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Photos by Claudio Calligaris
Anyone worried about the lovely garden that for nearly 40 years graced the land behind the Stewart Biology Building can breathe a sigh of relief. The Roslyn Robertson Herb and Scent Garden might have met its fate when the bulldozers came in to make way for the new Bellini Life Sciences Building. But the garden was hastily moved, plant-by-plant and tree-by-tree, onto land just southwest of the Lady Davis House last November, and it survived the winter.
"Even the Mountain Ash moved beautifully," says Sue Burpee who, for the past 25 years, has been a member of the Women Associates of McGill Garden Club. Burpee and six to eight regulars of the club meet every Tuesday morning from 10 am to noon to plant, weed, water, prune and, occasionally, move the perennial garden.
"Should we split the yarrow or keep it together?" someone asks on a recent Tuesday in May. "The John Cabot is doing well," says another about a rose bush. "That's the one that used to hang over the arbour until someone stole it," another replies. Someone else suggests putting a new arbour on the south side to screen the parking lot below.
Originally, when the garden began in the late 1960s, the gardeners were the wives of faculty members. Roslyn Robertson, for instance, was the wife of Rocke Robertson, principal of McGill during the tumultuous '60s. Many of the original members have died or are now too old to garden but the garden has persisted, although in a reduced form.
Where once there were roughly 30 flower beds, one per gardener, there are now seven elliptically shaped beds on the new site.
"One woman even came down from the top of the McIntyre Building and said: 'You know, from up here, your flower beds look like a giant leaf,'" chuckled Diana Thiriar who, with Burpee, coordinates the gardening group.
Truth is, the raised,white cement beds are meant to look like the leaflets of the black locust trees clustered at the end of the garden, with a white brick path as their stem. The allusion to these native trees — now showing their clusters of flagrant white blossoms – was the idea of landscape architect Claude Cormier. The gardening group worked with him to make the beds a good height and manageable width for both young and old gardeners.
Soon the group will go shopping for the colourful everlasting flowers that later in the season they will dry for the annual sale that pays for new plants and equipment.
Thiriar is pleased that the new garden is a good fit with the size of today's gardening group. Few, if any, of the gardeners are "wives of" McGill men. Most are in the early years of retirement and are avid gardeners. Some have moved from houses with gardens into condominiums with no gardens and welcome the opportunity to get their hands into the soil.
Thiriar, for her part, is happy that the garden's persisted, one of the few downtown Montreal "secret gardens."
"It's nice to offer a small spot for serenity and reflection," she says.
Anyone interested in joining the gardening group or in holding an event in the garden may contact Diana Thiriar at 450-672-8007.