It seems like every second day there’s something popping up on social media feeds announcing that today is the day/month/year of the [FILL IN THE BLANK HERE]. From National Lemon Meringue Pie Day to National Relaxation Day (yes, it’s a thing, and happened to occur on the day I am writing this article), there seems to be something to celebrate on every day of the year. But the downside to this plethora of nonsensical days is that it dilutes the celebrations that are more noteworthy. Take for example this year, 2022, that has legitimately been recognized as Canada’s official Year of the Garden.
Why a “Year of the Garden”?
The designation marking 2022 as Canada’s Year of the Garden was officially proclaimed by the Canadian Garden Council, to acknowledge and celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Ornamental Horticulture in Canada. The idea is also rooted (see what I did there?) in the idea that gardens and gardening play a vital role in improving our quality of life, our health and our communities. Some people find gardens therapeutic, some enjoy the opportunity to get closer to nature, and others are simply inspired by their beauty.
Personally, I’m not much of a gardener, and I didn’t even know we had a Canadian Garden Council, (but now I am asking myself if perhaps there is also a Lemon Merinque Council….) I do, however, appreciate beauty and whenever I have the opportunity to visit a beautiful garden during our travels, I take it. Luckily for us, Canada is no slouch when it comes to beautiful gardens.
Where to See the Best Gardens in Canada
Asking this question is like asking ‘how long is a piece of garden hose?’. You can find beautiful gardens anywhere, of course, but there are several that really stand out, so here’s a list of some of our favourites across the country that you may want to visit yourself as part of Canada’s Year of the Garden.
1. BRITISH COLUMBIA – Butchart Gardens, Victoria
I’m not being biased when I say that Butchart Gardens is not just one of Canada’s most beautiful gardens, but one of the world’s most beautiful as well. Plenty of other more critical, authoritative sources consistently place this garden in the top 10 gardens of the world. And no wonder: what was once an ugly, depleted limestone quarry was transformed into a stunning garden thanks to the vision of one woman, Jennie Butchart. But don’t take our, or even those others’ word for it: visit it for yourself and you’ll see why this really is Canada’s crown jewel of gardens.
2. Abkhazi Gardens, Victoria
Not nearly as well known as its famous Butchart neighbour, Abkhazi Gardens in downtown Victoria is a much more intimate garden but still well worth a visit for three reasons: one, it has a romantic history having been created by the exiled Georgian Prince Nicholas Abkhazi and his Shanghai-born wife Peggy when they settled in Victoria in 1946; two, it is home to some beautiful rock gardens and fragrant rhododendron bushes whose scent is absolutely intoxicating when they are in bloom; and three, you can enjoy one of Victoria’s famous afternoon teas here in the Royals’ modest home that now operates as a Tea House. Romance, rhodos and rooibos tea, all in one place!
3. NOVA SCOTIA – Halifax Public Gardens
On the opposite side of the country, you can find one of the finest surviving examples of a formal Victorian garden in North America, in the Halifax Public Gardens. These gardens were established in 1836 and were actually designated a National Historic Site in 1983. Its 16 acres of gardens include a beautifully-restored gazebo, small lake, fountains, a succulent garden and some of the biggest rhododendron bushes I’ve ever seen (although apparently these are nothing compared to North Carolina’s!) On a sunny day there’s no nicer place to go for a stroll in downtown Halifax.
QUEBEC – Jardins de Métis, Gaspé Peninsula
On the south shore of the St. Lawrence about 50 km east of Rimouski is one of the Gaspé Peninsula’s most well-known gardens, the Jardins de Métis, also known as Reford Gardens, after its founder Elsie Reford. The gardens are unusual because many of the plants here are quite rare (blue poppies for one), or are very difficult to cultivate at this northern latitude. Because of this, these gardens have their own claim to fame as the northernmost gardens in eastern North America.
But the other thing that makes the Jardins de Métis gardens worth a visit is that every year it hosts new exhibitions that are as much about art and sculpture as they are about horticulture. Some installations are interactive, some are thought-provoking, and some are just plain whimsical. Definitely worth stopping in if you are touring the Gaspésie.
4. MOSAÏCULTURES Québec City 2022
Mosaïcultures is a homegrown (there, I did it again!) Canadian horticultural art organization that was established in 1999. The ‘gardeners’ are actually horticultural artists who create giant three-dimensional living sculptures as part of themed exhibitions.
