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Rock Garden

David Braley & Nancy Gordon Rock Garden

Built in 1932, the historic Rock Garden is considered the birthplace of Royal Botanical Gardens. Following a significant rejuvenation, the Rock Garden reopened in 2016 to embrace sustainable trends in garden design and management while respecting the integrity of its heritage setting.  Bold swaths of brilliant perennials provide sweeps of inspiring colour and texture throughout all seasons.

COVID-19

Due to COVID-19, some amenities and FAQ's listed on this page may be inaccurate. As we move through our phased re-opening, updated information can be found on our COVID-19 Policies and Procedures notice. Before joining us, please read through this full notice for important information regarding your visit.

Key Attractions

  • Year-Round Perennial Display
  • Water Features
  • Historic Limestone Steps
  • Rock Garden Café (open seasonally)

Quick Facts

  • 4 hectares (6 acres)
  • Constructed in 1932, Rock Garden is RBG’s oldest garden
  • Showcases 1,300 types and 77,500 individual plants

Visiting Rock Garden

  • General Admission or Membership Applies
  • 1185 York Boulevard, Hamilton ON

Today’s Hours

Seasonal Hours

  • 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Sep 8 to Dec 31)

Exceptions

  • Dec 24 Christmas Eve: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Dec 25 Christmas Day: Closed
  • Dec 26 Boxing Day: Closed
  • Dec 31 New Year's Eve: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Jan 1 New Year's Day: Closed

Collections & Areas of Interest

Photo by McNeill Photography

Visitor Centre

Peak Interest: all year

The garden has an award-winning, state-of-the art facility to welcome its visitors. The centre operates as the main entrance to the garden and houses a fully operational restaurant and conference facility that accommodates up to 130 people for weddings, corporate and private functions. The centre also features a look-out deck and patio that provides guests with an optimal view of the garden’s lower bowl.

Water Features

Peak interest: May to October

Always a popular feature of the garden’s lower bowl, water features have been enhanced to create synergy with surrounding vegetation, meandering throughout the garden landscape and captivating the senses. In the summer months, lotus flowers grow within the winding waters.

Photo by McNeill Photography

Year-Round Perennial Display

Peak interest: all year

The garden, designed by Janet Rosenberg & Studio Inc., uses bold drifts of herbaceous perennials and grasses, chosen as much for their structure and texture as they are for their flower colour. This sustainable design style has environmental benefits, requiring less replanting and soil disturbance.

Learn More

Conifer Display

Peak interest: all year

Look around you — conifers dominate the Rock Garden landscape with sculptural form, interesting textures, needle and bark colour, and resinous scent. The species and varieties you see here are a spectacular collection from around the world, varying from huge pines to dwarf spruce and ancient “living fossils.”

Rock Garden Café

Peak interest: Summer

Situated at the historic David Braley and Nancy Gordon Rock Garden, RBG’s newest restaurant features an eclectic menu that boasts fresh, locally sourced ingredients, many picked straight from our gardens! The café’s outdoor patio provides an inspiring bird’s-eye view of the garden’s rejuvenated lower bowl, a perfect spot to relax.

Open seasonally for lunch. Menu and hours at the link below.

Learn More
Photo by McNeill Photography

Dalglish Family Foundation Courtyard

Peak interest: all year

Just outside the visitor centre, this elegant space serves as both a welcoming point for guests making their way outdoors and a venue for social occasions and gatherings. Alpine plants representing true rock garden vegetation grow from beautiful stone walls, and gentle waterfalls create an ideal atmosphere for cocktail receptions and special events. It is also home to Flora Hominis, the latest sculpture at this garden.

What’s in Bloom & Plants of Interest at Rock Garden

  • Witch Hazel In Bloom
  • Arboretum Forsythia Ovata
  • Pink Hellebore Blooms
  • Redbud Blooms On Tree Against Blue Sky
  • White Star Magnolia Tree In Full Bloom

March

  • Witch-Hazel
  • Winter-interest plants
  • Early-Spring Ephemerals

April

  • Witch-Hazel
  • Spring Ephemerals
  • Redbud
  • Flowering Cherry*
  • Magnolia*

May

  • Spring Ephemerals
  • Redbud
  • Flowering Cherry*

Bloom times can vary from year to year as they are influenced by many natural events including temperature and climate. Please bear in mind that if we experience an early or late spring, bloom times could shift up to 10 days earlier or 10 days later.

*These plants have short bloom times and are very weather dependant. Check our social media feeds closer to bloom time for updates.

  • Rock Garden Purple Allium Blooms
  • White Flowers On Hosta
  • Pink Hydrangea Starting To Bloom
  • Waterlilies In Pond With Russian Sage On Shore
  • Rose Mallow Hibiscus

June

  • Dogwood
  • Daylily
  • Sunflower Family
  • Grasses
  • Coral Bells
  • Hydrangea

July

  • Daylily
  • Sunflower Family
  • Coneflower
  • Grasses
  • Coral Bells
  • Hydrangea
  • Hosta
  • Water Lilies
  • Lotus*

August

  • Sunflower Family
  • Coneflower
  • Grasses
  • Coral Bells
  • Hydrangea
  • Hosta
  • Water Lilies
  • Lotus*

Bloom times can vary from year to year as they are influenced by many natural events including temperature and climate. As Please bear in mind that if we experience an early or late spring, bloom times could shift up to 10 days earlier or 10 days later.

*These plants have short bloom times and are very weather dependant. Check our social media feeds closer to bloom time for updates.

  • Goldenrod Goldking
  • Phellodendron Amurense Leaves Turning Yellow
  • Chinese Silver Grass Dixieland
  • Rock Garden Weeping Norway Spruce
  • Japanese Stewartia Autumn Leaves

September

  • Sunflower Family
  • Grasses
  • Coneflower
  • Coral Bells
  • Hydrangea
  • Hosta

October

  • Fall Colours
  • Sunflower Family
  • Coral Bells

November

  • Witch-Hazel
  • Conifers

Bloom times can vary from year to year as they are influenced by many natural events including temperature and climate. As Please bear in mind that if we experience an early or late spring, bloom times could shift up to 10 days earlier or 10 days later.

  • Japanese Anemone Plant With White Seedheads In Winter
  • Rock Cotoneaster Red Berries In Snow
  • Rock Garden Lower Bowl In Winter
  • Dried Hydrangea With Snow
  • Rock Garden Weeping Norway Spruce

December

  • Conifer Display
  • Fruit-bearing shrubs
  • Grasses
  • Paperbark Maple

January

  • Conifer Display
  • Fruit-bearing shrubs
  • Grasses
  • Paperbark Maple
  • Witch Hazel

February

  • Conifer Display
  • Fruit-bearing shrubs
  • Grasses
  • Paperbark Maple
  • Witch Hazel

About the Rejuvenated Rock Garden

The David Braley and Nancy Gordon Rock Garden embraces environmentally friendly trends in garden design and management while respecting the integrity of its heritage setting. It incorporates principles of sustainability in its plant selection and layout including pollinator-friendly plants, species native to Ontario, and a palette of drought-tolerant perennials that provides broad sweeps of changing colour and texture through the seasons.

Inspired by the work of Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf, the garden evokes the idea of natural settings using ornamental species that grow together harmoniously. Visit it at different times of day and different times of year — you’ll always find something new! Read More

Royal Botanical Gardens’ mission is to dedicate our expertise in horticulture, conservation, science and education – together with our unique gardens, facilities and natural lands – to inspire and nurture society’s commitment to the environment. Like other public gardens around the world, we are embracing the changes needed to respond to the challenges of climate change.

