Photographer’s guide to gardens in Ontario
For gardens in Scarborough, North York Toronto and Etobicoke, read Photographer's guide to gardens in the Greater Toronto Area.
Keep in mind, advanced booking and special permits are required for any commercial or professional photography sessions and shoots, as well as for drone photography or video. And be sure to respect the privacy of other guests at the garden.
From the flowering annuals and water feature to the military monuments and cityscape, there are year-round photo-worthy views from this outdoor, riverside garden, named in honour of the Essex Scottish Regiment of Windsor who fought in World War II in Dieppe, France.
Location: 78 Riverside Drive West, at the foot of Ouellette Avenue, Windsor
Plan your visit: Public and free, metered street parking is available.
Growing since 2012, Whistling Gardens is an eight hectare horticultural attraction featuring 4 kilometres of walking trails in Norfolk County. North America’s largest public peony collection, a conifer garden, an alpine garden and a formal floral display inspired by a Palace of Versailles design. Workshops, events and guided tours are offered, and garden photography is encouraged with prescheduled photo club group tours available.
Location: 698 Concession 3 Townsend, Wilsonville
Plan your visit: Open June to Thanksgiving Monday in October, operating hours vary seasonally, $13.75 admission, with senior, child and family discounts offered, free parking.
Huron, Perth, Waterloo and Wellington
Adjacent to the University of Guelph, over 160 hectares of gardens, trails, woodlands, wetlands and meadows serve as a living laboratory for students, the perfect habitat for a variety of birds, insects, reptiles and mammals, and offers wonderous, ever-changing opportunities for photographers. Specialized photography workshops are held throughout the year.
Location: 200 Arboretum Road, Guelph
Plan your visit: Free admission, open 7 a.m. – 8:30 p.m., free parking available.
With meticulously maintained gardens that include a formal parterre design, close to 2,500 roses, dramatic treelined footpaths and meandering pathways around the Butterfly Conservatory to ponds and fields, it’s hard not to take a winning photo here. Opened in 1936, the site is also home to an arboretum of ornamental trees and the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture. Check the Bloom Chart for what’s flowering, and don’t miss the Floral Showcase and Floral Clock, also operated by Niagara Parks.
Location: 2565 Niagara Pkwy, Niagara Falls
Plan your visit: Open year-round, free admission, parking $5.
Hamilton, Halton and Brant
The largest botanical garden in Canada, RBG has been assigned as a National Historic Site for its rich natural and cultural value. Headquarters are located in Burlington, while the over 1000 hectares of protected land, formal gardens, 27 kilometres of nature trails and forest stretch to Hamilton along the slopes of the Niagara Escarpment. Each season delivers different scenery, special events and of course, flowering flora. See what’s in bloom.
Plan your visit: There are both free and ticketed sections of RBG, which are open year-round. Adult admission $19.50, and twilight hours tickets ($14.50) are only available for purchase in-person between 5-7pm, parking included with admission, pay parking at trail heads.
Another garden taking full advantage of its lakeside location to create a picturesque setting framing the Lake Ontario vistas. The little arched wooden bridge over a stream, resident ducks, lush manicured lawn, colourful flowerbeds and well-tended rose garden give it a storybook charm.
Location: 1306 Lakeshore Boulevard between Morrison and Cairncroft Roads, Oakville
Plan your visit: Free admission, open year-round, onsite parking available.
Greater Toronto Area
Lake Ontario serves as the backdrop for this seven hectare outdoor gardens, one of the largest public collections of rhododendrons and azaleas in Canada. Early May through June is when the flowers are in full bloom, however companion perennials, walking trails, lake views, butterflies and songbirds make this a lovely spot to photograph any time of year.
Location: 660 Lakeshore Road West, Mississauga in the village of Port Credit
Plan your visit: Admission is free, and the gardens are open year-round, parking is limited, accessible by Mississauga Transit from Port Credit GO station, and connects to the Waterfront Cycling Trail.
York, Durham and Headwaters
Combine your love of nature photography with art appreciation at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Beyond the gallery collection of Group of Seven, Indigenous, Métis, Inuit and contemporary works of art, the property extends across 40 hectares (100 acres) of forested maple, oak and pine woodland. A network of paths and hiking trails lead to the ridgetop wilderness garden, the traditional Anishinaabe Minokamik Garden, the Ivan Eyre Sculpture Garden, the Tom Thomson shack and the McMichael Cemetery, the resting place of six of the Group of Seven members.
Location: 10365 Islington Avenue, Vaughan
Plan your visit: The year-round trails and grounds around the gallery are free, parking costs $7.
