July 2020 Rob Stuart

Rock Solid

Rob Stuart is a rock-solid kind of guy – inquisitive, dependable, friendly and smart. No wonder then, that a few years before moving into retirement, his curiosity led him to rock gardening as a hobby.

For years, Rob has been a gardener, preferring to start his plants from seed. But back in 2003, he discovered the Scottish Rock Garden Club online, and it opened up a whole new gardening world. The club’s bulb log with pages of alpine bulbs intrigued him. He immersed himself in the club’s online chats. He was fascinated by the stories of early plant explorers who visited faraway places such as Tibet and Nepal to collect rare species of alpines.

Naturally, he started to look around for local information on rock gardening. In 2006, joined the Ottawa Valley Rock Garden and Horticultural Society. He attended their lectures and meetings, sharing information with like-minded gardeners.

After he retired in 2013, he had more time to pursue his interest in rock garden plants. He set up LED lights to grow alpines – plants that grow at high elevations above the tree line – from seeds during the winter, donating the young plants come spring to local plant sales. He became a master gardener and continues to share his interest about rock gardening enthusiastically with local audiences.

When another master gardener suggested he consider volunteering in the rock garden at the Central Experimental Farm, Rob didn’t have to think long before making the decision to join the Rock Garden (or Rockery) team. In April 2018, he went to the orientation session, knowing instantly what team would best suit him. In July 2018, he began his once weekly volunteer work on Tuesday mornings.

The volunteer work suits him well in many ways. Practically, it’s comfortable work because the rock garden, situated in the Ornamental Gardens at the Central Experimental Farm, is partially shaded by tall conifers and shrubs. Depending on the weather, he and his team can work either in sunshine or shade.

Being a practical man, he enjoys watching the progress of his team as they weed and pull out invasive plant species in the rock garden. Being a friendly man, he enjoys the camaraderie of his team that has doubled in size since he joined it. Last summer, it consisted of twelve volunteers. He also appreciates the diversity and dedication of his team who travel from many parts of the city to volunteer there.

“Everyone is there because they really enjoy it,” he says.

Of course, he enjoys the plants that grow there too – primulas, sedums, native iris, campanula and heukera. His favorite plant is gentian with their pretty blue blooms. He is least fond of Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), a dense spreader that he describes as “a garden thug.”

Even though the team is unable to work in the rock garden this summer because of safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rob looks forward to returning. Rock-solid, he can be counted on to continue his volunteer work with the Rockery team as soon as it’s safe to return.

By Julianne Labreche

Photo courtesy of Rob Stuart