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The Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden: Jewel of the North

By Todd Boland (Todd_BolandMay 31, 2014

People may not realize that Newfoundland, considered way north, has a botanical garden. In fact, our botanical garden is over 30 years old and houses some 2500 taxa. Read on the learn about this jewel of the north.

Gardening picture

When tourists read about Newfoundland, they are usually shown pictures of our rugged coastline, windswept barrens, towering icebergs and the abundance of whales and seabirds in our coastal waters. Few tourist brochures mention that there is a botanical garden in Newfoundland. Considering this is where I work, I figured it was high time for me to introduce DG members to the Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden. But before I get into the specifics of our botanical garden, I should first let you know a little about the challenges of gardening in Newfoundland. I live in the wettest, snowiest, windiest, cloudiest and foggiest part of eastern North America. I think that says it all! Spring is very delayed with our tulips and daffodils peaking in mid-late May. Trees leaf during late May as well; some like ash, wait until mid-June! Our average date for last spring frost is June 15 so we don't plant annuals until after mid-June. On the plus side, (there's a plus side you ask?) our summers are pleasant with temperatures around 20-25 C; no oppressive heat and humidity. Falls are delayed; killing frost is generally late October, which is also when our trees reach peak fall-colour. Our regular snowfall means that frost rarely penetrates deep in the soil; in fact, oftentimes the soil remains unfrozen all winter! I know people who leave glads and dahlias in the ground all winter and they come up perfectly each June.


First snow versus mid-winter...yes the plants are WELL protected!

When the idea of starting a botanical garden in Newfoundland was first suggested, most people thought we were mad! You can't grow anything in Newfoundland but grass and spruce. Well some 30 years later, we have proven them wrong! We house over 2500 taxa in our botanical garden with an emphasis on alpines plants (perfect for our rocky soil and windy climate) and ericaceous plants like rhododendrons, heaths and heathers (also perfect for our naturally acidic soil, where soil exists).

First some general notes about our botanical garden. We are open to the public from May 1 to Nov. 30. The garden is 44 hectares (about 110 acres). Only about 2 hectares (5 acres) is devoted to flower gardens; the rest is a natural area where visitors can wander on 3.5 km of nature trails that traverse boreal forest, a fen and the shore of a natural lake on the grounds. The cultivated portion is a collection of 11 informal gardens; perennial border, cottage garden, heritage garden, shade garden, medicinal garden, wildlife-friendly garden, rock garden, crevice garden, alpine house, peat garden and vegetable garden. We even have a small tropical orchid display, half of the plants having being donated to us by the Thai Ambassador to Canada! Besides a pleasant place for visitors to stroll, our botanical garden also has a display room, gift shop, tea room, hosts regular art exhibits and holds garden workshops. We have an extensive school education program which extends from pre-school to University level. Finally, we are also a research facility doing research on habitat reclamation, invasive plants and plant breeding. University students also use our facilities regularly for their dissertation and thesis projects.


Views of our orchid case

Ok, now for some garden specifics. The perennial border is home to your standard garden flowers: phlox, peony, poppy, leopard's-bane, lungwort, shasta daisy, etc. The cottage garden has a similar assortment of plants but are laid out in a more random style. This garden also includes some medicinal plants, herbs and fragrant plants. The rock wall in this garden was constructed from a recycled stone root cellar.


Views of our cottage garden and perennial border

The vegetable garden is a collection of raised frames, the ideal way to grow vegetables in Newfoundland. The heritage garden is home to old varieties of perennials known to have been growing in Newfoundland since before the Second World War. The backdrop to this garden is a quiggly fence, a traditional nail-less fence made from spruce and fir saplings.


Above are scenes from the heritage garden


Our vegetable garden is 100% organic

The peatbed is home to our acid-loving plants, in particular, ericaceous shrubs. We have about 150 rhododendrons, 25 Calluna and 20 Erica selections in this area. This garden also features gentians, hardy orchids and many native woody plants. The shade garden houses about 50 hosta cultivars, dozens of ferns, primroses and a host of spring ephemeral plants. Our pride and joy is our collection of Himalayan blue poppies.


The peatbed features many rhododendrons


The shade garden is full of ferns and hosta with Himalayan blue poppy the star attraction

The wildlife-friendly garden contains a wide variety of plants known to be particularly attractive to butterflies and bees but this garden also has a small man-made pond which provides habitat for green frog and American toad. No pesticides are used in our botanical garden so essentially, the entire facility is wildlife-friendly!

Our claim to fame is probably our extensive rock gardens. We have several specialized rockeries; acid rock garden and scree, limestone rock garden and scree and even a man-made mountain creek. The construction of the limestone rock garden alone required 200 tons or rock and 60 tons of prepared soil. Within the rock garden is our alpine house, a place to house those finicky alpines who require cold winters that are dry and most snow-free.


The alpine house features potted alpines


Scenes from our various rock gardens

Our newest garden was only constructed in 2008. This is the crevice garden, a style of rock gardening developed in the Czech Republic. We received a grant from the North American Rock Garden Society to help offset the cost of construction and our local rock garden society and a private Friend of the Garden donated money to purchase the plant material. We also grow many native Newfoundland alpines from northern areas of the Province within the crevice garden.


The crevice garden is our newest feature

To learn more about the Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden, you can visit our website. As an avid gardener, I consider myself very fortunate indeed to work in this little piece of heaven.

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 2, 2010. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to yoru questions.)

  About Todd Boland  
Todd BolandI reside in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. I work as a research horticulturist at the Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden. I am one of the founding members of the Newfoundland Wildflower Society and the current chair of the Newfoundland Rock Garden Society. My garden is quite small but I pack it tight! Outdoors I grow mostly alpines, bulbs and ericaceous shrubs. Indoors, my passion is orchids. When not in the garden, I'm out bird watching, a hobby that has gotten me to some lovely parts of the world.

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