The largest botanical garden in Canada, and one of the largest in the world, had been considered an ecological jewel at the tip of Lake Ontario for close to 80 years. But the total redevelopment of its 2.43-hectare (six-acre) Rock Garden starting in 2013 presented some unique challenges to Aldershot Landscape Contractors.
First, the garden already had significant horticultural specimens in place, which needed to be protected and preserved. Second, the job also included construction of a new visitor centre for the entire Botanical Gardens organization. And, third, the site was located in a former rock quarry, making it a challenge to bring in the much-needed very large equipment. “Access was limited and painstaking,” says landscape architect Iain Souter, a partner with Aldershot.
Originally created in 1930, the Rock Garden had been designed on top of an abandoned gravel pit in an area littered with billboards and old shacks. But as part of a Depression-era make-work project, tons of weathered limestone rocks were brought in from nearby quarries. These rocks created the garden’s structure and its irregular network of staircases, linked ponds, bridges, and waterfalls.
Reimagining and rebuilding that structure into something new and more sustainable was the goal facing the landscape contractors and architects. The intricate site plan for the new garden presents a bold and broad planting among many beautiful and meandering paths for the public. Aldershot Landscape also used a host of best practices in plant selection, design and management. These includes pollinator-friendly plants, species native to Ontario, and a broad range of drought-tolerant perennials to provide colour and texture through all four seasons.
And from a sustainability point of view, the news is only good. The new Rock Garden reduces:
- Water use
- Soil upheaval
- Plant waste
- Carbon emissions
- Human labour
These changes have occurred because the Gardens no longer need to seasonally change out more than 150,000 bulbs and annuals. As a result, the Royal Botanical Gardens are able to achieve more with less.
And for Aldershot Landscape Contractors, one of the best side benefits of the project was that the garden was able to remain closed for a full year after planting. This occurred because of all work required to go into building the visitor centre. “When the rock garden was opened to the public, it looked spectacular,” says Iain Souter. “The chance the garden had to grow really shows in its current health and vitality.”