Reader’s task was to get Cal­gar­i­ans grow­ing.

Alberta Gardener Magazine - - News -

Wil­liam Roland Reader ar­rived in Cal­gary from Eng­land in 1908 and over the fol­low­ing years took the fledg­ling city’s gar­den­ing world by storm. He was a found­ing mem­ber of the Cal­gary Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety, wrote numer­ous ar­ti­cles for the lo­cal news­pa­per and gave count­less talks — ac­com­pa­nied by his own hand-coloured slides — about gar­den­ing suc­cess­fully in Cal­gary’s dif­fi­cult cli­mate. As parks su­per­in­ten­dent from 1913 un­til 1942 he was re­spon­si­ble for lay­ing the foun­da­tions for Cal­gary’s net­work of parks, open spa­ces and tree-lined boule­vards.

Reader’s most no­table ac­com­plish­ment, how­ever, was his rock gar­den. In those days, Cal­gary’s parks su­per­in­ten­dent was pro­vided with a house on the edge of the Union Ceme­tery in which to live. In 1913 the site was noth­ing more than a grass-cov­ered, sandy hill­side with a house perched on top. The house was fully ex­posed to the el­e­ments and the hill­side was a tar­get for ero­sion. Reader brought in rocks from sur­round­ing ar­eas as well as top­soil and com­posted ma­nure. Boul­ders sta­bi­lized the slopes, stone paths di­vided the gar­den into beds and streams trick­led be­tween ponds.

The prin­ci­ples of gar­den de­sign were ap­plied, but the real pur­pose of the gar­den was to test new plants for har­di­ness. Pub­li­ca­tions from the time show that early Cal­gar­i­ans grew only about 20 types of peren­ni­als. Most trees were still un­re­li­able, and con­di­tions were so harsh that even turf had to be mulched to sur­vive the win­ter!

The thou­sands of plant species that he in­tro­duced from lands far and wide have be­come an in­te­gral part of peo­ple’s lives in this city to­day. He or­dered seeds pro­duced in the world’s more se­vere cli­mates and col­lected seeds and plants him­self while on moun­tain hikes. Many plants that we see as “new” to our green­houses to­day were in Reader’s gar­den by the 1930s. He suc­cess­fully raised Hi­malayan blue pop­pies (Me­conop­sis be­toni­ci­fo­lia), heav­enly per­fumed Prim­ula marginata, helle­bores, plume pop­pies, Ja­panese tree lilacs, the creep­ing bellflower (Cam­pan­ula ra­pun­cu­loides) and the pro­lific pur­ple looses­trife (Lythrum sali­caria), now con­sid­ered a nox­ious weed. Reader also grew plants that are still rarely seen, such as Ado­nis ver­nalis. His ex­ten­sive plant list con­tains more than 150 cul­ti­vars of bearded iris alone. Words like “mag­i­cal” and “en­chanted” were used to de­scribe his unique prop­erty.

To­day’s data­base, con­tain­ing ap­prox­i­mately 4,000 dif­fer­ent plants, is com­piled from four known ver­sions of a man­u­script that pre­sum­ably would have been pub­lished, if it had not been for Reader’s un­timely death less than a month after his re­tire­ment.

The city of Cal­gary be­gan re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing Reader’s over­grown and largely aban­doned 2.8-acre gar­den in May 2004. Since the re­open­ing cer­e­mony for Phase 1 of the project in 2006, the path­ways and rock­eries of the site have been re-es­tab­lished them­selves as a des­ti­na­tion for vis­i­tors of all ages and in­ter­ests. The sec­ond and fi­nal phase of the project in 2008 fo­cused on the west­ern slope and on the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of the two large ponds in the west gar­den that treat vis­i­tors to cas­cad­ing water­falls and a trick­ling stream. Beds near the ponds have been cre­ated to mir­ror archival pho­to­graphs. The pond’s edge

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.