The Ramble at 20 – Passion and Opportunity

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In the mid 1970’s, Rob Caron, a horticulturist, and David Dunn, an architect met and set out to build a life together. Sharing a love of plants and the outdoors led them to escape to the country to a location that would allow the space to explore their passion for plants. After living east of Ottawa for a year, they settled on a 5 acre parcel of land near Burritt’s Rapids in 1980.The next 20 years involved Dave’s evolving roles at Bell Northern Research and Nortel, and Rob’s at several nurseries and garden centres as well as St Lawrence College. During all that time they were creating woodland gardens around their home amongst the pines, as well as scouring all over Ontario and Quebec every weekend looking for interesting garden centres and cool plants.

Ramble’s Evolution

Over those 20 years, the gardens at the Ramble evolved in response to challenge and opportunity. Experimentation with the shady acid conditions led to a love of Japanese maple, Magnolia, Azalea and Rhododendrons. Deep shade led to a passion for Hosta, Ferns, Astible, and just about anything else that would grow in moist shady locations. Late in the 1990’s, Dave was growing concerned about the growing impact of globalization and outsourcing and what that might mean for his career at Nortel. Similarly, Rob was growing weary of his time at St Lawrence College and the office and administrative environment, and longed to get back to his horticultural roots. Clearly future options needed to be developed.

1998 Ice Storm

And then the ice storm of 1998 hit. We were without power for 17 days in January. (life with no power in January is a story for another day!) We were not prepared for the destruction that took place in our woodland and around the house. We spent months clearing the rubble and ended up with at least 2 acres of open land within what had been pristine woodland. The big idea of the Ramble was sparked by two things – a long term dream to share our gardening experiences with other gardeners and collectors, and the spectacular impact of the ice storm. I have said it was like the hand of God coming down and clearing a swath of land that had originally been a mature stand of Red Pine. The Ramble rose like a “Phoenix from the ashes of the storm”, and the idea of the Ramble was truly born.

Birth of our Vision

Our vision was to expand the gardens and integrate a very different kind of garden centre into the middle of it. The garden centre would showcase and sell all the rare and unusual trees, plants and evergreens we have learned about over the initial 20 years of gardening on site. We would create a garden experience, not a commercial experience. That vision would drive the layout of the Ramble and the integration with the gardens. Rideau Woodland Ramble was born and opened in 2000. Its a Rideau Valley woodland garden you can ramble around in…. hence our name- Rideau Woodland Ramble! The gardens at Rideau Woodland Ramble are the result of 40 years of evolution, experimentation and discovery. They fall into several main zones, almost all in some context of shade and woodland.

First Gardens

1. The first gardens enjoy the dappled light provided by a stand of red pine and maple. They can be found on either side of the home on the property. This acidic area is the home of Japanese maples, Rhododendrons, Azaleas, and a range of trees, shrubs and perennials. Many are surprised by what thrives in this environment.
2. The second major area is known as Lake Ramble, a pond home to much wildlife. A large garden of conifers anchors this area, along with a large grass demonstration bed.
3. The next major zone included is called Totem Trail as it rambles into the pure woodland and some of the surprises contained therein.
4. 2005 saw the acquisition and opening of the new 2-acre northern zone at the Ramble, with initial plantings down Chanticleer Lane. It features mass plantings of hostas.
5. The Labyrinth was then created as a new garden, a mowed walk in a wildflower meadow, including sculpture. All these gardens are interconnected with trails and walkways and are carefully planted to exhibit, both structure, and the “bones” that hold them together, succession planting to assure interest from first melt to first snow, and even interest thereafter.
The gardens are home to many collections, but the biggest is the Hosta collection of hundreds of mature specimens. They must be seen to be believed…. but ranges from the worlds biggest to the worlds smallest Hostas!

Canadian Garden Council Destination Garden Centre of the Year in 2015

Rideau Woodland Ramble was named Canadian Garden Council Destination Garden Centre of the Year in 2015. We were extremely honored and proud to have received the Canadian Garden Council 2015 Destination Garden Centre of the Year Award at the North American Garden Tourism Conference held in Toronto. In 2017, we were designated a Canada 150 Garden Experience as part of the sesquicentennial celebrations marking Canada 150 th Birthday. These awards and the support of many friends and customers over the years truly speaks to our vision of creating a garden experience.

Great Team Support

We have always has a fantastic team of people here at the Ramble. Stephanie Sleeth, a Master Gardener, has been at the Ramble every weekend since we opened! She has a large group of customers in search of her knowledge and expertise. Stephen Moyse, horticultualist has been here for many years now. His knowledge, experience and humour are a staple here at the Ramble. Margo Heighton is a creative force of nature whose energy knows no bounds. There have been a great many wonderful employees and volunteers over the last 20 years who have helped us grow.
Other interesting members of the team and visitors include Koi in the pond, muscrats, kittens, racoons, a bear, fox, many birds, a snapping turtle and all the frogs and painted turtles….and more! 2020 is here and the Ramble is now 20 years old. This year we will celebrate all year long with Art, Jazz and the Garden on June 20th , launch of a new book- The Ramble at 20, new Art installations, and other events. We look forward to continuing to evolve and improve and learn as we look forward. Thank you to all who have supported us over the last 20 years….and for all the support into the future!
More to come!

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