While Ottawa is known for its glorious display or tulips each May during the Canadian Tulip Festival, the city is full of other spaces where you can admire the changing flora spring through fall—and most are free! Conveniently located between major attractions, the city’s historic grounds, experimental landscapes and rooftop gardens are a treat for the eyes and the soul. Here are just a few highlights.
An organization called Gardens Ottawa helps promote the more than 140 gardens in Canada’s capital through information, events and activities. Their handy Garden Promenade groups over 75 garden experiences organized by type and location, and their interactive routes and maps are perfect to plan self-guided tours (guided options are also available). Promenade sites include:
Central Experimental Farm
This expansive outdoor attraction is adjacent to the Dows Lake area of the Rideau Canal, near Ottawa’s Little Italy. Here’s what you’ll find at its different sites:
- Dominion Arboretum: Established trees and shrubs, a large hosta garden as well as landscaped features over a rolling 35 hectares (86 acres) of land.
- Ornamental Gardens: Beautiful beds of perennials, annuals and other flora from Canada and elsewhere (a common site for wedding photos).
- Fletcher Wildlife Garden: A collection of native and wildlife-friendly plants and habitats.
- Tropical Greenhouse: A beautiful heritage building that houses heat-loving plants.
- The Discovery Park at the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum: An outdoor exhibition showing crops and pollinator plants within the museum grounds.
Major's Hill Park
Between the historic Fairmont Château Laurier hotel and the National Gallery of Canada, you’ll find a large green space with beautiful views of Parliament Hill, the Rideau Canal locks and the Ottawa River. A stroll along the pathways takes you by large trees, lush flower beds, historic statues and interpretation panels. After a day of shopping in the adjacent ByWard Market neighbourhood, Major’s Hill Park is the perfect place for a relaxing picnic.
Did you know that Rideau Hall, home of the Governor General of Canada, has one of the finest historic landscapes in Canada? And you can visit its 32 hectares (79 acres) for free! The manicured grounds feature British landscape traditions such as rose gardens and rockeries, as well as Canadian touches like an Inuit garden. Many dedicated trees have labels that indicate when they were planted and by which dignitary or famous person, including John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana.
Beyond the Garden Promenade
It’s also worth exploring the many Off the Promenade Gardens, including these two unique jewels:
Mackenzie King Estate
Within the outdoor mecca of Gatineau Park, you’ll find the former home of Canada’s 10th Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. The Mackenzie King Estate includes 231 hectares (571 acres) peppered with lovely gardens, majestic trees, as well as picturesque ruins and historic buildings. Stroll the property’s wooded trails to waterfalls and enjoy tea in the Moorside Tearoom (seasonal).
Maplelawn Historic Garden
Just off the main road in Westboro Village—a vibrant neighbourhoood west of downtown—you’ll find one of the only well-preserved, standing walled gardens in Canada. Visit Maplelawn Historic Garden from dawn to dusk during the spring and summer months and imagine yourself in the 19th century. Volunteers maintain this national historic site, including the many perennials, shrubs and trees.