My Canada, 111/150: Our bevy of gardens

The most heaven-like place in Canada I have ever been is the Lilac Dell at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario.

Officially known as the Katie Osborne Lilac Collection, there are nearly 800 trees and shrubs of varying sizes and ages planted amid a gently-rolling landscape. The scent is captured in the shallow valleys is exquisite. The colours — white, pink, multiple shades of lilac and mauve and deep purple — pop against the verdant fresh spring grass.The first time I visited, it was a gently warm spring day, the sky was blue, and I never wanted to leave that blissful place.

Canada’s groomed landscapes and gardens do not have the age of their European or Asian counterparts, although many of Canada’s great gardens are influenced by both forms. The following gardens are my favourites of those I’ve visited in the country. What others would you add?

Butchart Gardens, Vancouver Island

111 Victoria-Buchart gardens 2
Butchart Gardens began as a beautification project for an exhausted limestone quarry in 1904. Jennie Butchart, wife to the quarry owner, created the dramatic Sunken Garden after getting masses of soils added to the landscape, and then added many other distinct gardens surrounding it; successive generations of the family have managed and enhanced the gardens, which has been declared a National Historic Site. Photo: John Lederman

Eldon House Gardens, London, Ontario

111 Eldon House
Eldon House, built in 1834, is the oldest home of significance in London, Ontario and is now a museum, restored to the time of the Harris Family from 1890 to the 1920s. In the 1980s, the gardens surrounding the home were authentically recreated to the time period using family photos, historical seed catalogues, and news reports.  Several distinct gardens surround the home, including the rock garden and its imitation-inviting foundation.  Photo: Chris Moorehead

Allan Gardens Conservatory, Toronto, Ontario

111 Allen Gardens
A sight for sore winter eyes, this open-year-round conservatory is the centrepiece of a downtown Toronto park that is a magnet for the homeless and marginalized, as well as visitors and area residents. Its historic, cast-iron and glass domed “Palm House” was built in 1910 and is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act; the Palm House is surrounded by six greenhouses where you’ll find a permanent collection of exotic plants and changing seasonal flower shows.  Photo: Kelley Teahen

Montreal Botanical Gardens, Quebec

111 Chinese Lanterns Montreal
The Montreal Botanical Gardens are an immense, diverse collection of gardens spread over 75 hectares, with “22,000 plant species and cultivars, 10 exhibition greenhouses, the Frédéric Back Tree Pavilion, and more than 20 thematic gardens.” Of particular interest are the First Nations Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Chinese Garden where, each fall, there’s a spectacular Lantern Festival.  And there’s also the Insectarium, which is what it sounds like: an exhibition space devoted to insects. A bit freaky, but fun and educational. Photo: John Lederman

Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens, Nova Scotia

111 Annapolis Garden
This place looks ancient, but it’s not. Opened in 1981, these 17 acres of gardens are in historic Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, the first permanent European settlement in North America (1605). The gardens represent the history of the land, from Mi’kmaq pine forest, a (French) Acadian homestead and garden, an 18th-century-inspired British Governor’s Garden, a 19th-century-inspired Victorian garden, and an “innovative garden” demonstrating modern and sustainable urban gardening techniques. Photo: John Lederman

Main photo: John Lederman, The Lilac Dell, Royal Botanical Gardens, Burlington, Ontario


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Pat loved the RBG Lilac Dell and Lilacs. Twice on May 18th I heard Pat call my name when no-one was around. Both times I was near a lilac bush. I think she wanted me to stop and smell the lilacs and to bring some to her grave. I did the very next day. One of our backyard bushes has a lot. But the classic we brought from Toronto has none. Pat always preferred the smell of the classic. The streets around our home are full of the smell of lilacs. She knew where every bush was and this time of year she visited each of them to smell them up close. If there are lilacs in Heaven you can bet Pat will find and visit them.


  2. Carl, Julie says:

    This is lovely. I’ve always wanted to see the lilacs.


    Julie Carl
    Senior Editor
    National/ Urban Affairs & Social Justice
    Toronto Star

    Sent from my iPhone, iMine, all iMine


    1. They are just coming into full bloom: get thee to Burlington! You can follow what’s blooming when here:


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