With the arrival of spring, exploring public parks and gardens is a great way to take in the beauty of the season and bask in the light of longer days. And Canada’s early spring gardens are more impressive than you’d think!
“Public gardens provide an inspiration for gardeners, for what they might be able to do in their own gardens,” says Alberta garden educator and horticultural therapist Janet Melrose, co-author of The Guides for the Prairie Gardener series.
Public gardens – besides being beautiful places to visit – are a conservatory of plants that provide people with ideas on the kinds of things they can grow in their own gardens – “and they are a piece of our history. They are great places to stroll, with lots of colour and lots of things to see and do.”
While places like the Butchart Gardens in Victoria immediately come to mind, many public gardens manage to shine in locales that are not quite as temperate as the west coast! Here are some of the public gardens in southern Alberta and the Toronto area that are great places to visit in spring (as well as summer and fall):
Named after Calgary Parks superintendent (from 1913 – 1942) William Roland Reader, Reader Rock Garden Historic Park is a national historic site tucked away in the middle of Calgary, just south of downtown. There is no admission fee to stroll the compact, one-acre grounds.
“There are an awful lot of early bloomers” in the Reader Rock Garden –including hellebore, gentians, hepatica and liverwort. “This is one of my premier destinations,” Melrose says.
At the Deane House grounds in Calgary, you’ll find lots of primroses in early spring. At the Calgary Zoo, with its extensive gardens, you’ll find primroses and daffodils blooming.
The CNIB Foundation garden in Calgary has been designed for people impacted by blindness, with lots of fragrance and masses of springtime blooms, including daffodils, double-flowering plums and flowering crabapples.
South of Calgary, outside of Nanton, is the University of Lethbridge Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage, featuring heritage gardens, walking trails and repurposed historic outbuildings.
This is one of Melrose’s favourite early summer gardens.
While Toronto may seem the epitome of urban life, the city has an abundance of parks and green spaces. High Park, Toronto’s largest public park, is the best – and most popular – Toronto park to visit in early spring, with people flocking to see the cherry blossoms.
“It is just spectacular,” says Brian Barron, an enthusiastic amateur gardener in Toronto.
“High Park as a whole is quite beautiful. There are lots of trails there to walk along, and a kids’ zoo operated by a local group of volunteers.”
Another wonderful place to check out when visiting Toronto are the ravine parks, located all over the city and stretching for kilometres with walking trails and bike paths. “They are really beautiful. You can walk for a long time in some ravines and forget you’re in the middle of the city,” Barron says.
Rehabilitation projects in the ravine parks encourage the growth of native plants, the reintroduction of wetlands and marshes, and the rehabilitation of the region’s creek and river system. Native trees include red and white oak, sugar maple, hickory and ash. “One of the lovely things you can see in spring is not just flowers – for example, native orchids like lady slippers – but also marshes regenerating and plants coming back out in the marshes in the wetland areas,” Barron says. “And you hear frogs chirping…”
The ravine systems, as well as High Park, are full of birds. “High Park is like a stopping point for migratory birds because of its location close to Lake Ontario. Many birds crossing the lake will stop for a rest or fueling up,” Barron explains. Birds you might spot include night hawks, owls and red-winged blackbirds.
Edwards Gardens, located in one of the city’s ravine parks, is open to the public and free to visit, with a beautiful display of native and exotic flowers in addition to self-guided trails. Edwards Gardens is adjacent to the Toronto Botanical Garden.
Rouge National Urban Park, situated on Toronto’s east side, is Canada’s first national urban park and the largest urban park in North America. Here you will find marshes, wetlands, beaches, forests, hiking, and some of Canada’s oldest known Indigenous sites. Rouge National Urban Park is also home to the city’s only campground.