Carousel and Children’s garden.
Above all, there is an amazing garden that will take you a day to explore thoroughly.
Admission is about $33 for adults. It is a bargain. When I travel to Britain, to visit gardens, this is a very low fee, indeed.
I paid over $100 Canadian to go to the Chelsea Flower Show last month.
Tofino Botanical Gardens
While you are on Vancouver Island, why not drive up the east coast and head west about half way up to visit an extraordinary garden in Tofino. Selected by Jane Perrone, the gardening editor for the UK’s Guardian Newspaper, as one of the best public gardens in the world. Keep in mind, the Brits might have invented ‘garden tourism’ so this endorsement means a lot.
This garden features 12 acres of shoreline, gardens, forest and ongoing activities.
Take your time here and be mindful that his valuable property is part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve: the Clayoquot Sound. http://www.tbgf.org/.
Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens
When celebrating Canadian history this public garden should top your list. While it is not exactly right next door to The Butchart Gardens (Annapolis is in Nova Scotia) I can recommend it very highly. Bring the family and anyone you like who shares an interest in Canadian history.
This garden reflects life during a time that we have almost forgotten about: the early to mid 1600’s. The design and layout walks you through a rich, historic tale of life as an Acadian in one of the first European settlements in North America.
In addition to the history celebrated, there is a rose, evergreen, azalea and winter garden. Kids are catered to in a big way with special activities throughout. Look for ‘Workshops for Kidz’ on their website. Admission is only $14.50 for adults. For details go to http://www.historicgardens.com.
Halifax Public Gardens
This is the finest example of a Victorian style garden in North America. Created in 1867, it has a rich history that pre dates Confederation. The trees alone are worth seeing. Bring a book or a lunch and plan on relaxing in this amazing public space. 14 acres featuring meandering paths, a gazebo for public performances (of which there are many), giant rhododendrons, amazing water foul and a great place to people watch in the centre of the city. Free admission. Though, they close during winter for reasons that escape me. http://www.halifaxpublicgardens.ca/.
Montreal Botanical Garden
You will need a day to do this one. A treasure that is not at all well known outside of Quebec. The Montreal Botanical features extensive greenhouses (with a tropical rain forest), an orchid and Aroid collection, bonsai, a fern collection, lots of educational and fun activities for kids and one darn good walk. Plan to visit the library, a decent restaurant and a special exhibit called ‘Space For Life’ in the Biodome: a participatory movement and exploration of the planets biodiversity through science, you have to see it. At 190 acres it is a darn good walk too. http://www.espacepourlavie.ca. Adult admission $20.50.
In Ontario, there are many great gardens worthy of your time and sometimes a small entrance fee. In the City of Toronto, there is High Park (http://www.highparktoronto.com/), Allan Gardens (http://www1.toronto.ca/parks/prd/facilities/complex/41/), and of course the Toronto Botanical Garden that just gets better every year. http://torontobotanicalgarden.ca/.
Of course there is only one ROYAL Botanical Gardens in North America, in Burlington/Hamilton, with almost 2,000 acres of formal gardens (including the new $18 million Rock Garden), nature trails, Coots paradise, extensive greenhouses, a restaurant and more. http://www.rbg.ca/.
Happy horticultural birthday, Canada!
Mark Cullen is lawn and garden expert for Home Hardware, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new bestseller, “The New Canadian Garden,” published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook.