Work on the RBG’s $20 Million Rock Garden restoration is nearing completion. The 80 –year old garden was in need of a complete re-build at the time a fundraising project spearheaded by David Braley and his wife Nancy Gordon got underway. Through the then senator’s efforts $14 Million was secured from the federal and provincial governments leaving a local campaign a total of $6 Million to raise. The Braleys have promised to match local fundraising dollar for dollar up to $2 Million and it now looks like the total will be achieved.
“A good deal of the work is invisible,” said RBC CEO Mark Runciman, “because the plumbing and drainage that fed the ponds was in bad repair. There was so much leakage from the Garden ponds that it was necessary to have water running constantly to keep the water features flowing.” Aside from the tea house built in the 1960’s there had been essentially no work on the gardens infrastructure since its opening in the Depression. Plumbing aside there will be plenty of visible improvements to the gardens—the most notable being a new entrance building that will combine admissions, washrooms and visitor information into one structure.
A new perennial border garden, a spring garden and a flowering shrub collection will ensure continuous blooms throughout the entire growing season. The plan is not to eliminate the vast beds of annual flowers but to supplement them with more perennials that will reduce maintenance costs but also allow for a year round experience. “The tulip beds will still be there,” said Runciman, but not as many,” pointing out that a lot of labor goes into planting tulips for what amounts to about a 2 week floral display. The garden will be more accessible to those with mobility challenges. The staircases have been rebuilt and the pitch has been reduced to make walking easier. In addition a new drop-off circle, added at the entrance of the garden, will facilitate elderly visitors and people with mobility problems. Improved seating areas will focus on one strategically located terrace, highlighting the main floral display. Lighting and sound will be put throughout the garden to allow for expansion of the visitor experience to the evening hours. This terrace will provide shade and a variety of seating types to accommodate all types of groups.
Overall the RBG hopes the rejuvenation of the Rock Gardens will increase attendance and restore the feature to its position as one of the top garden attractions in the country.
The original Rock Gardens came about as part of a plan to rejuvenate the entire York Street entrance to the city, which at the time consisted of ugly iron bridges, billboards and other unattractive features. The Parks Board, whose vice Chair was the visionary Thomas Baker McQuesten initiated a competition for designs to improve the area. The winning design was that of Wilson, Bunnell and Borgstrom who among other initiatives proposed turning an abandoned gravel pit into a rock garden. As early photos demonstrate, the original concept was more of a stark alpine configuration where the rocks played a dominant role. Over the years successive flower plantings and the growth of the original trees planted there, gradually softened the look of the garden. The garden installation coincided with the development of the York Street boulevard and the erection of the iconic high level bridge that now bears McQuesten’s name.