The Canadian province of New Brunswick, on the eastern edge of the U.S. state of Maine, is an amazing place to visit. With 85 percent of the land still in forest plus 3,400 miles of coastline, the highest tides in the world, and countless locales with lovely gardens, there is plenty to see and do in this land of unending natural wonders.
There are many routes to take when exploring New Brunswick. I started mine in the city of Fredericton but you can easily start in Saint John. Either way, a circular route of five days gives you time to explore, though adding extra days is a slower pace to soak in these scenic wonders.
“The forest has a memory,” the guide with Wabanaki Tree Spirit tours explained as we set off into Fredericton’s Odell Park, one of only a few old-growth forests remaining in New Brunswick. According to the Wabanaki indigenous culture, they exist equally with the trees so before entering it’s important to offer something to the forest – a prayer or a tangible item. We collected a few plant pieces, ground them together, said a prayer, and blew the chaff into the air before stepping into this important place.
The forest tour is a mix of botany lessons and Wabanaki traditions, all set amidst the towering trees, some of which are 400 years old. The eastern hemlock is the predominant species in the park, along with striped maple and spruce.
But it was the subtle beauty of the forest floor that held my attention, as my guide explained the importance of the plants, lichens, mosses, and fungi found here, and the uses of each in Wabanaki medicine and culture.
The easy walk took us through forest areas covered in fern, Solomon’s seal, and low-growing Canada yew. Flowers like bluebead lily, whorled wood aster, and coltsfoot thrived as well. The array of mushrooms popping up here and there included turkey tail, chanterelle, and the tiniest eyelash pixie cup. At the end of the tour, I came to understand why the indigenous here look at the woods differently and the reasons they are more attuned to the impacts of nature on life. Wabanaki Tree Spirit also offers culinary tours and workshops.
The park is also home to the Odell Arboretum and New Brunswick Species Collection. The 1.7-mile trail winds through the woods past examples of every native New Brunswick tree species, though some in the collection were damaged in Tropical Storm Arthur in 2014.
The Fredericton Botanic Garden is a manicured 54 acre garden set in the wilderness adjacent to Odell Park and is completely run by volunteers on city owned land. The Pollinator Garden overflows with color from the bee balm, echinacea, loosestrife, Maletese cross (Lychnis chalcedonica), and other varieties of pollinator-loving plants. The Peony Bed offers a mass of color in spring. Followed by the impressive Daylily Bed with hundreds of plants in bloom in summer. The Literature Garden focuses on plants named in the literary works of New Brunswick writers.
The trail through the garden is one way up and back so you can take a casual stroll to experience other garden areas: a crevice garden, a rhododendron and azalea garden, perennial beds, and a woodland fern trail. The Wabanaki Healing Garden celebrates Indigenous culture with plants used in ceremonies (sea sage for smugging), drink (Labrador tea), food (sunchoke), medicine (Acorus for colds), and an extensive food forest. The garden hosts a spring plant sale, a summer artist-in-residence program, and summer garden tours.
Fredericton, the provincial capital of New Brunswick, sits along the St. John River and has an easy-to-access riverfront trail. As you walk or bike the trail, you’ll have several places to visit including sculptures in the shape of a frog, butterfly, and a flowering tree – all filled with over 8,500 colorful annuals in summer. New this summer is a 25-foot-long flower installation on both sides of the river spelling out Fredericton with a 175 on top to commemorate the city’s anniversary. The Jubilee Garden at the Government House celebrates Queen Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign.
Make time to stop at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery with works ranging from New Brunswick artists to Salvador Dali’s immense painting “Santiago El Grande”. A stroll downtown will fill your time with its eclectic collection of shops and dining options.
The tiny seaside resort of St. Andrews seemed an unlikely place for a world-class botanical garden when Mr. and Mrs. John and Lucinda Flemer decided to build it on 27 acres adjacent to her parent’s summer home. But Lucinda had a passion for gardens and for helping the local community. Kingsbrae Garden opened in 1998 and is one of those gardens that should be on everyone’s bucket list to visit.
From the moment you enter the garden gates, you are surrounded by some of the finest traditions in horticultural design and experiences. The White Garden entrance path overflows with shades of green and white plantings. The Knot Garden, original to the home, is four Celtic knots created by boxwood and filled with red and yellow barberry plus garden containers overflowing with summer flowers.
The massive 100-year-old hedges surrounding the garden protect it from the wind, which is why you will see hedges used throughout Kingsbrae. Step through the opening cut into the hedge and down the steps into the lovely rose garden with colorful grandiflora, shrub, and carpet roses, plus Explorer roses developed to survive Canadian winters. Another hedge opening takes you to the grandest garden – the Perennial Garden.
This two-acre garden divided into 26 garden beds is filled with color created by swathes of plantings as if an artist’s brush created the scene. And what a view it is. Mass plantings of daffodils, hyacinths, and fritillaria in the spring. Peonies, daylilies, astilbe, monarda, coneflowers, sea holly, and more follow from summer into fall. The middle of each bed features an impressive Japanese maple or a colorful garden structure with garden benches placed throughout so you can soak in the beauty here.
You can fill a day or two in Kingsbrae; exploring the edible garden, where it’s okay to pick and eat the produce-no pesticides are used, wandering in the conifer garden, having fun in the Children’s Fantasy Garden, walking the labyrinth of thyme, and being immersed in the butterfly garden, sculpture garden, and the Scents and Sensitivity Garden with raised beds filled with plants to touch and smell.
