If you stand atop the Lilac Dell at the Arboretum in June – and there’s just the right breeze, the scent of over 745 lilacs will welcome you into the sweetest aromatic experience. According to Jessica Veter, a volunteer and long-standing member of Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG), this is just one of the many captivating experiences that RBG has to offer its visitors.
Nestled into the Niagara Escarpment at the western tip of Lake Ontario, RBG is the most extensive botanical gardens in Canada, and one of the largest in the world with an impressive 2,700 acres of unparalleled nature reserve. Often described as an ecological jewel, the gardens offer a respite from the fast-paced demands of life, and a sacred place for visitors to re-connect with nature. With approximately 40,000 plants protected and preserved within 60 documented collections, RBG has grown to become a national and international leader in sustainable gardening and a picture of excellence in ecological restoration and plant preservation.
RBG is home to five major garden areas; Hendrie Park, Laking Garden, RBG Centre, the Rock Garden, and the Arboretum, each one offering visitors a unique encounter with plant and animal life.
The Arboretum, which is especially lively and picturesque in the spring, is where you’ll find a variety of woody trees and vibrant plants species spread organically across the terrain. It’s also where you’ll find the Lilac Dell ripe with over 600 different species organized into a series of exhibits, along with spring flower displays and a variety of diverse trees and shrubs.
Jessica remembers her first encounter at the Arboretum with her then three-year-old son. “A couple handed us some black oil sunflower seeds and suggested we feed the birds,” she recalls, “but try getting a three year old to hold seeds in his hands.” Instead, Jessica placed the seeds on the brim of her son’s hat inviting six chickadees to land on top of his head, a magical moment that she describes as “pure joy.” After that, Jessica and her family became RBG members and have been regular visitors for the past twelve years. Five years ago she decided to share her love for the gardens and passion for educating others about sustainability and plant preservation by becoming a volunteer.
We preserve and protect lands that include sensitive habitats home to over 50 at-risk species of plants and animals, all in the middle of one of the country’s fastest growing urban centres.
A novelist by trade, a natural part of what Jessica loves to do when volunteering is share stories about the origins of some of RBG’s unique plant species. For example, in Hendrie Park gardens stands a stately tree once thought to be extinct. After being re-discovered by a botanist after the Second World War, the endangered Metasequoia’s (dawn redwood) seeds were distributed to arboreta around the world, including to RBG. Jessica often shares this story with visitors to help them facilitate a more meaningful encounter with the gardens. “When we know the stories that go with gardens or individual trees,” she says, “we are better able to connect with them and make them part of our own stories.”
As a not for profit organization, community engagement and support is integral to the success of the gardens. “We preserve and protect lands that include sensitive habitats home to over 50 at-risk species of plants and animals, all in the middle of one of the country’s fastest growing urban centres,” says RBG CEO Mark Runciman. “We can’t do such important work alone; we turn to the support of our community: our members, volunteers and donors to make the difference. This allows us to not only do critical work in our core areas, but to serve as a regional hub for vibrant arts and cultural programming.”
Becoming a member, like Jessica did, is one method of support that offers substantial perks. Members support RBG’s vision and mission while enjoying year-round access to the five garden areas and over 27 km of nature trails. Members also gain access to exclusive member appreciation events like speakers series and enjoy discounts on programming. There are various membership categories available to
suit the needs of both singles and families.
RBG is for more than just nature enthusiasts. It’s for the forever learners, history buffs, and for those who celebrate diversity and care deeply about the environment. RBG provides a wide variety of programming for families, kids, and adults offering various workshop and events throughout the year that allow visitors to dive deeper into the knowledge and skills of gardening, nature, botanical arts and wellness. They also offer one-of-a-kind events like the Garden Music Nights concert series, the only concert of its kind in Canada where you will enjoy world-class entertainment amidst the stunning setting of a botanical garden in full bloom.
Photo credits: Mark Zelinski & Mcneill Photography