Saturday, October 24, 2015

Food for Thought with Alex Bielak- Garden Fresh – Relaunching the Rock Garden

Garden Fresh – Relaunching the Rock Garden 

The drone footage shows just how stunning the re-launched Rock Garden at the Royal Botanical Gardens will be. The inter-twined paths of the new year-round perennial gardens are sinuous as vines, and the waterways feature state of the art programmable lighting and sound. The nearly-completed and fully-accessible Visitor Centre features a leaf-shaped roof, restaurant, and banquet space for 120 guests. There’s also a million dollar courtyard with water features that will accommodate 2 - 300, and the venerable tea house has also had an upgrade.

As part of a focus group, gathered in the RBG boardroom earlier this month, I was there to provide feedback on the food-themed grand re-opening events tentatively scheduled for May 13-15 2016. The Rock Garden was first built in 1931, and the recent transformation of the beloved space has entailed no less than $20 Million of public and private funds. For that kind of investment expect fireworks. Or better yet a spectacular light show, set to music, showcasing the history of the RBG.

The RBG Board want the events to become a premiere annual fundraiser, and the plans are nothing if

not ambitious. Two new annual signature events are in the works, each set to attract about 300 guests. While both aim to involve top local chefs and restaurants, local music and local artists, the first will be family themed, the second squarely aimed at “pampered relaxers.” Getting past the jargon, the latter probably means drawing from the RBG’s more than 16,000 members, to find 40+ couples who will stump up for tickets. (The costs are still to be firmed up, but won’t be cheap.)

Darlene Bennett-Howes, the RBG’s Director of Business Development & Community Engagement, has canvassed her peers at organizations like the Art Gallery of Hamilton, McMaster Health Sciences, and Joseph Brant Hospital, and determined sit-down dinners are considered too staid as fundraisers. She wants to involve local chefs, breweries and wineries to run the best of local food and refreshment stations around the garden, so folk can nibble as they stroll the grounds. She also hopes the events will be anchored by the concession holder for RBG’s food services: they’re conveniently at the end of a 5-year cycle and the Request for Proposals closes shortly.

The new venue offers a lot of possibilities: The family event will likely feature a more hands-on approach to food for the kids (think build-you-own kebabs, or pizzas), as well as various contemporary-themed activities, perhaps including separate silent auctions for the adults and children. The second will be more sophisticated, with guests toasting the opening with champagne while taking in an enchanted garden with individual performers in the lower bowl. Both should end with that spectacular Son et Lumière Bennett-Howes is currently getting quoted.

Bennett-Howes is looking to convene a further focus group of local chefs before finalizing her plans but would appreciate input from all interested parties. For more information, or to offer support for the events, please contact her at 905-527-1158 (1-800-694-4769), ext. #295 or by email dbennett-howes@rbg.ca. Otherwise, watch out for ticket information in the media or the RBG website. I’m sure they will go fast.


  1. Great article!

    Thanks Patty

  2. Thanks Patty - appreciate the feedback


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