Stone‑cold stellar: Campus rock garden garners major international accolades

- July 7, 2023

Dal's rock garden in Truro features a rock face, two dry streams, a gravel scree bed, peat bed and woodland garden with drought-tolerant alpines and hardy succulents. (Nick Pearce photos)
Dal's rock garden in Truro features a rock face, two dry streams, a gravel scree bed, peat bed and woodland garden with drought-tolerant alpines and hardy succulents. (Nick Pearce photos)

Dalhousie's rock garden on the Agricultural Campus in Truro serves as a scenic setting for pictures, an educational resource for students and visitors, and, now, as another badge of honour for the university after it took home a top international award last month.

The rock garden, which is one of the two largest such gardens in Atlantic Canada, received the Frank Cabot Public Garden Award during the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS) annual conference held on the campus last month.

“We were so pleased and honoured to be the recipient of such a prestigious award from the North American Rock Garden Society,” says David Gray, campus principal and dean of the Faculty of Agriculture. “It speaks to the talents and vision of our faculty and staff while making a significant contribution to our campus community and community at large.”

The award, established in 2018, recognizes public gardens that excel in furthering the purpose of the North American Rock Garden Society in promoting the construction and design of rock gardens; the cultivation, conservation, and knowledge of rock garden plants and their geographical distribution; and the public outreach through plant exploration and introduction of new garden-worthy species.

Years in the making

Dal's rock garden is situated amidst the larger grounds of the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus, which encompasses 26 acres and contains several other horticultural features as well, including a pollinator garden, rock wall, Alumni Gardens, herb garden, heath and heather garden, and a substantial rhododendron display.

The rock garden covers just over one-half acre of land and is situated on a south-facing slope. It consists of a rock face, two dry streams, a gravel scree bed, peat bed and woodland garden. The rock face area is quite hot, featuring sun-loving and drought-tolerant alpines along with a significant collection of hardy succulents.

“The Rock Garden within the Bicentennial Garden is one of the most significant horticultural features in all of Atlantic Canada and is a must-see destination for any visiting plant-lovers,” said Todd Boland, vice president of NARGS and horticulturist at the Memorial University Botanical Garden.  “The Francis Cabot award bestowed by the North American Rock Garden Society is well deserved.”

The Rock Garden’s initial construction began in 2002 and was designed by Dr. Bernard Jackson, retired director, and designer of the Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden. Much of its upkeep is maintained by a large group of volunteers known as Friends of the Garden. The original rock garden contains 800 tons of local red granite and features impressive stone steps that help traverse the undulating nature of the space. The garden also features two cedar bridges constructed by students in their wood construction techniques class.

“Many years of hard work and dedication has gone into the creation of the Rock Garden by Dr. Bernard Jackson, the Friends of the Garden, and the Botanical Garden Unit,” explains Chelsea Baird, outdoor classroom and landscape manager. “We are very grateful to receive this award which acknowledges the true essence of what our Rock Garden embodies."

An expanding garden

Directly east of the original rock garden and woodland garden lies the impressive courtyard trough garden. The trough area was built in 2003 with grant support from the Norman Singer Endowment Fund provided by the North American Rock Garden Society. The physical construction of the courtyard was started as a class project with third-year horticulture students in landscape project management. The area features natural stone walls, a limestone courtyard, crevice gardens and hand-cut natural sandstone alpine troughs.

The courtyard area is popular with local photographers as a backdrop for weddings and graduations. The east entrance to the courtyard is framed by an eastern white cedar shingled arbour structure which was also constructed by students. Local rock garden enthusiasts were anxious to help with the courtyard and other aspects of the rock garden and through Bernard Jackson’s encouragement, the Nova Scotia Rock Garden Club was started, soon becoming a chapter of NARGS.

In 2018, there was an extensive expansion made to the rock garden. Utilizing 450 tons of limestone, a new rock garden expansion was constructed containing low cliffs, talus slope and scree, a crevice garden, limestone pavement garden and an outdoor classroom. To finish off this new expansion, students from the landscape project management class constructed a man-made pond and bio swales to control water runoff from the nearby parking lot. In 2019, an alpine meadow was added.


In addition to receiving the Frank Cabot Public Garden award, the NARGS Executive awarded $5000 for the purchase of additional rock garden plants from Wrightman Alpines Nursery.

“This demonstrates the appreciation that all members have for the important work of the university staff, students and volunteers in maintaining the Garden,” added Jim Sharpe, NARGS 23 co-chairperson.

The campus gardens are open to the public at any time. Learn more about the Bicentennial Botanical Garden at


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