Heritage in Bloom – A spring tour of Canada’s historic gardens

Spring has finally arrived, and spirit-lifting flowers are back in bloom in most Canadian communities. It is a great time to learn about Canada’s diversity of historic gardens, and to revel in their timeless beauty.


Please be aware that this article was written in May 2020 amidst the Covid pandemic. During that period, not all gardens and their respective venues were accessible to the public. However, as of spring 2024, all these gardens have resumed operations and are once again inviting visitors.

The Butchart Gardens – Brentwood Bay, BC

One of the Victoria region’s premier attractions, the Butchart Gardens is a world-famous cultural landscape that retains much of its original design and continues the Victorian tradition of seasonally changing dramatic floral displays. The Gardens started to take shape in 1904 when cement manufacturers Robert and Jennie Butchart began to reclaim a limestone quarry as a sunken garden. At the time of its completion in 1939, more than 50,000 people were visiting each year to see their creation, which includes Rose, Italian, and Japanese gardens.

The Gardens are currently open to the public, but also available for a virtual visit. Click here to access it.


Reader Rock Garden – Calgary, AB

Photo credit: Friends of Reader Rock Garden Society

Once a bare hillside, the Reader Rock Garden Historic Park is now one of Calgary’s most unique cultural landscapes. It was through the vision of William Roland Reader, Calgary Parks’ Superintendent from 1913 to 1942, that the area was transformed into the hillside beauty that it is today. With his passion for plants and gardening, Reader spent thirty years tending to the Reader Rock Garden, and used it to educate people about the potential of gardening in the prairie/foothills region of Alberta. The garden made it to be one of the few significant gardens in Western Canada with over 4000 species of plants.

City Parks remain open. Garden Café currently closed due to Covid19 but will reopen on Thursday, May 14 according to the new guidelines at our regular business hours. Please consult the website for more details.


Parkwood Estate National Historic Site – Oshawa, ON

Girl with Squirrel c. 1922 sculpture in the Pergola garden at Parkwood. Artist is Francis Loring.

Built by the founder of General Motors Canada, Samuel McLaughlin, the Parkwood Estate has a rich history. With its lush gardens and grand architecture, the Parkwood Estate National Historic Site is a popular wedding venue, and has welcomed many film productions including episodes of Murdoch Mysteries and X-Men movies.

The Tulip Festival – Ottawa, ON

Photo credit: Emma Leblond

Held every year in May, The Tulip Festival is the largest tulip festival in the world! This celebration is very prideful for those living in Ottawa as it has an important history surrounding it. In 1945, Ottawa received 100,000 tulip bulbs from the Dutch royal family as a gesture of gratitude for sheltering Queen Juliana and her family for three years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in the Second World War.

Today, around 300,000 tulips bloom each year in Ottawa’s Commissioner’s Park. While the Park is currently closed, you can experience daily videos on Tulip TV and other interactive activities at https://tulipfestival.ca/


Toronto Botanical Garden – Toronto, ON

Launched in 1958, the Toronto Botanical Garden (located within Edwards Gardens) boasts a collection of small gardens that reflect the scale of a typical urban setting, making it easy for visitors to find inspiration for their homes. While the Garden’s buildings (Raymond Moriyama designs opened in 1965), parking lot, and washrooms are temporarily closed – green spaces and ravines remain open, accessible on foot through sidewalk entrances.

Please consult the website for more details.


Mackenzie King Estate – Gatineau, QC

Photo credit: Edmond Kwong – Eddie’s Photo Journal

This estate was once the summer home of Canada’s 10th and longest-running Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. He spent 50 years expanding the property, beautifying it with gardens and architectural artifacts. When he passed away, he left the home to the Canadian people, so they could enjoy it as much as he had.

Today, the Mackenzie King Estate is a gorgeous tourist attraction known for its pretty gardens and picturesque collection of stone ruins. Visitors come from around Canada to enjoy the sights and the Moorside Tearoom, situated inside the house.

Gatineau Park will be accessible to users living in the Outaouais region who can access it on foot or by bike, starting Saturday, May 9, 2020. Recreational amenities such as day shelters and picnic areas, as well as parking lots, remain closed. Please consult the website for more details.


Les Jardins de Métis /Reford Gardens – Grand-Métis, QC

Photo credit: Louise Tanguay

Created between 1926 and 1958 by rare plant collector Elsie Reford, the Jardins de Metis National Historic Site features fifteen gardens with over 3,000 plant species. Where others had failed, Reford succeeded in transplanting and raising rare species, like azaleas and the famous Himalayan blue poppy, and adapting them to the Quebec climate.

The gardens are open daily to visitors. Please consult the website for more details.


Annapolis Gardens – Annapolis Royal, NS

Photo credit: Flora Doehler

The Annapolis Gardens take you on an adventure through time, in one of Canada most historic small towns. With 17 acres of gardens, you can stroll through Nova Scotia’s history by presenting gardens based thematically on different time periods: a pre-European settlement garden, a 17th century Acadian section, 18th century colonial Governor’s Garden, as well as Victorian and contemporary gardens. Virtual Tour available. 

Please consult the website for more details.


Banner photo: Himalayan Blue Poppy. Photo credit: Louise Tanguay