Wednesday, September 4, 2013

William Reader Rock Garden in Calgary Alberta

At one period of my life I was prompted to go back to college and take Horticulture. Through that education I was led to a job with the City of Calgary parks. I did not go to college because of the job but rather because of my love for gardening and wanting a change or improvement in my life. At Olds College I certainly found both.

I started the first year as a Laborer. This ment doing all the harder, dirtier jobs. The rock garden was just getting restored and the planting had begun. We were attempting to get the garden back to its former glory when it had over 5000 species growing in it. The brain child of William Reader. Calgary Parks first superintendent who's goal it was to prove to Calgarians what would live in the challenged growing environment of Calgary. Calgary actually has a growing season harder to grow in then the more northern City of Edmonton due to the chinooks that roll back off the mountains and although warms up the air will melt the ground covering snow just long enough to mess up the winterizing of plants and trees therefore causing often winter kill or at the very least die back as temperatures of below -45 C and into -50's with windchill are very common and can last for days if not into weeks at a time! Calgarians are a very hardy bunch.
William Reader would take his grandchild and go out into the wild and would collect specimens to bring back to the garden. He was a very conscious man though and would only take specimens if it left plenty in the area he was collecting. Never risking taking from nature too much. The stories told by his grandson on the opening celebration stay with me years later.

The gardens consist of over 3 acres of restored beds. Photos from the period that William and his wife Mary lived there were collected and used to figure out what plants where to go in which bed along with extremely well kept journals. To restore a historical garden  back to get its actual Historical designation you are restricted to playing with in very set rules. For instance just because William had placed plants in certain beds before trees were established and they grew well and received adequate light doesn't mean that they will now grow under fully mature trees and next to full shade! Yet we had to put the same plants and exact species of plants in the same beds as he had them. There was no lea way to say that William would of moved them to suit the plants needs or even to play with plant placement for beauty sake and play one attribute of a plant off another and therefore show them both to advantage. As newly graduated Horticulture students who craved to use there design knowledge of plant placement this could be frustrating. I worked at Reader Rock for three seasons. Finishing up as a Gardener and then moving on into a Foremans position.
This is an area of the gardens that will always hold one of my fondest and most heartfelt memories. A very special friend came and sat with me here during a time of incredible need. Thank you dear friend!  You will be with me always. I sat here during this visit feeling both gladness to have such a friend and yet such a lose that he is gone.
The species grown here may look like ones you grow now but usually are far older and harder species to find then the everyday ones used in  homeowners gardens. The head gardener is an incredibly dedicated woman with a gift for memory I envy. Hours of her own time were spent in those first years seeking out inventory and resources for plant material. Hours she was never compensated for other then her own personal self satisfaction and love of this garden. It was a honor to work with her and all the other fine gardeners who were there during my years.
The history that this garden has spins wonderful stories. If you go to the garden then ask the gardeners about this chair. It is said that a local politician use to sit here while he would write his speeches. Not this chair. These were specially made for the garden along with several of the benches as shown on the photo on the house lawn.
William Reader used City workers during a time when work was scarce as a way of keeping them employed and helping to feed their familys. They created the ditches with round rocks lining them and are the original ditches. Great care is taken to keep them cleaned out and without dislodging any of the rocks.
There is a replicate of his house on the property which was rebuilt and is used as a garden cafe on the main level with classroom space in the basement for visiting groups and guided walks through the park.
There is even history on where some of the rocks where hauled in from or who actually gifted William with certain special rocks. He was known to of provided perennials to Butchard garden and also to Kew as he had been a head gardener over in England before coming to Canada with his wife Mary.
The garden is looking like Autumn already. A lot of perennials are full of seed heads and Im wondering if the political shift has taken money from Reader and is now being spent in other newer ventures throughout the city. Calgary as you may or may not know went through record flooding. It was hit with a lot of damage along with surrounding towns. Visiting in August surprised me by the clean up and restoration being done. A theme song called "Hell or High water" to listen click HERE came out of that flooding and it sings of the hardy nature that is who we are  as Albertians.
This recirculating waterfall build back in time was pretty amazing. It was resealed and is in use. The addition of the sound of water is all part of the charm of this precious gem of Calgary.
These rocks greet you as the path divides and takes you either to left or right and leads you to the lawn at the house with its own view over looking the stampede grounds.
Usually this garden was kept dead headed but there is a feeling of it being left to perhaps reseed and spread the plants throughout the beds to add to the fullness especially in the second phase. This garden is over 3 acres with only three gardeners to tend to it although they no longer have to mow or do the extra work in the ditches or road repair as we once did. For the size of the garden and its demand not to mention the gardeners being pulled out to go and help in other gardens when they are behind or formal beds needing to be planted throughout the city. The do an amazing job. Im sorry I didn't get to go on a day and time when they were there. I went to college with two of the remaining gardeners and catching up with them would of been fun.
So I will leave you with this last parting photo.... I encourage you to get to now Reader Rock garden and its gardeners. They know the history far better then I am remembering it Im sure. That seems to be the way of my memory these days. The things Im not currently using I defrag like a computer and retain what is being used!
I hope you enjoyed your walk through this garden. Believe me that my photos did not do the garden justice.
Visiting during May through July probably would show it off far better. The irrigation is also controlled centrally downtown and so the garden for the most part looked extremely dried out!

Have a great week every one. I hope the Children have made it safely back to school and you have your feet up with a nice relaxing cup of tea for those of you who can....
This time of year use to be one of my favorite. I love new school supplies... dare I say that I love the smell of a freshly sharpened bouquet of pencils!.....

Remember... returning to school is a way to help you achieve and Remember it is never too late to be all that you were meant to be!