The windmill that rises above Kingsbrae was an anniversary gift for the couple to honor Mr. Flemer’s Dutch heritage. It’s functional and used to transfer water from the lower pond to the upper pond. The Garden Cafe is a perfect stop for lunch in the garden. It’s especially lovely dining on the patio overlooking the garden. Come back in the evening for one of the summer performances in the garden’s amphitheater featuring productions from concerts to Broadway.
Bay of Fundy
New Brunswick is home to some of the most stunning national parks in Canada, including the Fundy National Park. The Bay of Fundy is the main attraction of the park due to its dramatic tides that can fluctuate 40 feet in height or more every six hours. Your view of the water at 9 am will be totally different at 3 pm depending on when the waters cover or expose expansive sections of the ocean floor. Visitors can explore the rugged coastline and take in stunning views of the ocean and the rocky cliffs with a drive on the Bay of Fundy Parkway.
A good place to start the drive is in St. Martins, a tiny coastal town. The drive offers numerous stops with a view including five beaches, four waterfalls, and even a suspension bridge to walk across the river.
If time, a walk through the woods to Walton Glen Gorge will take you to the Grand Canyon of New Brunswick. As you step onto the viewing platform, you can see 1,000 feet across and 525 feet down into this natural wonder created 550 million years ago.
For an up-close view of the ocean floor and these massive tides, Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park offers an immersive experience. Some 24 rock formations, called the Flowerpot Rocks, were caused by tidal erosion and dot the ocean floor just below the cliffs. A steel staircase – there are 99 stairs – leads down to the surface where you can spend hours wandering from one rock formation to another before the next tide comes in and park staff does a “sweep of the ocean floor” so no one is left stranded below. There is also easier access to the ocean floor with no stairs or ramp on the south end.
Some flowerpots have whimsical names for the images seen in them; Elephant, Bear, ET, and even Mother in Law. A tide line surrounds each rock and some even have trees and other flora growing on top where the water doesn’t reach – hence the flowerpot name. And at the tide line, the rocks are covered in seaweed; knotted wrack and bladderwrack are the familiar ones. You can book a guided tour of the rocks and even a kayak adventure.
On top of the cliff area is an interpretative center with displays about these geological formations plus a restaurant. Wear sensible shoes as walking on the ocean floor can be slippery. Walking on the mud flats beyond is prohibited to protect this fragile ecosystem. If you can, time your visit to be there at low tide to explore below and then at high tide when you can observe the dramatic rise of water from viewing stations on the cliffs above.
The Eastern Shore
No visit to New Brunswick is complete without a trip to the Irving Eco-Centre: La Dune de Bouctouche on the eastern shore of the province overlooking the Northumberland Strait with Prince Edward Island in the distance.
This 7.5 miles long sand dune is dynamic, always moving, and also fragile, which is why there is a boardwalk along one length of the dune so visitors can see and learn more about this ecological wonder without stepping on the dune. Thousands of marram grass plants have been added to stabilize it, yet it’s important to not walk on this ribbon of sand. More plant life has filled in; wild rose, morning glory, sumac, beach pea, white meadowsweet, and candleberry, to name just a few.
Hovering overhead are coastal and migrating birds, depending on the season, including the endangered piping plover that nests here. Interpretative displays along the boardwalk and nature displays in the building explain the environment of this area.
While there is beach access here and some of the warmest water north of the Carolinas, it’s more for discovery and strolling than typical beach activities. After every major storm, the dune changes shape. And while it is not growing longer due to the water currents at the far end, it is growing wider and could potentially be cut in half by one of these storms.
When You Go to New Brunswick
New Brunswick’s two largest cities, Moncton and Saint John have other interesting gardens to visit. You can drive through the Irving Arboretum in Moncton, stopping along the way to walk in the various garden sections, including perennial and daylily gardens plus a lovely one with a water pond.
Butterfly World in Moncton is the only indoor butterfly experience in New Brunswick. Don’t be hesitant with its unusual location in a family amusement park (or perhaps its brilliant marketing?). Once inside the dome, you will be immersed in a brilliant display of tropical butterflies.
There are typically 200-300 butterflies fluttering about at any one time, and each week they bring in a new shipment of a few hundred in pupa form so visitors can watch these hatch and then be released into the garden. While the dome is small, it’s packed with butterfly friendly plants, though no host plants.
In the city of Saint John, several gardens have been consolidated into the Saint John Public Garden. A new horticulture director has big plans as they reshape this area to feature new garden beds, including one recently added for monarch butterflies.
Where to Stay and Eat in New Brunswick
This part of Canada is known for its lobster and seafood selections, though you can find just about any type of dining option from farm fresh to menus from around the world.
In Fredericton, the Crowne Plaza Fredericton-Lord Beaverton Hotel overlooks the St. John River and is adjacent to downtown. The hotel’s Joyce Pub offers a large selection of New Brunswick craft beers and ciders and even makes mead from the honeybee hives on its roof.
The Beach Street Inn in St. Martins is a plush bed and breakfast with onsite evening dining; the patio overlooks the Bay of Fundy. Moncton’s Delta Hotel Beausejour Hotel is in the heart of the city, making it easy to walk to dinner in this restaurant-filled downtown. The Hilton Saint John is on the harbor front and has panoramic views of the Bay of Fundy and is adjacent to the city’s many dining options.
For more information on New Brunswick, visit www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca.