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The David Braley and


Nancy Gordon Rock Garden Horticultural heritage reborn


By David Galbraith


R


oyal Botanical Gardens’ Rock Garden has been a feature of the Hamilton landscape since the early 1930s. The site of countless tourist visits and


wedding portraits, it has a surprising history and a bright future. Having just come through a $20 million rejuvena- tion, today it is a lush and protected landscape, with 86 year old Scotch and Austrian pines circling the rim of a deep garden bowl like a verdant crown. It certainly didn’t start that way. The Rock Garden began with visionary civic leadership.


In 1917, Noulan Cauchon, a town planner, singled out the Burlington Heights, a peninsula with Dundurn Castle at its southern end, as one of three outstanding physical features in Hamilton. A decade later the city bought up land on the Heights to create a grand landscaped entrance straddling the provincial highway to Toronto.


22 • Fall 2016


Led by Thomas Baker McQuesten, the board of park


management launched a competition in 1927, open to Canadian architects, to give Hamilton the most beautiful entrance to any city in Canada. The landscape presented many challenges, including a huge a bowl-shaped depres- sion: an abandoned 5.5-acre, 30-foot-deep gravel pit. Twelve designs were considered that included new uses


for the gravel pit. John Lyle, designer of Toronto’s Union Station, proposed a lily pond with a teahouse situated beside it. Howard and Lorie Dunington-Grubb thought it would make a great amphitheater. Only Carl Borgstrom, famous for a naturalistic garden style, thought to make it a rock garden. There was only one problem. There was no rock on the site, just gravel. Borgstrom’s solution? Quarry 10,000 tons of limestone from the Niagara Escarpment and move it 10 kilometers to the garden.


localgardener.net


All photos courtesy of the Royal Botanical Gardens unless otherwise noted.


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