An Overview

An Historic Garden in the Capital

In the 19th century, there were many fine houses in Ontario - but few of them were graced by walled gardens, and even fewer have survived. The walled garden at Maplelawn is not only a rare example, but it is also exceptionally well preserved.

In 1989, Maplelawn was designated a national historic site by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada because of : "...the quality of the house, but more particularly because its gardens are the best preserved of the few known surviving examples of early 19th century walled gardens in Canada..." As an ensemble, the house and remaining walled garden provide a clear record of the way European architectural and landscape ideas were transplanted to Canada.

Situated along Richmond Road (opened in 1818), Maplelawn was established in 1831 by William Thompson, a Scottish immigrant. Maplelawn was successively owned by three families: the Thompson, the Cole and the Rochester (related by marriage to the Coles), all leading families in the community who participated in its political, agricultural and business life. All three families had a special interest in the garden and expended considerable effort to keep it well cultivated and in luxuriant flower.

Almost from the beginning and well into the 1980's, Maplelawn Garden was the glory of the neighborhood. Buses passing by on Richmond Road slowed down to allow passengers to look over the wall at a profusion of flowers, shrubs, vines and trees.




The garden has a four-square plan of the flower beds, with an oval bed at the center. Late 19th century photographs show that there were once fruit trees, shrubs and leafy arbors in the garden, with tender fruits and vegetables placed at the center of the beds, and peonies, oriental poppies and other ornamentals planted around the edges.

In 1936, the Rochesters hired R. Warren Oliver, the horticulturist at the Central Experimental Farm, to renew the garden. The fruit and vegetable gardens were turned to lawn, but the general plan of the garden, with its ornamental borders, was retained.

The garden is a rectangular space of about one acre, enclosed on three sides by rough-dressed limestone walls.

Within the garden, the classical symmetry of layout, as well as the spacing, colour orchestration and varieties of the plants, provide beauty, fragrance repose and seclusion.

  Preserving the Capital Heritage

Maplelawn was acquired by the Federal District Commission (the forerunner of the National Capital Commission) in the 1950s to ensure that this important property was preserved. However, Frances Rochester continued to live there until 1989.

In 1993, the garden was receiving only basic maintenance until a volunteer group, known as Friends of Maplelawn Garden, was formed. These volunteers entered into an agreement with the National Capital Commission (NCC) to study, preserve and rehabilitate the walled garden, making use of the large variety of perennials, such as the old peonies for which the garden was once famous, still thriving within its walls.

One of the few historical documents available to help with the rehabilitation of the garden is the detailed plan prepared by R. Warren Oliver in 1936. The three beds adjacent to the north, east and south walls will be planted to conform with Oliver's suggested layout and planting list. While the design of the central bed has yet to be determined, design guidelines provided by the NCC will be applied to the remaining beds based on Oliver's plan, oral histories and archaeological reports.


Text courtesy of the
National Capital Commission, 1997
Photographs courtesy of the City of Ottawa Archives and the Rochester family:
  1. City of Ottawa Archives 18672
    (reproductions available)
  2. City of Ottawa Archives 18641
    (reproductions available)