It feels like something from a movie scene. A place that’s a little bit other-worldly, a little bit new age, a little bit vintage – and entirely breathtaking.
The Aga Khan Garden at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden is a showstopper. Just beyond the Garden’s main gate, is the entrance to the new 4.8 hectare Aga Khan Garden. Follow a long walkway, pause at the Woodland Bagh reflecting pool (the kids will want to dip their fingers in its glass-like surface), turn a corner, and before you emerges a simple, sophisticated stone structure.
Ten white pillars frame each side, giving the upper terrace a maze-like feel when you reach it by stairs or ramp. The view from the top reveals pools, waterfalls, grass and plants. Everything that’s growing here was chosen for a special reason – hardy enough to withstand Alberta’s sometimes-unforgiving climate, but attractive, colourful and fragrant just the same. My favourite feature is the waterfall – an expanse of textured stone that creates a beautifully patterned cascade of water. My kids’ favourite part is searching for the tiny bronze animals that are perched around the water features. See if you can spot the snakes, frogs, lizards and fish!
Wander around the garden’s four quadrants. Enter and exit to surrounding paths. Check out the amphitheatre, the array of different fountains, the exquisite tile work. There is meaning in every piece, plant and design chosen for this remarkable space. A $25-million dollar gift from the Aga Khan to the University of Alberta brought the vision to reality. It’s part of a series of gardens and parks supported by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and is one of just two in North America. The brand new space alone (it opened June 29, 2018) is worth the trip to the University of Alberta Botanic Garden, but there’s much more to keep you coming back!
Our trip to see the Aga Khan Garden was my first to the U of A Botanic Garden (formerly Devonian Botanic Garden) since I’d attended a wedding several years ago. My girls were particularly excited about some of the other features I’d told them about. They wanted to ring the big bell in the Kurimoto Japanese Garden, look for butterflies in the Tropical showhouse, and see if they could solve the hedge maze. (The bell required a bit of extra help from mom, the butterfly house was beyond exciting, and sadly we took a wrong turn and missed the hedge maze. It’s at the top of our list for the next visit!)
The U of A Botanic Garden is a wonderful place for families and people of all ages. I wanted to describe it as peaceful and serene, and it is – but that might make it sound stuffy and stifling to children, and it’s not that way at all. It’s living and breathing and active and inspiring. Just as people are welcome to sit quietly and reflect on the beauty, so too are children welcome to run and play and jump. (within reason, of course.) It’s a place where you are invited to reconnect with the earth your way; a wonderful living tribute to Mother Nature.
A few housekeeping notes for your visit: Feel free to pack a picnic lunch or purchase food, drinks or ice cream from the Patio Cafe. The garden is stroller friendly, or consider buying tickets for the Bee Line tram service that runs the perimeter of the garden, offering hop-on, hop-off transportation to your next destination. (45 minute long tram tours and guided walking tours are also available) There are washrooms and water fountains (with bottle fill spouts) in the Classroom Building and the Talar in the Aga Khan Garden.
Keep an eye on the Family Fun Edmonton Calendar, or the U of A Botanic Garden website for special events and discount days, (the first Tuesday of the month is half price admission day!) and if you’re going to make the Garden a regular visiting spot, consider buying a season pass – it pays for itself in two visits!
Aga Khan Garden at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden:
Where: 5 kms north of Devon on Highway 60 in Parkland County
Address: 51227 AB-60, Parkland County
When: Open June – October. Check the website for exact dates.