A new era of “garden tourism” is upon us. This is an exciting time in our history to explore recently opened, public attractions with a botanical theme.
Canada’s great public gardens are diverse and offer a new emphasis on native plant species, biodiversity and sustainability. As you tour around the country this summer, here are some of the newer horticultural attractions that are worth checking out.
Whistling Gardens bills itself as “Canada’s newest botanical garden” and has the claim to fame of “North America’s largest peony collection,” with just over 1,000 varieties in addition to a rock/alpine garden, a marsh garden and an aviary or bee colony (among other attractions). Located just outside Brantford, Ont.
Quinte Botanical Gardens might challenge Whistling Garden’s claim as the newest public garden, having opened only last year. It features a bee, bird and butterfly garden, in addition to “the world’s largest colour wheel garden.” Located just north of Trenton in Frankford, Ont.
Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens opened at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia in 2002 after nearly three years of construction. There are six acres divided into nine habitats specific to the Acadian Forest Region, as well as the walled garden, experimental garden, medicinal and food garden and the conservatory. It is impossible not to appreciate the Georgian-style construction, which is so well executed you could fool us into thinking it was brought over brick by brick from a royal English estate.
MosaiCanada was a Canada 150 project so successful they brought it back for another year. Built by Mosaïculture Internationales de Montréal, 10 new features have been added to the 35 dramatic sculptures and scenes of plant material that illustrate places and chapters from Canada’s history. An innovative piece of national pride, and worth the $20 admission – even if last year was free. Located in Gatineau, Que. just across the bridge from Ottawa.
While you are visiting Gatineau, why not visit Ottawa and check out the Canadian Museum of Nature. Outside, you will find the brand-new Landscapes of Canada Gardens, which features landscape designs inspired by the Boreal Forest, the Arctic tundra, prairie grasslands and even a re-creation of the Mammoth Steppe - an Ice Age ecosystem traced to the Yukon. Inside, real plant nerds can find the National Herbarium of Canada, where the plant collections of the Geological and Natural History Survey of Canada have been housed since 1882.
Fryfogel Tavern & Arboretum is a worthwhile stop in Stratford, Ontario. Built in 1844, the tavern thought to be the oldest building in Perth County is now owned by Stratford Perth Heritage Foundation. In 2012, a community effort was initiated to establish the arboretum –a garden of native plants and trees which reflect the pre-settlement species that would have once occupied the site. Located east of Shakespeare, Ontario. (https://www.facebook.com/FryfogelArboretum/)
The Botanical Gardens of Silver Springs is a 100% volunteer-run botanical garden in Calgary which has operated as a registered charity since 2006. Thanks to the 33 volunteers, who last year alone committed 6,000 hours of time, the garden is free to visit and there is an extensive list of attractions to enjoy. Some of the highlights include the Wall Garden, Alpine Crevice and Native Plant Garden, western Canada’s only Shakespeare Garden (sorry Stratford!) and the largest outdoor labyrinth in all of Canada – something the kids will love.
When Ben’s grandpa was in the show garden business with Cullen Gardens and Miniature Village in Whitby, Ont. he would often lament that he worked so hard at building a world-class garden, and yet visitors often only had eyes for the miniatures. If you’ve read this far, and you have no interest in gardens at all, consider this: a selection of miniatures from our family’s Cullen Gardens are now on display at the Niagara Parks Floral Showcase – entertaining gardeners and non-gardeners alike.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and holds the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.