A Photographer's Guide to Gardens in the Greater Toronto Area
Flex your wide-angle to macro photography skills in these twelve gorgeous GTA gardens.
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.
With 17 award-winning themed gardens within the grounds, the Toronto Botanical Gardens are easily one of the most beautiful locations in which to take some photos. Spread across almost two hectares with thousands of plants, there’s a lot of options for different subjects, so check out what’s in bloom. The botanical gardens are located within Edward Gardens, a former estate garden with walking trails throughout.
Location: 777 Lawrence Avenue East, North York
Plan Your Visit: Open daily dawn to dusk, admission is free, guided tours available for $20, $2.50 per hour paid parking, TTC accessible from Eglinton subway station (Lawrence East bus) or Lawrence subway station (162 Lawrence-Donway).
Founded in 1858, Allan Gardens is one of Toronto’s oldest parks and features 1500 square metres brimming with rare and exotic plants from around the world inside six cast-iron and glass greenhouses. Capture shots of cacti and succulents in the arid house, palms, bananas, and other tropical plants such as hibiscus and green jade vine in the palm house dome and tropical house, as well as stunning cool temperate plants from Australia and the Mediterranean.
Plan Your Visit: Admission free, open year-round.
Explore the architecture of the inter-war era of the 1920s and 30s at Spadina Museum, and picnic in the estate’s gorgeous gardens. Right next door, Casa Loma reflects a gothic revival style building and gardens. From the elegant of Spadina House, the drama of Casa Loma and the spectacle of the city scape below, you can’t beat the backdrops for these lush heritage gardens.
Location: 285 Spadina Road, downtown Toronto
Plan Your Visit: Grounds at Spadina House are open Wednesday to Sunday, 11am – 5pm, free admission, paid parking next door at Casa Loma.
With a curved pergola, the intimate gazebo, raised stone planters brimming with floral arrangements and aromatic rose garden and the expansive views of Lake Ontario from the top of the Scarborough Bluffs, you’ll find endless photo ops in this beautiful east end park.
Location: 5 Glen Everest Road, Scarborough
Plan Your Visit: Free admission, open year-round.
This horticultural gem located along the inner harbour binds botany with Bach resulting in one of Toronto’s most whimsical attractions. The undulating, swirling and lively garden design corresponds to the six movements of Bach’s First Suite in G Major, for Unaccompanied Cello.
Plan Your Visit: Free admission, open year-round.
Formally opened in 1970, this west end attraction features three greenhouses that showcase over 200 varieties of exotics such as cactus and tropical plants, as well as special seasonal displays.
Location: 151 Elmcrest Road, Etobicoke
Plan Your Visit: Admission is free, parking available.
Built by the founder of General Motors of Canada over a century ago, this mansion is now preserved for future generations to enjoy as one of the last remaining grand heritage estates of Canada. The early 20th Century Beaux-Art mansion encompasses nearly 4,600 square meters metres and the beautiful surrounding gardens draw inspiration from the English arts and crafts gardening movement that saw varying degrees of formality in design.
Location: 270 Simcoe Street, Oshawa
Plan Your Visit: Gardens free to visit, museum and garden tour ticket prices vary, open daily with season hours.
Nestled in Toronto’s Don Valley, this former quarry and brick factory is now a cultural hub that celebrates the revitalization of industrial sites into green and sustainable community spaces. One of the its attractions are the six Plant Positivity Gardens that serve to reintroduce native plant species. Experience the free, self-guided sensory audio tour with lead gardener, Isaac Crosby as you photograph the plants that bring you joy.
Location: 550 Bayview Avenue, Toronto
Plan Your Visit: Admission is free, paid parking available, accessible by public transport, bike or walking trails.
The formal landscape surrounding the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre was designed by renowned landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic, who drew inspiration from traditional Islamic Persian and Mughal gardens. Clean lines, reflecting pools, rows of trees and cedar hedges, stone features and the mix of manicured and wild lawn strike the perfect balance between the natural and the constructed. See if you can capture the essence of this harmony in your photos.
Location: 77 Wynford Drive, North York
Plan Your Visit: Gardens are free to visit, open daily from dawn to dusk, closing at 10 p.m. April 1 to October 31, parking $10 flat rate 7a.m. to 12.a.m., accessible by public transit.
High Park is a popular spot for local photographers, from the Sakura cherry tree blossoms to the forested walking paths and pleasant picnic areas. The recreational grounds extend between Bloor and the Gardiner Expressway, and also features several distinct and beautiful garden designs, like the formal pools and hedges in the sunken garden to the light filled hanging garden, as well as the hillside ornamental gardens, the rock garden and the maple leaf flowerbed garden.
Location: 1873 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Plan Your Visit: Free admission, very limited paid parking, no vehicle traffic or parking on public holidays and weekends, accessible by public transit.
Located behind Humber Collage, highlights in the 100 hectare botanical grounds and arboretum include ponds, picturesque bridges, gazebos, striking annual and perennial displays, a collection of gorgeous spring blossoming trees and shrubs, a tranquility bird garden and a native pollinator garden. Fall and winter present even more dramatic scenery.
Location: 205 Humber College Boulevard, Etobicoke
Plan Your Visit: Self-guided tours of the gardens are free, parking is limited.
Once a private estate on the banks of the Humber River, James Gardens, is now a public green space with lovely rose gardens, terraced stone pathways along pools and streams, and a stellar view of downtown from the lookout point.
Location: 99 Edenbridge Drive, Etobicoke
Plan Your Visit: Free admission, open year-round, limited parking available, public transport access from Royal York subway station via Royal York bus 73.
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.
Step Up Your Garden Photo Game with Different 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.
Follow 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 20, 2021