Throughout your adventures amid the lovely flora, you can be sure your family will not be alone—expect a variety of bugs for company. Pack some insect repellant to keep those pesky creepy crawlies at arm’s length and make sure all heads are covered and skin is protected with sunscreen if you’re visiting an outdoor garden.
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VanDusen Botanical Garden Though the flowers are the focus of this popular botanical site, VanDusen’s visitor centre is a marvel of its own. Opened in 2011, this carbon-neutral “living building” offers a fascinating look at sustainable living, with all of its power and water being generated by the building, through solar panels, a chemical-free water-purification system that collects precipitation and reuses water, and other eco-friendly practices. Many of the garden’s paths are paved, making them wheelchair-, stroller- and walker-friendly. Popular features include a giant maze (it’s made up of 3,000 cedars), an Asian-inspired stone garden, an authentic Korean pavilion and a traditional Scottish shelter in the Heather Garden. Choose from a variety of locally inspired, family-friendly entrees; snacks and beverages at the on-site café; or pick up a take-away picnic lunch (or bring your own!) during the summer months. Parking is free but limited; public transit is recommended. Open daily year-round. Adults, $8 to $11; seniors and youth 13 to 18, $6 to $8; kids three to 12, $5 to $6; kids younger than two get in free; family pass (two adults and dependant children younger than 19), $17 to $26. Family programs, $25 per family (two adults and up to three kids; fee includes garden admission).
5251 Oak St., Vancouver. 604-257-8335
The Butchart Gardens This National Historic Site is a favourite of islanders and tourists year-round, as Victoria’s climate allows for gorgeous flowers to thrive no matter the season. Pick up a free kids’ fact sheet and map as you take a self-guided tour of Butchart’s many gardens—you’ll learn historical details and interesting features, plus the kids can draw pictures along the way to answer fun trivia questions. Take a ride on the Rose Carousel ($2) and enjoy other activities at the Children’s Pavilion. During the summer months, take a leisurely boat ride at an extra cost (adults, $18; youth, $14; kids, $11) and take in the wildlife of Tod Inlet and Brentwood Bay. There’s also a fireworks show every Saturday night of the summer (free with general admission). Strollers are available on loan for the day (first-come, first-served basis) and the washrooms are equipped with baby-changing areas. Open daily year-round. Adults, $20 to $31; youth 13 to 17, $10 to $16; kids five to 12, $2 to $3; kids younger than five get in free.
800 Benvenuto Ave., Brentwood Bay. 250-652-5256
Bloedel Floral Conservatory This unique temperature-controlled dome, located atop the highest point of Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Park, is home to more than 200 free-flying exotic birds and 500 tropical plants. Bird guides and kids’ scavenger-hunt lists are available upon entry to help identify the birds and plants in all three tropical ecosystems. The entire outdoor park surrounding the building is also beautifully kept and is widely considered one of the city’s horticultural jewels. Open daily year-round. Adults, $7; seniors and youth 13 to 18, $5; kids three to 12, $3; kids younger than three get in free; family pass (up to two adults and their children), $15.
4600 Cambie St., Vancouver. 604-257-8584
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden Stressed? A few minutes in the gorgeous, tranquil surroundings of this traditional Chinese garden will put you at ease. Take a guided 45-minute tour—it’s included in the admission fee—and you’ll discover the history behind the garden and its various elements, as well as the cultural significance behind them. Wrap up the tour with a cup of Chinese tea and a visit to the gift shop. Open daily May 1 to October 30; closed Mondays November 1 to April 30. Adults, $12; seniors, $10; students, $9; kids younger than five get in free; family pass (two adults and two kids younger than 17), $25.
578 Carrall St., Vancouver. 604-662-3207
Devonian Botanic Garden This 190-acre site is a prominent University of Alberta botanical research location, with plant species from various regions of the world. It’s also a great place to spend an afternoon with the kids. Relax in the quiet Kurimoto Japanese outdoor garden, then head over to the tropical greenhouse and marvel at the gorgeous butterflies. Experience temperate and arid ecosystems inside the site’s different greenhouses, and get a taste of history in the heritage and Native Peoples’ gardens. There are plenty of walking trails to take in your natural surroundings and escape the city. It’s also a popular spot for kids’ field trips, summer camps and birthday parties. Open daily May 1 to Thanksgiving (in addition to opening for special events during the winter). Adults, $14; seniors, $10; students, $7; youth 13 to 17, $5; kids seven to 12, $3; kids six and younger get in free; family pass (two adults plus accompanying kids), $29.
Highway 60, Devon. 780-987-3054
Muttart Conservatory Escape to the pyramids! A visit to this Edmonton conservatory will take you through four unique ecosystems (tropical, arid, temperate and an exhibit that varies throughout the year), each in its own glass pyramid. There are plenty of nature- and animal-awareness programs for all ages, from preschooler puppet shows and bug hunts to build-a-birdfeeder workshops and family geocaching for the older crowd (call ahead to register). Visit on Wednesdays and weekends for a guided tour of all three main pyramids. Enjoy a meal or snack at the on-site restaurant, which uses fresh produce and herbs from Muttart’s own greenhouse. Open daily year-round. Adults, $12.25; seniors and youth, $10.50; kids two 12, $6.50; kids younger than two are free; family pass (two adults plus kids younger than 18), $37.
