There is nothing quite like a garden to soothe the soul and revitalize the senses. For centuries public gardens have provided tranquil oases, in the midst of busy cities, for those seeking places of calm, or perhaps a bit of inspiration.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that gardens officially made their way into city planning, and lucky for us they are still very much a vital part of our local towns and cities.
We are very fortunate to have access to many stunning public gardens close to home, each with its own distinct personality. From lush gardens featuring hundreds of breathtaking rhododendrons, to gentle lakeside gardens that organically coexist with unique contemporary art, to what is often referred to as a crown jewel of Canadian public gardens: the Royal Botanical Gardens. All are at our doorstep.
These gardens, and many more, make for lovely visits for those looking to stimulate the senses or enjoy a restful afternoon. Following are some highlights of our area’s most breathtaking spots for you to explore.
Mississauga is home to close to 500 beautifully maintained public gardens, parks and horticulture displays. The city can also boast that it is the 2008 national winner, in the large city category, of “Communities in Bloom”, a national program dedicated to the promotion and beautification of green spaces in urban settings. What is interesting to note about Mississauga’s stunning gardens is that they are all primarily maintained by volunteers. A parks program coordinator with the City will coordinate the volunteers, in conjunction with other not-for-profit organizations. The beauty of these parks is a true testament to not only the landscape architects’ vision, but to the pride and dedication of the volunteers.
301 Burnhamthorpe Road West
Kariya Park, a traditional Japanese-style garden, lies calmly in heart of the busy city’s core, with the famous Civic Centre clock tower easily glimpsed through the greenery. The park was created to honour Mississauga’s long-time relationship with its twin city Kariya, Japan. A vast collection of Kariya’s official city flower, the beautiful lavender-hued Iris laevigata or rabbit-ear iris, is one of the first sights greeting visitors as they enter via the gatehouse on Kariya Drive. Meandering walkways lead visitors in and around a quiet pond and hill garden filled with shrubbery, rocks and low flowerbeds. A pavilion at the north end of the park and a dry courtyard garden round out the current development. Hundreds of flowering cherry trees have been planted and the blossoms put on a stunning show every spring. The trees start to bloom in late April to early May and the spectacular show only lasts about ten days, so make sure you plan your visit. Kariya Park is open to the public seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., through the entrance on Kariya Drive, just off Burnhamthorpe Road east of the Mississauga Civic Centre.
660 Lakeshore Road West
The Rhododendron Gardens are located in an 18-acre waterfront park and are home to one of Canada’s most extensive collections of rhododendrons east of the Rockies. Rhododendron Gardens has more than 500 individual rhododendrons and azaleas.
Through the generous donations and efforts of Dr. Joseph Brueckner in the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of rhododendrons were planted in the gardens, including 335 unnamed hybrids, 55 cultivars and 10 rhododendron species. These ornamental shrubs bloom from mid-May to mid-June. The park, which provides public facilities and walking trails, is a favourite spot for wedding photos and thoughtful strolls.
300 City Centre Drive
Based on the theme of an English walled-garden, this 0.17-hectare park is a tranquil, private space right in the downtown. What is unique about this garden is that it is based on the floor plan of the Civic Centre. The garden layout is representative of the Civic Centre (City Hall): the centre lawn represents the tower; the circular sitting area represents the council chambers; the sculpture lawn represents the great stairs; and the rose garden represents the facade. The strong visual focal points, such as the fountain in the square, the Japanese lantern and the sculpture, provide interest and draw visitors through the garden. There is much to enjoy throughout the seasons: in the spring there are magnolias, forsythia, serviceberry and bulbs; in the summer there are annuals, perennials, flowering shrubs and vines; in the fall there are burning bush, summer sweet, autumn flowering mums and kale; and in the winter there are evergreens, rhododendrons, hollies and grasses.
Charming, historic, lakeside Oakville boasts a number of beautifully designed and maintained public gardens and opens the doors of its municipal greenhouse to visitors daily.
1306 Lakeshore Road East
Renowned not just locally but internationally, lakeside Gairloch Gardens, part of Oakville Galleries, is home to a meandering creek, a swan pond, beautiful gardens and stunning art. Comments curator Marnie Fleming, “The garden is a site of revealing surprises, and one that regularly engenders new experiences for an audience who use the park on a regular basis.” For instance, in one garden, Vancouver artist Liz Magor’s Channel looks remarkably like a felled trunk of a Black Locust tree, but look closely and you’ll see it is made of bronze. It also watches you. It suggests an interior presence with two eye-like forms that peer out across the gardens in the direction of the lake. To help you find the eight hidden gems of art in the garden, and learn about the gardens themselves, you can do a walking tour of the gardens by borrowing a discman from a gallery attendant and be led on a venturesome journey throughout the garden. The speaking tour is led by internationally acclaimed artist Janet Cardiff. This summer British artist Alex Metcalf, who just had a showing in London’s Kew Gardens, will be setting up a temporary display called “˜Tree Listening Installation”. This outdoor installation will allow visitors to listen to a tree through headphones that hang from its branches. You will actually hear the sound of water being pulled up from the roots to the leaves. It’s a fascinating, experiential visit at Gairloch Gardens ““ and don’t forget the exhibits in the house!
8 Navy Street
Overlooking Oakville Harbour, the beautiful Erchless gardens have been carefully restored to their historic appearance from photographs taken in the early 1900s. The four-acre grounds are an important part of Oakville Museum at Erchless Estate and are beautifully maintained by the Town of Oakville Recreation and Culture Department. The Estate’s beautiful grounds, with a winding carriage path and beautiful gardens, are a great place for a lakeside stroll or picnic.
Oakville Municipal Greenhouses
1100 Cornwall Road
The Oakville Greenhouses and Conservatory is open to the public seven days a week and showcases a tropical array of plants with a pond and waterfall. It makes for a nice garden outing if the weather isn’t cooperating and is also an ideal spot for wedding photos.
Royal Botanical Gardens
680 Plains Road West
A crown jewel of public gardens, the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) is a national historic site and home to more than 2,700 acres of breathtaking gardens and spectacular nature sanctuaries. The gardens are a particularly heady experience in the late spring when many flowering plants and bulbs are in full bloom. This past winter, a magnificent three storey glass atrium was opened, creating a barrier-free transition from the RBG Centre to Hendrie Park Gardens and the newly unveiled Helen M. Kippax Garden which features native plants. Here’s a quick overview of the various gardens within the RBG:
Mediterranean Garden, RBG Centre
A two-storey indoor garden featuring plant species from the world’s five Mediterranean climate regions. Blooms are particularly vibrant January to May in the Bulb Room.
Features 40,000 spring flowering bulbs, 60,000 summer annuals, evergreens, flowering cherries and azaleas.
A superb collection of more than 1,100 iris and 400 peony species and cultivars, day lilies and hostas, ornamental grasses, and extensive perennial and heritage gardens.
Hendrie Park Gardens
A spectacular collection of 2,000 antique and hybrid roses in the Centennial Rose Garden, Woodland, Medicinal, Medieval, Scented, Children’s gardens, World of Botany, and a remarkable collection of climbing plants on the Amy Pergola.
Featuring one of the world’s largest lilac collections ““ 600 varieties ““ extensive magnolia and crabapple collection, rhododendrons, conifers, hedges, and native Ontario trees and shrubs.
Visit rbg.ca for a full overview of the gardens, bloom times and special events.
All in all, we are very privileged to have so many renowned and beautiful gardens at our disposal, offering quick respites or providing hours of enjoyment on a fragrant spring or summer afternoon!