Every gardener should visit these best botanical gardens in Canada to be inspired and to learn how to grow beautiful plants in one of the harshest climates on earth. You’ll be challenge to work your own piece of ground with more passion after seeing Canada’s best botanical gardens.
Gardeners like to look at other people’s gardens. And of course, they should. But the best gardens to peruse are botanical gardens because they are created by professional botanists, landscape designers, and arborists to demonstrate what a beautiful and productive garden can be, using the constraints of climate, minimum annual temperatures, and soil conditions.
Botanical garden visits offer many benefits to gardeners. When you travel try to see as many botanical gardens as possible. Here’s are the best botanical gardens Canada has to offer, listed from West to East and by province. To be included in this list a garden has to receive recognition from the government of Canada or have won awards from professional botanical garden associations.
Prepare for your trip to a botanical garden by packing light. Check out the website of each of Canada’s best botanical gardens and confirm the hours of operation, the admission charge, and if there are any closures due to weather or special events before you leave home.
Once you’ve done your homework, enjoy these special botanical gardens in Canada, many created almost 100 years ago and even better today.
The west coast of Canada has some of the mildest temperatures in the country. Many of the areas around Vancouver and southern Vancouver Island are a zone 8 with some pockets of zone 9. This allows for year round activities in the botanical gardens. While many botanical gardens in Canada shut down in the winter months, some of BC’s botanical gardens simply transition into winter color and festivities.
Created from a limestone quarry in 1904 by Robert and Jennie Butchart, the garden is a National Historic Site, located 14 miles north of Victoria. The award winning, 55 acre garden has floral displays, special fireworks in summer, and entertainment. The gardens include several themed areas including a rose garden, an Italian garden, a Japanese garden, a sunken garden, and a Mediterranean garden.
The garden includes over 900 bedding plants, 26 greenhouses, and has 50 full time gardeners and 20 seasonal gardeners. Allow 2 to 4 hours to see it all. There are several food venues on the grounds including a picnic area, gelato, and popcorn during the summer, and formal dining year round. Purchasing a picnic basket requires a reservation. Afternoon tea is served in the Dining Room, April through September until 4 pm. Reservations recommended.
The gardens are family friendly and have amenities that include family washrooms, a carousel ride, and wide paths for exploring the gardens.
The garden is open year round but hours vary depending on the season. Check the website for your expected visiting time. Parking is free. Admission varies with the season.
Queen Elizabeth Park and Bloedel Conservatory
As a child, I spent many Sunday afternoons exploring Queen Elizabeth park alone. I watched the Bloedel Conservatory being built in 1968-69, and walked through the grounds of the former rock quarry. QE park is a free public park at 4600 Cambie St. in Vancouver. The Bloedel conservatory is an indoor exotic plant conservatory that includes over 100 tropical birds that are free flying within the domed structure. There are three separate climate zones within the dome: desert, tropical, and subtropical, with over 500 varieties of plants from around the world.
The domed structure is a unique architectural feat that includes 1,400 individual panels with unique sizes, within an aluminum framework. The first large triodetic dome conservatory in Canada, it sits at the high point of the city of Vancouver.
The Conservatory dome structure consists of 2,324 pieces of 5-inch diameter extruded aluminum tubing and 1,490 plexiglass bubbles set in aluminum glazing. It measures 140 feet in diameter, 70 feet high and covers 16,386 square feet (nearly ¼ acre) of display area. Source.
The conservatory is open year round except Christmas day. Admission is $6.50 for adults. Children under 3 are free. There is limited free parking along the edges of the park. Pay parking lots are located near the center of the park by Bloedel Conservatory.
Van Dusen Botanical
As a child I used to hunt for golf balls on the site of today’s Van Dusen gardens and sell them back to the golfers at the golf course for 25 cent each, 5 for $1.