9626 - 96A St., Edmonton. 780-442-5311
Calgary Zoo Conservatory & Gardens Though it’s known for its wild animals, this popular zoo is also brimming with botanicals. Walk the lush, living pathways to the Enmax Conservatory, the jungle-like home of butterflies, banana trees and pineapple plants. Get up close to butterflies in the Garden Gallery and see trees and other plants that you don’t normally encounter in the Stampede City. Grab a snack on-site or enjoy a picnic from home in one of the Dorothy Harvie Gardens gazebos. Open daily March 21 to October. General admission, $23; seniors, $21; kids three to 15, $15; kids younger than three get in free.
1300 Zoo Rd. NE., Calgary. 403-232-9300
Assiniboine Park Conservatory The weather’s always perfect inside this Winnipeg conservatory. Explore several climate-controlled indoor gardens, such as the steamy Tropical Palm House, plus outdoor spaces (including the Herb Garden) and a series of English gardens, known as “living classrooms.” Of course, there are plenty of other gorgeous outdoor green spaces, too. The park offers an abundance of workshops (registration fee required) for kids. There’s also a zoo at the park (admission fee required), plus three restaurants to grab a quick-and-healthy snack. Open daily year-round. Free.
55 Pavilion Cres., Winnipeg. 204-927-6000
Whistling Gardens One visit to this botanical site and you’ll understand why Norfolk County is known as Ontario’s Garden. Plan to stay at least two hours in order to take in more than 4,000 different plants, throughout six major gardens, in this impressive floral collection. Be sure to catch a choreographed fountain show at Canada’s largest all-stone open-air amphitheatre, too, for a musical treat (daily, beginning May 18). Whistling Gardens also hosts garden- and floral-design workshops for older kids and adults, including Learn How to Arrange Bouquets, Plan Your Garden and Identify Plant Species. There’s a designated picnic area (bring your own or purchase prepackaged snacks from the on-site concession), as well as other seating on the property. Wheelchair and stroller accessible, though access in some areas is limited. Open daily April 5 to October 25. Adults, $13; seniors, $11; youth five to 22, $6; kids four and younger get in free.
698 Concession 3, Wilsonville. 519-443-5773
Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens This 99-acre botanical garden is the perfect place to stop and smell the roses—all 2,400 of them. See everything from amazing azaleas, to vibrant vegetable plantings and everything in between—all accessible by well-maintained pathways. Kids don’t feel like walking? Take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage and let a guide point out the garden’s many features (May to October, $19 per person). As part of the Niagara Parks network, this popular tourist spot shares an address with the Butterfly Conservatory (general admission, $9 to $14; kids five and younger get in free), where families can get up-close-and-personal with 45 different species of butterflies and take part in plenty of fascinating kid-friendly exhibits. Open daily year-round. Free admission. (Additional cost for Butterfly Conservatory.) Parking is $5.
Niagara Parkway, Niagara Falls. 905-356-8119
Canadian Tulip Festival What began as a symbol of gratitude from the Dutch royal family for Canada’s part in liberating the Netherlands during World War II, has now become a treasured tourist attraction and a true celebration of spring. Every May, more than 500,000 people travel to see more than one-billion bulbs that bloom along the tulip route in Ottawa and the surrounding area. Visit Commissioners Park at Dows Lake for the festival’s biggest display. Highlights of the festival include a fireworks display at Dows Lake (May 18), the kid-friendly Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (May 10 to 11), a flame-throwing show, street entertainment and an international pavilion. Runs from May 9 to 19. Free.
Various locations around Ottawa. 800-668-8547
Royal Botanical Gardens An overwhelming favourite of families near and far, this popular Burlington botanical garden offers gorgeous flora; a wide selection of family programming, activities, special events (such as the rose celebration on weekends in June and July); and rotating exhibits (such as the current Savage Gardens exhibit, exploring carnivorous plants, the Celebrate Lilacs weekends in May and June, and the Celebrate Iris and Peonies weekends in June). Visit the garden on Mother’s Day for a special brunch (reservations required; $17 to $40 per person), followed by an afternoon in the gardens. Open daily year-round. Adults, $13; seniors and students, $11; kids four to 12, $8; kids younger than four get in free; family pass (two adults and two kids younger than 18), $31.
