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?

Alberta garden tour: Trochu Arboretum and Gardens.

The tiny town of Trochu, Alberta, has a really nice golf course that I’ve played a few times over the years; what I didn’t know until recently was that just a few streets north of the course, there is an absolutely wonderful arboretum and gardens.  This past weekend I had the opportunity to tour the site, and what a fabulous treat it was!

Opened in 1989, the Arboretum sits on five acres of land that was originally owned by the Calgary and Edmonton Railway Company and purchased by the town’s first doctor, Dr. J.B. Milne, in 1911.  Dr. Milne did not develop the land, however, and the land transferred ownership to Mr. William H.S. Garrick, who planted many trees and built the house that still stands on the property today.  Dr. A.J.S. Hay subsequently bought the land in 1947 and resided there until his death in 1973.  Dr. Hay was an avid gardener and naturalist, and he designed and planted many flowerbeds and pathways on the property.   Vacant for nearly a decade, Sandy and Mary Welbourne bought the land in 1982 and spent the next six years restoring the existing gardens and developing the Arboretum, which was subsequently sold to the Town.   The Arboretum cultivates over 100 woody plants for the education and enjoyment of the public; the interpretive centre (which unfortunately was closed when I was there – it was very early in the morning) and outdoor classroom serve as teaching facilities.  Trees and shrubs on the property are boldly tagged with their botanical and common names, and there is an excellent paper booklet available at the gate that details most of the major species planted.  They’re all here, it seems, all of the hardy types that can be grown in Alberta:  white and bur oak, lodgepole and jack and Ponderosa and western white pine, black ash, tower poplar, American linden, Nanking cherry, paper birch, Manitoba and amur maple, Colorado blue spruce, American elm, larch…numerous specimens line the shale pathways, interspersed with gorgeous perennial and annual flowerbeds in varying conditions of shade and light.  There is a lilac bed planted with the most suitable and best-loved types for our province; a rose garden nestled up against the house shows off the finest Mordens.  A small fruit garden contains saskatoons, sour cherries, and raspberries – and at this time of year, they were plump and heavy with ripe, tantalizing fruit.  Crabapples, apples, plums and pears are features of the Alberta Horticulture Association Fruit Tree Garden:  can you imagine what this must look like when in full bloom in the spring?   Gorgeous statuary (including wood carvings by local artists) are placed in complementary locations and there is a large gazebo and open green space that can be used for picnicking and for wedding ceremonies.  One of my favourite spots is the Dr. Hay Memorial Pond, a beautifully-planted pond containing tiny colourful koi – I could have sat there all day on the bench that overlooks the water.   This place is a plant lover’s paradise, a thorough collection of excellently-maintained specimens in a beautiful and serene setting.  For me, golfing in Trochu will now be accompanied by a leisurely stroll through the Arboretum and gardens – what more pleasure in life can you ask for? 🙂


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