Gardeners’ Holiday: Beautiful Gardens of Niagara Falls (Canada)

It’s the Monday post-vacation writers’ block. I am just back from a relaxing and scenic getaway north of the border (that’s Canada), and today I’m far more interested in dreamily gazing at the photos of our holiday with just one more cuppa than putting fingers to keyboard. So, I hope you don’t find this too boring or indulgent, but here are a few snaps from our road trip — taken from the perspective of a habitat gardener that never ever really takes a vacation….

Niagara Falls, Canada (Ontario):

Everywhere we visited in and around Niagara Falls, we admired the beautiful landscaping…scenic paths along the cliffs and hills surrounded with gorgeous colorful gardens with fruiting shrubs (including many Ontario natives), along with plenty of birds and butterflies attracted to the blooms and berries:

Every hellstrip and traffic island in Niagara-on-the-Lake was a different bed full of gorgeous flowering plants and grasses.

Everywhere, pedestrian-friendly boulevards lined with gardens and spectacular views of the falls ….OH MY!

We were delighted to discover Niagara Parks Garden Trail — a chain of interconnected gardens, pathways and well-maintained public spaces that allowed us to leave our car behind and take in the sights on foot, stopping for a drink and bite to eat when our feet began to hurt….now this is a gardener’s dream vacation: great views, lots of restaurants, and gardens everywhere, all maintained by somebody else!

We strolled through the Versailles-inspired  Queen Victoria Gardens, with its manicured beds and perfect symmetry, with the American Falls as a backdrop. 

Pretty to look at, but not much for wildlife here except some flower nectar from blooming plants, and bird shelter in the surrounding evergreen trees if they are allowed to grow to a more natural size. Beautiful view though!

These heavily clipped labyrinths adorn the boulevards near Queen Victoria Park:

My husband adores this symmetrical and sculptural garden style, but to me, although it’s made of living plants, it seems stripped of life. It’s like viewing Greek antiquities in a museum in another land. It belongs somewhere else, and although many may enjoy it, I’d rather see and feel the real thing. PLUS there wasn’t a single butterfly to be seen. Onwards!

We noted an area of raised vegetable and herb beds situated in the public gardens next to the large hotels, clearly the source of fresh and locally-grown food to supply the hotel restaurants. This made the high local prices of restaurant food quite a bit easier to bear and it was great to see a public demonstration of how to grow food in small spaces.

The shoreline on both sides of Niagara Falls have been heavily developed for centuries by large-scale power generation and tourism, and any original wildlife habitat is long gone, but Niagara Parks shows an encouraging trend in wildlife-friendly urban and national park planning, including the planting of many, many trees. Considering that the edge of Niagara Falls have eroded SIX MILES in the past few centuries (including lots of associated cliff edges), planting trees to stabilize the shoreline is a priority for maintaining this tourist and agriculturally-important region for future generations.

View from above Niagara Parks, which has been restored with countless trees, shrubs in the past few decades.

We didn’t have time (and it kills me) to visit the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens and its Butterfly Conservatory, but what we saw from the outside made me long to return another time to spend a full day here. For miles approaching the botanical gardens, the roads were lined with gorgeous plantings of native Ontario plants, shrubs and trees, including shrubby dogwood, serviceberry, winterberry holly, swamp rose, bearberry, elderberries, maples and oaks (among many others). When I saw long highway-side meadows of little bluestem grass dotted with wild flowers, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven…  Niagara Parks plantings include also many exotic flowering plants NOT native to Ontario, but I was encouraged by the obvious attention to maintaining natural and formal areas with plants that contribute to the health of local ecosystems. The Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens is also home to a School of Horticulture, and I am guessing that the students are responsible for the breathtaking plantings along the roadsides here. I think cities and towns south of the border could learn a lot from this inspired municipal landscaping…

Along the Niagara River as it flows from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, we saw many hydro-electric plants that convert the river’s water flow into energy – arguably a “clean” energy source were it not for the major wildlife habitat loss caused by the construction of dams and large cement structures. Once again, I was impressed with the widespread use of native North American plants in the functional areas surrounding these structures. When it come to wildlife habitat, every bit helps:

The ugly old chain link fence on the cliffs have been allowed to revegetate with the native Virginia Creeper vine. The late summer berries will feed many wild birds who can also use the tangled vines for nesting. In the fall, the flaming red foliage color will be visible from the opposite bank!

You can’t fail to be awe-inspired by the sheer power and beauty of Niagara Falls:

On our way home, I finally had the opportunity to stop at Project Native, a non-profit native plant nursery, farm and shop just outside Great Barrington, MA. I’ve been lusting over this company’s web site and catalog for months. The friendly people here grow plants that are native to southern New England and the mid-Atlantic region, including some of the rare pollinator and wildlife-friendly plants we have written about here on Beautiful Wildlife Gardens….including New Jersey Tea, Goatsbeard, Golden Ragwort, and three (!) types of both Monarda and Asclepias (milkweed)…I felt like a kid in a candy store! Definitely worth a visit if you are in western Massachusetts:


Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) and some kind of rudbeckia growing in Project Native’s “seed gardens”.

With plant tags listing the lepidoptera (butterflies & moths) that use the plant as a caterpillar host plant, this is a wildlife gardener’s nursery for sure:

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    • says

      Daen, I only saw the Ontario Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Were you on the American side when you visited Niagara Falls? My hubby visited the Canadian side as a boy and he remembers seeing the Floral Clock at the Botanic Gardens along with other formal gardens…
      Ellen Sousa recently posted..Mulch – Use What You’ve Got!

  1. Bo Placebo says

    Maid of the Mist is a classic on the visitor’s itinerary. Did you go, Ellen? A few miles beyond the Falls many orchards of peaches, plums and cherries have been replaced by vineyards with pleasant restaurants overloking Lake Ontario and this is also home to the famous ice wine. The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is charming but touristy in a unique Canadian way – no schlock and almost too pristine. The Shaw theater is here. This also an area rich in history of the war of 1812 which has been in the news lately. There is much to do and see there. Try the frozen yogurt offered in the area. Never tasted anything like it – real fruit incorporated into it on request.

    • says

      Bo, we did not go on the Maid of the Mist, instead we went down the tunnels in the cliffs which gave us some amazing outlooks right underneath the falls – we figured that was as good as the boat ride…things were a tad expensive, we found! We noticed the orchard and vineyards along the parkway and hope to return some day to visit them and do a winery tour by bicycle!! We loved Niagara-on-the-Lake with its shops and restaurants and especially admired the beautifully flower boxes that lined the street. Reminded us a bit of some of the coastal towns here in New England.
      Ellen Sousa recently posted..Mulch – Use What You’ve Got!

  2. Jane Schneider says

    I go with my husband and kids to Niagara Falls every summer, it has become a tradition in our family! The Butterfly Conservatory is stunning, one can feel like in one of the Alice in Wonderland movies with the giant butterflies slowly soaring around. You should definitely go there next time you visit. For the winter (which tends to be a bit depressing) we go charge our batteries in the beautiful Allan Gardens Conservatory in Toronto. Definitely less people than in the summer and it just feels special to have so much green around oneself when it’s freezing outside!

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