Reader wanted to “explore the scope of horticultural possibilities in Calgary”. His fundamental concept – inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement in design – was to create a naturalistic ‘rockery’. He also wanted to support and stabilize the sandy soil native onsite.
The rocks that were used came from many sources and were gathered from the Calgary vicinity (such as Sandstone, Paskapoo formation), but also were donated by keen travelers, visitors and local Calgarians. Varieties include petrified wood from the Red Deer Valley near Drumheller, chert from the base of Mt. Rundle, Banff area, Tyndall limestone from Manitoba and many others. People dropped off rocks after their journeys and Reader also collected a lot by himself. Tufa rock may have come from as far away as BC. Fieldstone cobble was utilized to retain short walls and to stabilize the slope. Reader recycled and salvaged pieces of broken sidewalk concrete and carved stone details from buildings, which are still part of his pathways.
Reader’s garden was a showpiece for the ecological, horticultural and aesthetic possibilities of gardening in Calgary. During his time, the garden’s renowned collections attracted worldwide recognition.
Reader’s vision for the site was for experimentation, demonstration, and education.
Physical Site Statistics
Size ~ 1.2 hectares (slightly under 3 acres)
Predominantly composed of sandy loam soil, steeply sloped. Several full-time City gardeners are employed to keep the garden fresh and blooming. Approximately 3000 different species were grown on the site; many of these were native plants; Reader worked with other important Canadian plant breeders such as Frank Skinner. Capital funding was ~2.6 million $ (⅓ Municipal, ⅓ Provincial, ⅓ Federal); this included site servicing, a parking lot, entrance off 25th Avenue, cottage reconstruction, garden renovation, rock work, hardscaping, irrigation, site furniture.
Various sources have cited differing amounts for the number of plant trials conducted by Reader. The approximate range is between 3000-4000 species but is not conclusively determined at this time.