The new Rock Garden reflects this forward-facing approach. It is truly a garden for the 21st century, one that embraces sustainable trends in garden design and management while respecting the integrity of its heritage setting. It incorporates a best practices approach to plant selection, design and management, including pollinator-friendly plants, species native to Ontario, and a broad representation of drought-tolerant perennials that provide wide sweeps of colour and texture through the seasons.

The new Rock Garden allows RBG to do more with less – less water, less upheaval of the soil, and less human power, plant waste and carbon emissions spent on seasonal change-outs of over 150,000 bulbs and annuals. It also allows us to do more, with new infrastructure that allows people to experience this much-loved garden in a new way with new events, year-round, day and night. And, it provides ideas and inspiration for gardeners to take home and incorporate into their own gardens, at a time when everyone’s garden can play a role in helping to make our communities more sustainable.

Rock Garden FAQ

Directions / Parking

Parking is available in the large lot across the street, included in your daily admission. Accessible spaces are available directly outside the building.

Bike racks are available outside the Rock Garden visitor centre, and in the parking lot across the street.

This location is also accessible via Burlington Transit, with bus stops within easy walking distance.

Admission

Access to Rock Garden during regular operating hours is included in your General Admission or with your Membership. General Admission also includes access to all other garden areas for the day, and a parking pass to be used at RBG trailheads.

Special events at this location may require separate tickets. Find specific event details at rbg.ca/events

Hours

Rock Garden is open to visitors year-round.

2020 Hours:

  • January 1 to May 8: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • May 9 to September 7: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • September 8 to December 31: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Some holiday hours may apply. See rbg.ca/visitus for details.

How Far is Rock Garden from RBG’s Other Garden Areas?

  • Rock Garden to Laking Garden: 1.1 km / 0.7 miles
  • Rock Garden to Hendrie Park / RBG Centre: 1.6 km / 1 mile
  • Rock Garden to the Arboretum: 1.3 km / 0.8 miles (walking not recommended. Old Guelph Road does not include sidewalks)

Walking from garden to garden is possible, but please be aware that our property is spread out over 1,100 hectares of gardens and nature sanctuaries. Please consider driving or biking between locations, or using the shuttle service when available (weekends, spring to mid-summer).

Are there Washroom Facilities Available?

Washrooms are available in the Rock Garden Visitor Centre, or in the bottom level of the Garden House (in the lower bowl of the garden)

Food and Drink / Picnics

The Rock Garden Café is open seasonally, providing a take-away menu of drinks and light snacks to enjoy inside the teahouse, or on the new patio. See rbg.ca/rock-garden-cafe for menu and hours.

Outside food is permitted at the gardens during regular hours (restrictions apply during RBG After Dark and other special events). Please pack-out or properly dispose of any waste. Outdoor cooking is not permitted in any of RBG’s garden areas.

Rock Garden does not have any picnic tables. Enjoy your meal on one of the garden’s many benches or bring your own blanket for a picnic!

Is the Garden Accessible?

All garden paths indicated on the garden map are either paved or made of finely packed gravel.

Rock Garden includes many original limestone staircases, as well as newer staircases outfitted with handrails. Two paved and sloped pathways around the outer edge of the garden provide access to the lower bowl for those unable to take the stairs.

The lower bowl of the garden includes flat pathways with some arched bridges. Some original exploratory pathways along the inside of the bowl are not accessible for those unable to climb stairs, though much of the garden can be seen from accessible paths and lookout points.

Can I Bring My Dog?

Leashed dogs are permitted in the gardens for a visit during regular operating hours. Please be responsible and clean up after your dog.

Some special events at this location may not accommodate dogs. These are noted in the individual event FAQ’s available on the event pages.

  • Rock Cotoneaster Red Berries In Snow
  • Phellodendron Amurense Leaves Turning Yellow
  • Pink Hydrangea Starting To Bloom
  • Pink Rhododendron Blooms
  • Chinese Silver Grass Dixieland