Garden routes are becoming increasingly popular as tourist destinations in Canada, with garden owners opening their properties to visitors who are looking to experience the beauty of nature. “Escape from Chaos,” owned by Jacqui Laporte and John Empson in Auburn, Ont., is one such garden that is part of the 25 properties that form Discover the Gardens of Huron Perth.
Gardens on these routes can be public or private, with some paying tribute to historical landscapes or literary figures, while others may include a commercial aspect such as a cut-your-own flower operation or a tavern.
Most gardens ask for a donation, with some designating a charity to support with the funds collected.
But what sets garden routes apart from self-directed garden tours?
“We’re open typically May to October rather than for a day or a weekend,” explains Brenda Sutherland, president of Discover Rural Gardens of Grey and Bruce Counties. This requires more maintenance to be ready for the public for that duration. Garden owners can also designate what days of the week they’re open, and some may be open by appointment only.
Brenda’s group started 18 years ago with a handful of passionate gardeners who would bump into each other at community events and speaker circuits. Over time, they promoted themselves, enlarged their group, and collaborated with tourism officials to develop what they call “the product.”
Governments and commercial interests have played a significant role in helping gardens get on the map.
For example, Canada’s Garden Route, sponsored in part by Via Rail, provides information about public gardens nationally, while Nova Scotia Tourism promotes Garden Road Trip, with nine locations of interest to gardeners.
Michel Gauthier, executive director of the Canadian Garden Council, sees the potential for garden tourists to also enjoy other cultural experiences. “We know that garden tourists are cultural tourists. Why not combine interests such as art, culture, culinary, wine…to attract and captivate people?”
Last year, Jacqui estimated that 75 to 100 people visited their garden, including a bus tour of about 40 people. In promotional material, the garden is described as having a raised vegetable garden, a dry riverbed, and a snake hibernaculum.
For Jacqui, part of the motivation to participate in the garden route is public education and outreach. “I probably know the least of anyone on our tour; I don’t know the names of everything and my garden is not immaculate,” she admits. “But you don’t necessarily need to be a pro; it’s not the end of the world if you plant something in the wrong spot.”
Sharing knowledge about growing food is particularly important to Jacqui, as her family canned everything when she was growing up. Her husband started growing vegetables about three years ago, and they now have five teenagers.
“You don’t have to feed your family all the time, but it’s good to know you can grow a carrot.”
Her parents, Phil and Patty Laporte, also participate in Discover the Gardens of Huron Perth, showcasing raised vegetable gardens for seniors. As for the snake hibernaculum, Jacqui, a snake lover, describes it as a big hole bedded with compost and layered with stones.
“When you’re in a residential setting, it’s difficult to find a fine line between having wildlife habitat on your property and not making it look like a weed hole,” she chuckles.