Since Mosaïcultures was founded, the organization has held 5 international competitions, 7 exhibitions and created more than 100 works of art in over 20 countries. The installations are absolutely stunning as you can see from these photos from their Montreal exhibition several years ago (more photos here). This year the exhibition is in Québec City until October 10, 2022, so if you have a chance to visit before then, by all means, go! You’ll be amazed and delighted.
5. ONTARIO – Ottawa Tulip Festival
There are many places to enjoy beautiful gardens in Ontario during this Year of the Garden, but our list begins with Ottawa, in particular during the city’s Canadian Tulip Festival in May.
If you visit the city during this time, you can expect to see over 300,000 tulips blooming in every imaginable colour, including specialty species grown and named purposefully for the festival. (I’m not sure who has more tulips, Butchart Gardens, or Ottawa, but let’s just say they both have LOTS.) This year the Tulip Festival celebrated its 70th Anniversary commemorating the Royal gift of tulips from the Dutch people to Canadians as a thank you for our role in liberating the Netherlands in World War II. We say dank je (thank you) to them as well for inspiring this annual festival of flowers!
6. NIAGARA FALLS
Not to be outdone by their eastern neighbour, the city of Niagara Falls puts on a pretty show in the spring as well, what with their own manicured tulip beds, border gardens and magnolia walkways in the parklands that run along the edge of the Falls.
Of course, they don’t go as big as Ottawa, but then again, they don’t want to steal the Falls’ thunder. What they do have, though, is a Botanical Garden that includes a Butterfly Conservatory which is actually the real star here. Inside its glass walls and climate controlled environment, you can explore nature in a different kind of indoor garden where the blooms play second fiddle to the colourful butterflies flitting around.
Close to the Butterfly Garden, there’s also Niagara Falls’ famous Floral Clock which has been a fixture here since 1950, and is still just as popular today with visitors as it was then.
Along that same riverside drive you’ll find the Centennial Lilac Garden, a huge stand of over 500 lilac trees (when they are this big, they aren’t shrubs in my books) that explode every spring in every shade of purple imaginable. If you’re a fan of purple, like I am, and you love the fragrance of lilacs, it doesn’t get much better than this.
If the Centennial Lilac Garden isn’t enough colour and scent for you, continue travelling along the Niagara Parkway north and you’ll encounter another place that is definitely a gardener’s feast for the eyes…
As pretty towns go, Niagara-on-the-Lake is about as photogenic as it gets, due in large part to the dozens and dozens of opulent flowering containers and boulevard plantings throughout their historic district. Every picturesque lamppost has a hanging basket or two, window boxes spill over with flowers on every sill or patio enclosure, and it seems every business has some kind of decorative urn or container at its entrance. There’s also Simcoe Park, the town’s downtown green space that adds to the scene with its colourful corner gardens and plantings.
Niagara-on-the-Lake really is a feast for the eyes if you love colour and flowers, but while you are admiring all those luscious displays, don’t forget to look around and appreciate the charming architecture and shops in this historic town, too. And did I mention the fudge?
TIP: If you are driving around the Niagara Peninsula in the spring, you’ll also be treated to a huge display of flowering fruit trees with acres and acres of soft pink and white blossoms creating fields of pastel colour.
Celebrate the Year of the Garden Wherever You Are in Canada
Canada’s Year of the Garden may not be as historically significant as, say, 1867, the year of our Confederation. But it is a reminder to take the time to appreciate everything we love about gardens, not just this year but every year. Whether it’s the heady scent of a flowering shrub, or the flash of brilliant colour on a iridescent butterfly wing, gardens just make life better.
(And even though gardens may not serve up a fully-baked lemon meringue pie, those lemons had to grow somewhere!)
GARDEN-FINDING TIP: This article only scratches the surface when it comes to listing some of Canada’s best gardens. You can always check out gardens all across the country with Canada’s Garden Route Map here. And if you think you’ve found a real winner, let us know in the comments why you love it and we’ll add it to this list!
Jane Canapini is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and the North American Travel Journalists Association. She established GrownupTravels.com in 2014 to share information and tips based on personal experience so her readers could get the most out of their travels.