Garden tour: Devonian Gardens, Calgary.

A couple of weeks ago, my hubby and I finally got a chance to see the revamped Devonian Gardens in the city’s downtown mall, The Core. Formerly called TD Square, the entire mall was pretty much gutted and rebuilt on the same site between 2008 and 2011.  As well as housing the Devonian Gardens, The Core boasts the ” largest point-supported structural glass skylight in the world,” at 85 feet (26 metres) wide and 656 feet (200 metres) long.  (There’s a photo of the skylight at the link).   The Gardens themselves were closed for nearly four years, and were reopened in June of this year…to lukewarm response.

If the inteviewees’ statements in this article are any indication, I’m not the only one who feels this way.  (Did I mention that the renovation to the Gardens alone cost 37 million dollars?).

You see, the former Devonian Gardens were a tropical respite from the hustle and bustle of downtown, a warm, cozy, and inviting place to sit with a book or to watch the resident turtles and feed the trout. Countless wedding photo shoots and fashion shows and Christmas parties were held there. During the winter, especially, the Gardens were a little piece of paradise! Sure, the plants were a little rambling in the 30 year old space, and maybe the worn floors needed a little update, but the whole effect was gloriously lush and diverse…and above, all, welcoming. (I really wish I had my own photos to share with you, but this great pic on Flickr will give you an inkling of what used to be).

Now, we have this:







Well, it definitely looks like we’re in a mall!

The City says it will look better as it grows in, but I can’t quite understand that statement, as the whole landscape will require meticulous, regular pruning, and is already about as “grown-in” as it will be allowed to get. I am impressed with the additional seating areas and I absolutely love the living walls (although people have taken to removing plant plugs, which necessitates large signs to notify customers that the plants are truly “real” and shouldn’t be plucked). And I have to admit, the design of the new Gardens completely fits with the ultra-modern The Core – which, after all, is what planners were going for. It’s simply not to my taste, though, and I really miss the old Gardens!

Perhaps I’m being overly sentimental!   Maybe indoor public gardens should have that ultra-coiffed look…what do you think?

Drifting along in the Senator Patrick Burns Memorial Rock Gardens.

A couple of weekends ago, my hubby and I took a stroll through the Senator Patrick Burns Memorial Rock Gardens in Riley Park, in Calgary’s northwest.  The history of the gardens’ namesake is very interesting:  Senator Patrick Burns (1856-1937) was a hugely successful businessman, rancher, politician and philanthropist.  He was one of the so-called “Big Four” founding members and financiers of the world-famous Calgary Stampede – without him, the “greatest outdoor show on earth” wouldn’t be what it is today.  Responsible for building a meat-packing empire (Burns Foods), Patrick Burns was at heart a rancher, and at the height of his success, he owned 2,800 square kilometres (700,000 acres) of land in southern Alberta, extending all the way to the Montana border.  The gardens in Riley Park were designed and built in the 1950’s to honour Burns’ contributions to the city of Calgary and the province of Alberta.  They contain 20,000 pieces of flagstone salvaged from the senator’s 18-room Calgary mansion, which was built between 1901-03.

We hadn’t wandered through the gardens in quite a few years, and it was a special treat this go-around because most of the flowering plants were at their peak (we toured late in the season last time).  What caught my eye most, however, was the use of drift plantings alongside the stone walkways.  It’s a design tool used to draw the eye (and the body) upward and onward through the landscape, and it is used with great success here.

Do you use drift planting in your garden?

Garden tour: Dorothy Harvie Gardens, Calgary.

A couple of weekends ago, my husband and I spent a few hours at the Calgary Zoo.  There were several reasons for going at that time.  For one, the weather was AMAZING, a hot, sunny break from the seemingly unending rain we received during the month of June.  For another, three tiger cubs had recently been born to mama Katja and papa Baikal – and, in my books, there’s not a whole lot cuter than a baby cat, domestic or otherwise.  And, best of all, there was the attraction of touring the Dorothy Harvie Gardens while in full splendour.

Philanthropist and prominent businessman Eric Harvie (1892-1975) and his wife Dorothy (1895-1988) are well-known in Calgary – their names are permanently connected to several city institutions, such as the Glenbow Museum and the Calgary Zoo, as well as the Centre for the Arts in nearby Banff.  Eric Harvie came into his multi-million dollar fortune in 1947, when oil was struck on land he owned.  The Harvie’s generously gave of their wealth, and citizens and visitors alike are still enjoying the benefits.

In the early ’80s, Dorothy Harvie donated the money required to construct the gardens that bear her name.  They opened in 1985, with the plant collection growing and changing ever since.  Presently, there are over 4,000 species and cultivars thriving over six acres of land.  The gardens were designed to showcase plants that work in Calgary (if you’re from this area or regularly read my blog, you’ll understand – and sympathize with! – how tricky gardening is here in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains).  Every plant is carefully labelled and catalogued:  the gardens are a teaching tool in addition to being spectacularly beautiful!

Here’s a little photo-tour for you:

Itoh peony ‘Singing in the Rain’

 ‘Morden Centennial’ rose (Photo credit:  R. Normandeau)

‘Strawberries and Cream’ nasturtiums 

European ginger (Asarum europaeum) 

Asiatic lily 

‘Arctic Beauty’ kiwi (no fruit yet!)

‘Fireglow’ spurge (Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’) 

Alkanet (Anchusa azurea ‘Feltham Pride Strain’)

What a way to use succulents!  Isn’t this fantastic?

Disappointingly, the baby tigers were in naptime mode when we visited, and would not come out of their hiding-space with their mother no matter how fervently I wished and paced outside their cage.  I had to make do with this video the Zoo has placed on YouTube.


For more information about the history of the Dorothy Harvie Gardens, check out this article in Alberta Views.

The gardens are not the only botanical attraction at the Zoo – the recently-renovated Conservatory houses a massive collection of tropical plants, and touring the butterfly garden is a thrilling way to interact with these amazing insects.  I particularly love going to the Conservatory when the weather is foul outside – you can’t help but feel warm and happy inside the glass walls, surrounded by beautiful plants!

(Photo credit: R. Normandeau)

Related posts:  Trochu treasure.  (Flowery Prose)

Mr. Pegg’s botanical legacy.  (Flowery Prose)