In the 1970s, a group of garden enthusiasts, with contributions from the City, the Province, and wealthy patrons, purchased the land and designated it a botanical garden. Van Dusen is another botanical garden in the heart of Vancouver at 5251 Oak Street. Located on 55 acres, just a short drive from Queen Elizabeth Park, it boasts over 7,500 plant varieties from around the world. The garden has an Elizabethan hedge maze, a medicine wheel, a rock garden, a rose garden, several themed gardens, and wildlife. Download the map of the gardens here to see all this public garden has to offer.
The area around Edmonton, Alberta is a zone 3 with winter temperatures diving down to -40C/F. Add to this the occassional chinook that drives the temperature up to the melting point, only to drop again overnight. This offers a unique challenge for perennials and trees. Only a few hardy fruits and perennials can survive the harsh climate. But when the climate is tough, it’s even more important to view botanical gardens to learn the plant varieties and the techniques that allow gardens to thrive in this environment.
University of Alberta Botanic Garden
This is the hardiest botanical garden on our list of best Canadian botanical gardens. Located just 15 minutes driving, southwest of Edmonton, this 240 acre garden, located on the University of Alberta campus, showcases plants that are well suited to areas with a cold northern climate. The garden includes the Kurimoto Japanese Garden, a tropical greenhouse with exotic butterflies, temperate and arid greenhouses, alpine, herb, rose, peony, lilac, lily, and primula collections, an indigenous garden, trial beds, and much more. The garden is part of the agricultural sciences department of the University Alberta, and supports their research and teaching.
A new 12 acre Aga Khan garden opened in 2018 with more than 25,000 trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and wetland plants. It features secluded forest paths, granite and limestone terraces, still reflection pools, waterfalls and streams, along with a fruit orchard. The botanic garden offers a variety of adult education classes in botany,
Open to the public only from May 1st to Thanksgiving weekend in October. (Note in 2019 the garden closes to the public on September 3rd, Labor Day, due to construction. Admission for adults under 65 years during the peak of bloom, is $18. Parking is free. There is no public transportation to the facility.
The garden holds an annual plant sale on Mother’s Day weekend.
The area of Ontario around lake Ontario and south to Niagara falls is one of the warmer areas of Canada, boasting a USDA growing zone of 5 to 7, similar to BC’s Okanagan valley. It is one of the best wine growing areas in Canada, with a climate modulated by the lake. The area has several gardens including a lavender farm, 2 award winning botanical gardens, and many wineries and orchards.
Royal Botanical Gardens
Designated a National Historic Site in 1993, the Royal Botanical Gardens reflects
a 20th-century approach to botanical gardens, and consisting of a series of discrete gardens set within the network of the parkway; its horticultural collections; the classification and labelling of collections; the Rock Garden, including its winding paths, steps, ledges, crevices, pools, flower beds and living collections. Source
The garden contains 5 cultivated garden areas within a 2,700 acre nature reserve. The Centennial Rose Garden was established in 1967, as a tribute to Canada’s 100th birthday, and was recreated in 2018, with hardy shrub roses and companion planting to reflect a new standard of conservation. The gardens also include a medicine garden, an arboretum, a scented garden, a medieval garden, a rock garden, and 27 km of nature trails.
The botanical garden is located at 680 Plains Road West, in Burlington Ontario, at the western tip of Lake Ontario, about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Toronto, on the way to Niagara Falls. The garden is open year round except December 25, 26, and January 1st. Hours vary by the season. Admission is $18 for adults under 65. Parking is included in the cost of admission. Check their website for specifics.
Niagara Parks Botanical Garden (free)
Part of the Niagara Parks, the Niagara Parks Botanical garden is a free garden located at 2565 Niagara Parkway, Niagara Falls, just 10 minutes north of the fall on the Canadian side. The garden has 99 acres with a rose garden that boasts 2,400 roses. There are also herb and vegetable plantings, perennials, rhododendrons, azaleas, and a formal parterre garden. The gardens are the classroom for the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture.