680 Plains Rd. W., Burlington. 905-527-1158
Toronto Botanical Garden Located in the heart of the city, this nearly four-acre network of gardens is a true urban oasis. And with plenty of programs for kids of all ages, it’s also a source of down-to-earth fun. Programs include the City Critters Family Series throughout the year (meet live birds of prey, go on an owl prowl, see honeybees in action and more), and the Night Critter Sleepover (July 12 to 13), plus a variety of nature-themed kids’ day camps during the summer. There’s also a summer reading club at the on-site Weston Family Library. The Teaching Garden at nearby Edward Garden offers a special plot for preschool and school-aged kids to get dirty and interact with nature through planting and cultivating all things green. Follow the prehistoric reptile tracks all the way to the Dinosaur Garden, where kids can visit with the friendly stegosaurus and check out plants that dinos once ate! There’s also an Alphabet Garden (designed to help older kids identify plants), as well as a Sensory Garden for the younger crowd to explore plants with all five senses. For toddlers, the Sprout Club is the perfect way to sow a natural love of all things that grow. Open daily year-round. Free admission to the garden; some programs require a registration fee.
777 Lawrence Ave. E., Toronto. 416-397-1341
Montreal Botanical Garden With 10 greenhouses and more than 20 gardens of varying themes, you won’t know where to begin at this popular Montreal botanical wonder. Luckily, the Main Exhibition Greenhouse is an excellent starting point, as its displays are changed seasonally. It’s also the site of many kid-friendly activities, like the annual Butterflies Go Free event where families can get an up close look at thousands of butterflies flying freely throughout the dome (February 20 to April 27). Other gardens feature medicinal plants, orchids, perennials, tropical species and much more. Grab a quick bite at the on-site restaurant or snack bars, or bring your own lunch and enjoy it in one of the designated indoor or outdoor picnic areas. There are strollers available for use for the duration of your visit (free of charge), change tables in the bathrooms and also a breastfeeding room. Open daily year-round. Adults, $16 to $19; seniors, $15 to $18; students, $12 to $14; kids five to 17, $8 to $10; kids younger than five get in free; family pass (two adults and three kids ages five to 17), $43 to $53.
4101 rue Sherbrooke Est, Montreal. 514-872-1400
Reford Gardens Located on the site of an old fishing camp on the Mitis River just south of the St. Lawrence, this garden is the perfect microclimate for plenty of rare plants, some of which are typically only found in the Himalayas. Walk along one of the brookside trails, watch as birds of all feathers visit the sanctuary, and explore the more than 3,000 plant species and cultivars, including azaleas, hyacinths, lilies and much more. Visit Reford this summer to see the garden masterpieces from architects, designers and artists, as they take over the gardens for the 2014 International Garden Festival (June 28 to September 28). Open daily May 31 to September 28. Adults, $18; seniors, $17; students, $16; youth 13 to 18, $10; kids 13 and younger get in free.
200 route 132, Grand-Métis. 418-775-2222
Kingsbrae Garden With more than 50,000 perennials and numerous themed gardens, this award-winning 27-acre horticultural garden is a popular spot for families. Check out the authentic Dutch windmill, wind your way through the cedar maze and take in the gorgeous scenery around the many ponds and streams. Visit the resident alpacas, pygmy goats and peacocks, as well as a variety of wild birds, butterflies and other critters that call these gardens home. Challenge your family to a treasure hunt—pick from three checklists at the entrance (there’s even one for parents!)—and return your completed card for a small prize. Visit the Children’s Fantasy Garden each afternoon during July and August for a one-hour program specially designed for kids younger than 12, and be sure to catch the daily live ladybug release all summer. Enjoy a light lunch at the Garden Café. Open daily May 17 to October 12. Adults, $16; students and seniors, $12; kids six and younger get in free; family day pass (two adults and their dependant kids younger than 18), $38.
220 King St., St. Andrews. 506-529-3335
Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens This 17-acre garden is filled to the brim with history. After all, the town of Annapolis Royal dates back to 1605, as the first European settlement in North America. The garden features more than 270 types of roses, as well as plenty of other floral varieties. To help kids learn about the garden’s many features, participate in a scavenger hunt. The garden also offers plenty of workshops for kids focused around horticultural activities (call ahead to book), as well as organized activities like GPS Quests and Junior Shutterbugs, where kids can get a beginner’s lesson in floral photography. Celebrate Canada’s Garden Days (June 13 to 15), and the Rose Festival (June 28 to July 6). Open daily May 10 to the end of October. Adults, $12; seniors and students, $10; kids 12 to 18, $5; kids six to 11, $2; kids younger than six get in free; family pass (two adults and their dependant kids), $25.
441 St. George St., Annapolis Royal. 902-532-7018
Memorial University Botanical Garden Located in Memorial University’s Pippy Park, this 100-acre nature reserve is dedicated to researching and preserving local flora and educating families about all things that blossom on the island. Bring the troop every Sunday from May 5 to August 25, and September 15 to November 24, for family-friendly fun. Activities include nature hikes, animal visits (say hello to Squirt, the red-eared slider turtle), duck feeding at Oxen Pond, puppet shows, storytime and more. Open daily May 1 to November 30. Adults, $5 to $7; seniors, $4 to $5; students, $3; kids five and younger get in free; family pass, (two adults and five youth), $15.
306 Mount Scio Rd., St. John’s. 709-864-8590
A version of this article appeared in our May 2014 issue with the headline "All the best botanical gardens," pp. 97-103.