When I first heard about Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens, I was intrigued by its collections of heirloom roses, the Acadian marshes and the varieties of apple trees settlers once grew. But how would all this horticultural history be displayed, I wondered? Would I be greeted by costumed docents ready to fill me in on 17th-century life in Nova Scotia?
What I discovered was a cultural landscape that began with a cheerful welcome in the visitor centre before I stepped out into the courtyard to meet Keith Crysler, the thoroughly modern chair of the garden’s board of directors, who took me through the various cultural eras that span the region’s colourful history.
Completed in 1981, the gardens are laid out in specialty zones, many of which reflect the importance of plants and gardens in the lives of a succession of settlers, from the Acadians who transformed the saltwater marshlands into agricultural lands to the British garrisons that arrived in the 18th century and the Victorians who thrived during of the age of sail, right up to modern times where organic gardening methods are applied to the edible landscape of the area called the “Innovative Garden.”
If it could speak, the ancient American elm that shades the knot garden could tell of 18th-century struggles. The controlled, formal design of boxwood and lavender is protected by a fence that shuts out what would have been a harsh, untamed landscape. [In the video, Keith Crysler talks about the elm and why this is his favourite spot in the garden.]
The governor’s garden also speaks of a formality and control, but one that reflects the 18th-century British dominance of the region when Annapolis Royal was the capital of Nova Scotia.
The Victorian garden, with its carpet beds of colourful and exotic annuals brings the prosperous mid-19th century to life.
One of my favourite areas was the open marshlands where a trail traces the remnants of dykes built by the Acadians who cleverly transformed the salt marshes into rich, agricultural lands.
But it’s not only history that captures the imagination at Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens, it’s the plants themselves. Surrounding a pond filled with aquatic life are magnificent collections of ericaceous plants, including rhododendrons, azaleas and mountain laurels. The rose garden boasts more than 230 cultivars, from the Apothecary’s rose, thought to be the oldest cultivated form of roses grown by the Romans and Greeks, to modern Explorer and David Austin roses.
At Annapolis Royal Historical Gardens it’s easy to lose yourself in time!