Who knew gardens were so popular? It seems, visiting a botanical or garden-themed attraction while on a trip of one or more days ranks in the top 10 culture and entertainment activities of pleasure travellers in Canada, according to Statistic Canada’s most recent Travel Activity and Motivation Study.
People may have occasional gripes about tourist attractions, but it’s hard not to enjoy the beauty and colour of a garden. And Canada has plenty from which to choose, including two that are National Historic Sites — Butchart Gardens and Hatley Park both on Vancouver Island.
If you are still looking for a Mother’s Day gift, you may want to plan a garden getaway with Mom. And keep in mind the various flower festivals, many of them close to home: The Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa (which continues through May 24); the Lilac Festival at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton on the last two weekends in May (rbg.ca); and the Peony Festival at the Oshawa Valley Botanical Gardens from June 12-13 (ovbgoshawa.ca or peony.ca).
Here are some other ideas for the coming months:
Vancouver Island Garden Trail
This trail takes in 23 gardens throughout the island from Victoria in the south (where there are six gardens) all the way up to Ronning’s Garden in Halberg in the north. Of course, the best known of all is Butchart Gardens, which is open every day of the year and has flowers, plants and trees covering 22-hectares of the 53-hectare family owned estate. See tulips, daffodils and hyacinths in the spring and the Rose Garden in the summer.
Many of the gardens on the island offer more than flowers. In the summer for example, Butchart also has music under the stars, night illuminations, Saturday fireworks and eco-friendly boat tours, or enjoy the newly opened Rose Carousel.
Other gardens are located on the grounds of hotels (Sooke Harbour House and Penfold Farm B & B), castles (Hatley Castle), and historic/cultural sites (Emily Carr House). Check VancouverIslandGardenTrail.com or pick up a free copy of the 11-page Garden Trail brochure with details on each site.
Can’t make it to the Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands? There’s always Kingsbrae Gardens in St. Andrews, N.B.
You may not find as many tulips — though there is a Dutch windmill that was brought over from Holland and helps circulate water between the ponds. Aside from the White Garden, the Rose Garden and the Knot Garden, the 11-hectare site features a cedar maze, streams, lots of birds and butterflies, and a woodland trail through an old-growth Acadian forest. More than 2,500 varieties of trees, shrubs and plants can be seen on the pathways. Open 7 days a week May 21 to Oct. 9. Adults $12. Seniors and students $9. Guided tours an additional $2 per person. Check kingsbraegarden.com or call 1-866-566-8687.
Canadian Tulip Festival
More than threre million tulip blooms will be on view during Ottawa’s popular spring festival, which continues through May 24 at two official sites.
At Commissioners’ Park (through May 24) you can see the most tulips (300,000) in bloom in one location. The park will also feature street performers, school music programs, local painters as well as the outdoor Tulip Legacy Exhibit that tells the history of the world’s largest tulip festival.
At Major’s Hill Park (May 14-24 only) there’s an art nouveau Tulip Festival Mirror Tent, which will host special cabaret shows reminiscent of the 1940s, as well as a thought-provoking speaker series called Celebridee — a celebration of ideas, which brings together thinkers, artists, writers, and political figures to debate and discuss issues. There’s also an International Bazaar and Food Emporium, and — for the first time — a Beer Garden. Admission to both festival sites is free, though some events at the Mirror Tent require tickets. Check tulipfestival.ca or call 1-800-66-Tulip.
Via Rail Garden Route
Now in its fifth year, the Garden Route program highlights 18 of Canada’s “most magnificent feature gardens” and 27 top award-winning Communities in Bloom destinations along the main Via route stretching from Vancouver to Halifax. Three new garden destinations have been added this year: Edmonton’s Muttart Conservatory, Oshawa’s Parkwood Estate, and Sainte-Croix’ Domaine Joly-De Lotbiniere near Quebec City.
You can create your own garden route or choose a Via Getaway Garden Tour package in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor. From June 12 to Sept. 6, visitors to any of the participating gardens along the route and the websites of the 2010 Communities in Bloom destinations can enter a contest for the chance to win one of 18 prizes of a round-trip for two to Ottawa for the Canadian Tulip Festival in 2011.
For a complete listing of the gardens, local garden attractions and Communities in Bloom destinations, check viarail.ca/garden or call 1-888-842-7245.