Since the donation of 100 plants in 2001 the collection of Peonies in the Oshawa Valley Botanical Gardens has grown to the largest contemporary collection in North America with over 300 varieties blooming annually in late May through June.
Location: 155 Arena Street, Oshawa
Plan your visit: April 1 to October 31, open 6 a.m. – 10 p.m., November 1 to March 31, 6 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Built and maintained by local professional landscapers, there's a lot to focus on in this 2.5 hectare property, including an Oriental garden, a bee, bird and butterfly pollinator garden, a traditional rose garden, and most unique, a colour wheel garden designed to explore horticulture colour psychology.
Location: 664 Glen Ross Road, Frankford
Plan your visit: $10 admission, parking available.
Everything’s coming up roses at this ornamental garden in Belleville’s old east village. Dedicated to the city back in 1905, the park is now surrounded by heritage homes and the formal rows of roses around a centre rose-petal-designed water fountain suits the ambiance of the neighbourhood.
Location: 210 Ann Street, Belleville
Plan your visit: Free admission to Corby Park, summer is the best season to capture the blooming roses.
Operated by the Ontario Heritage Trust, the fully restored heritage gardens at Fulford Place feature Italianate patterns, an extravagantly Triton style water fountain and sculptured statues.
Built in 1901, the home reflected the opulence of the Edwardian era, as did the gardens which were designed by the Olmsted brothers, famous landscape architectures of the time.
Location: 287 King Street East, Brockville
Plan your visit: Special outdoor ticketed guided tours are offered, parking available.
Ottawa and countryside
There’s no shortage of photo-inspiring outdoor parks and glorious gardens in Canada’s capital, a city that prides itself on maintaining natural attractions and green spaces. This is the home of the world’s largest annual tulip festival after all. But for a wide variety of plant diversity, garden design and postcard perfect city views, head to the Central Experimental Farm, an operational agricultural and research facility established in 1889. The site includes a tropical greenhouse, wildlife garden and ornamental garden, as well as the Dominion Arboretum section which covers over 25 hectares with over 2000 varieties of trees and shrubs.
Location: 960 Carling Avenue, Ottawa
Plan your visit: Garden attractions are free, open daily from dawn to dusk, except the greenhouse, which is open Monday to Friday and Sunday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., free parking is available or access via OC Transpo public transportation.
Built in 1965 to commemorate the Canadian Centennial, this facility features indoor and outdoor attractions, but the glass domed structure housing exotic and flowering plants, trees and shrubs and replete with water feature and wishing pond certainly serves as a year-round oasis for photographers.
Location: 1601 Dease Street West, Thunder Bay
Plan your visit: Admission is free, open daily 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. summer hours.
How to photograph gardens like a pro
For those just beginning to dabble in nature photography, here are a few tips.
Consider weather and time of day
Instinctively, we think of sunny days as the best times for outdoor photography. Theoretically, the bright light should help make photos crisp and clear. In fact, bright exposures can compromise your shot, while mixed cloudy skies or overcast weather produce fewer shadows and a beautiful naturally diffused light.
The same goes for time of day. Avoid the harsh light of mid-day, and instead harness the power of the ‘Golden Hour’, dawn or dusk, when you’ll find the softest shadows and most brilliant light.
Distance and orientation
In addition to magnificent wide-angle shots, include some intimate micro photography. This essentially means getting up close and personal with objects, showing off their fine details. Not every camera accommodates high-quality macro photography, and macro photography is often best achieved with an SLR camera that has the right lens. That said, most mobile phones do have at least some macro photography capabilities.
The key is to hold your camera’s lens as close to the photo subject as possible without blurring the image, rather than using the zoom feature. Don’t be shy to pull out a tripod for these shots to keep your camera stable. And be sure to capture both horizontal and vertical images. Sometimes less in the frame captures more of the garden’s character.
Basic composition rules
A few simple composition rules can drastically improve the quality of your images. For example, using the rule of thirds can change your photography significantly. Instead of centering the subject in the frame of your photo, aim to place your subject in intersections. Think of your camera as having three vertical grids, each the same size. Aim with your subject in either the left or the right third instead of the centre.
Next, look for leading lines. Amazing photographs give perspective without filling in all the details. Find a pathway edge or handrail, for example, to lead the viewer’s eyes to the point of interest in your photo. Fences, branches or petals can also work well for these.
Finally, frame your photos. Use elements like tree branches, leaves, shrub tops or architecture to create a natural frame for your subject.
Get garden comfortable
Shooting outdoors in any season has its risks and ultimate rewards. Be sure to protect yourself with bug spray, hat and sunblock in the summer, and with comfortable, layered clothing to stay warm and dry in the winter. And of course, lots of water to stay hydrated.
Last updated: September 17, 2023