For over 80 years, the Rock Garden has provided tourists and the Hamilton community alike with an opportunity to connect with plants, gardens and the outdoors and foster a lifelong appreciation for nature. In 2013, the Rock Garden began its transformation to realize the Royal Botanical Gardens’ forward-facing goals to:
- Demonstrate sustainability and commitment to the environment;
- Increase the accessibility to all parts of the garden; and
- Make available for more special events and year-round use.
With a fixed budget, one of the main challenges to the project was staying on budget without losing the natural aesthetic and envisioned architectural and sustainability goals.
WSP worked closely with the architect to make the project a reality. The focal point of the rejuvenation is the new Visitor Centre that serves as the entryway, observation deck and event space that can be easily accessible and utilized year round. At 843 m2, the centre houses a multipurpose room, café and restaurant that will be able to host events with of up to 130 people. Designed to integrate with the natural curved paths leading out of the garden, the wood ‘leaf-shaped’ roof curves to create the appearance of a leaf blowing in the wind. This curved roof is framed in exposed, heavy timber beams that fit well with the context of a largely transparent building in the middle of a natural garden. The choice to use timber beams made from laminated Douglas Fir not only reflected a responsibility to the environment, as stock can be created by smaller trees harvested from responsibly managed resources, but was also cost effective without sacrificing structural requirements. With a floor-to-ceiling glass exterior leading to the garden, the visitors are also treated to unobstructed views.
Other features include several landscape features, pedestrian bridges, retaining walls and redeveloped pathways to the rock garden itself. Fully accessible with wide, flat and sloping pathways into the sunken garden bowl, the garden also contains water features that not only create an aquatic environment for new and existing plants but also relaxing ambient noise. Most notably, the original, leaky pond system was replaced to reduce water usage and to further enhance the commitment to sustainability of the facility.
The new infrastructure allows people to experience this much-loved garden in a new way with new events, year-round, day and night. From tourism to school visits, to community events like Shakespeare at Rock Garden, the space also provides ideas and inspiration for enthusiasts to take home and incorporate into their own spaces, at a time when everyone’s garden can play a role in helping to make our communities more sustainable.