Guided horse and carriage tours of the gardens are available daily during the summer months. Tours run from May to mid October from 10 am – 5 pm, $25 per person + tax
Montreal Botanical Garden
Located in USDA zone 5, the Montreal Botanic Garden is located on 190 acres, near Montreal’s Olympic Park. The Montreal Botanical Garden has approximately 20,000 plant species and cultivars under cultivation from all over the world, and maintains a herbarium consisting of nearly 100,000 reference specimens. The garden is composed of more than 30 theme gardens including: the Alpine Garden, a Chinese Garden, a Japanese Garden, a Rose Garden, a Flowery Brook and a First Nations Garden.
The garden was started during the Great Depression as a make work project in conjunction with the City of Montreal and Brother Marie-Victorin. It opened to the public in 1936 with a goal of education, conservation, and research. Today it is considered one of the most important Botanical Gardens in the world due to the size of its collection and its facilities, which includes ten exhibition greenhouses, an arboretum and an “H” shaped administrative pavilion conceived in the Beaux-Arts and Art Deco styles. It was designated a National Historic Site in 2007.
Located at 4101, Sherbrooke East, Montreal, Quebec, it is open daily in the summer months, closed only on Mondays during the off season, also closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Admission is $20.50 for adults under 65 years. The garden is included in the visitors Montreal Museum Pass which gives free access to 50 Montreal museums, including the garden, for a 3-day period (1 visit per museum). Parking is $12 per day, less for half days.
(Note: The Insectarium is closed until 2021 and the Biodome is closed until late summer 2019 due to construction. The outdoor gardens are open)
Designated a zone 5 by the USDA plant hardiness map, the sea has a modulating effect on the Kingsbrae Garden in St. Andrews
Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews
The award winning Kingsbrae garden is a 27 acre garden located at St. Andrews by the Sea. It consists of several themed gardens including a formal knot garden, a labyrinth, rose garden, waist high scent garden for accessibility, a children’s fantasy garden, and pollinator gardens. The garden maintains over 50,000 perennials. Pygmy goats, alpacas, and peacocks can be viewed along with plants here.
Kingsbrae Garden is home to several sculptures, an art studio, and hosts interactive art classes. There are two dining facilities at Kingsbrae, including a cafe and a fine dining restaurant by reservation only. Picnics can be ordered in advance and picked up at the gate when you enter the garden.
The garden is open May through August only. Admission is $16 for adults under 65.
Annapolis Royal is a historical re-enactment garden growing in USDA hardiness zone 5, with minimum temperatures averaging about -20F.
Annapolis Historic Gardens
Located at 441 St George St, Annapolis Royal, the Annapolis Historic Gardens is a 17 acre display garden. The historic gardens display gardening methods, designs and materials representing more than four hundred years of Canadian gardening history. Highlights include the largest rose collection in Eastern Canada, a reconstructed 1671 Acadian House with attached Acadian potagers garden reconstructed from diaries of Acadian settlers. The garden includes a governor’s garden that includes herbs, flowers and heritage 18th Century apple trees arranged according to the traditions of the 1710 to 1749 period, when Annapolis Royal was the capital of Nova Scotia, then under British rule.
The Victorian Garden contains over 3,000 vibrantly colorful annuals. The selection of exotic and heritage plants, set in elegant symmetry, reflect Victorian tastes and the wealth of Annapolis Royal during “the age of sail.” source
There is a cafe onsite where snacks and lunch can be purchased.
The gardens are open May 15 to Thanksgiving in October from 9am to dusk, 7 days a week. Admission is $14.50 for adults under 65.
Preparing for your visit to Canada’s botanical gardens
The hours of each botanical garden can vary from the times I’ve listed. Be sure to check the garden’s website to confirm each garden’s open hours. Garden’s will close if there is a wedding or special event booked. If you are unsure give them a phone call before your visit. The phone numbers will be listed on their respective websites.
Enjoy your visits to some of Canada’s best botanical gardens and let them inspire your own garden projects.
I’d love to hear about the botanical gardens you’ve visited. Leave a comment and let me know which ones you think I should add to my list of botanical gardens to visit.
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