The Royal Botanical Gardens’ new 25-year Master Plan calls for significant enhancements to its Aldershot locations.
CEO Nancy Rowland points out that Aldershot is changing and the RBG must keep up.
“There is an awful lot of growth in Aldershot and what we’re seeing is that there’s increased usage of the RBG. We think that will continue”, said Rowland in an interview.
The framework for the Master Plan focuses on the environment but also makes specific references to Aldershot locations including the RBG Centre, the Hendrie Garden and the Laking Garden.
Details, and priorities are still to be worked out, but the Laking Garden is expected to be near the top of the RBG’s list. The Plan calls for it to be “rejuvenated”.
“We have Laking Garden on our agenda for sure. In the Master Plan it does factor quite prominently. It is really an under-utilized space……. and requires more programming”, according to Rowland.
Consultants who presented the Plan to the public, during the preparation process, disclosed big ideas.
“The Laking Garden would be restored to a premier garden destination. It would include a contemporary wedding venue with capacity of holding multiple weddings at once, as well as include a boutique hotel for locals and visitors alike”.
In addition to being underutilized, however, there are some immediate issues at Laking. A recent report by the Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System (C2E) expressed concern that the railway crossing pedestrian bridge at the parking lot poses accessibility issues with the steepness of the ramp along with winter maintenance problems.
Roland agreed that accessibility needs to be addressed.
“Our desire is to try to attract more people to Laking Garden which means issues of accessibility are critical. In the master plan we talk about wanting to be a year-round -place….so that means we have to be very thoughtful around how we program and plan and what changes we need to make to our different spaces”.
The Bridge at the Laking Garden Parking Lot
The Master Plan calls for exciting change at RBG Headquarters over the next 25 years.
“The existing RBG headquarters is to be upgraded with new administration facilities, restaurant, offices, archives, conference rooms rental facilities, auditorium and classrooms. The parking would be reconfigured into underground parking with an accessible green roof. The surrounding area would feature lush new courtyard gardens.”
Roland acknowledged that the C2E report also suggested the establishment of a safe pedestrian crossing on Plains Road West in front of the RBG Centre. She said she would discuss this recommendation with her team.
The 25 year vision for Hendrie Park is impressive.
“A rejuvenated Hendrie Park (will) feature amazing new gardens that are organized around a brand new conservatory…….a series of enclosed glasshouses featuring a myriad of exotic plants and gardens from around the world, culminating in a large glass (building) that houses a restaurant with a deck lookout into the Hendrie Valley. On the east edge of the property is a wellness hotel”, the Consultant reported.
RBG Headquarters and Hendrie Garden
Referring again to the Cootes to Escarpment report Roland addressed concerns raised over the safety of the trail crossing on Unsworth Avenue. “We are looking at all of our trails and the access points to the trails. First and fore-most that they’re safe and that there are no hazards”. C2E reported that the Unsworth crossing is not well signposted and there is little warning to drivers. It called on the RBG and the City to deal with the problem.
C2E also recommended that the temporary closure of one of the entrances to the Cherry Hill Gate parking lot be made permanent. It was described as “chaotic with pedestrians and vehicles and without proper wayfinding signage and pathways…..resulting in inherent safety concerns”.
Roland agreed that the entrance will be permanently closed.
“The team will be implementing a new strategy for that parking lot ….trying to make it safer for the wildlife, who come out of the ravine and find themselves on the road….we’re also trying to make it safer for families so that kids don’t run out on the road…..We want to improve control of the parking lot outside of operating hours…….There is work that actually is going to start rather quickly”.
C2E also noted that there are safety concerns at Valley Inn with vehicles parking on the roadside conflicting with pedestrians. It recommended that discussions take place with Burlington aimed at transferring ownership of the area from the City to the RBG.
“The conversations are ongoing. I want to see how that fits into the larger approach to that area. I can see the benefit of doing that, but I probably need a little more insight before I comment on issues like that.” said Roland.
Roland said the RBG is “extremely fortunate” to be surrounded by an engaged Aldershot community.
“We’re here to continue to work with the community and to make sure that we do that in a way that recognizes the importance of this community. We’re here to work together to make RBG successful, but also to make sure that Aldershot continues to be a lovely community to live in”.
By Rick Craven