Every summer I tell my husband “Hey, we should visit the University of Alberta Botanic Garden” but several summers have passed and we haven’t made the trip out to Devon. After all, it’s just a garden and we’ve got plenty of green space in Edmonton, could it really be worth the drive? But with our options for things to do being pretty limited right now, and having exhausted nearly every playground and park in the city (or so it seems), we decided recently that we were finally going to visit.
We drove past farms and fields to arrive at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden for our visit. And as we pulled into the parking lot, I was already intrigued. After a somewhat unremarkable drive, the entrance to the gardens is quite impressive. It stands out because of its well-maintained and manicured entrance and paved parking lot right in the middle of rural Alberta. After checking in (reservations are currently required online), we entered the gates and saw a large sign with a map of the gardens. My husband wanted to plan out our route through the gardens, but I was immediately drawn to the Aga Khan Garden entrance right in front of us and urged us to head that way.
Mesmerized by the Aga Khan Garden
The entrance to the Aga Khan Garden is nothing short of magical. It’s a long boardwalk through the middle of tall trees. And as we chased our twin girls down the boardwalk that day, I felt like I was entering a fairytale. We first came upon a large raised pond, which we stopped to admire briefly before continuing on the boardwalk. After rounding a corner, we saw a huge wall with a fountain flowing out of the side of it. The kids were enthralled by it. As a mom, I was thankful I had packed extra clothes for them, just in case we had an unfortunate incident of them falling in the fountain! We had to peel the kids away from the fountain to head up the ramp to the top of the building.
“Wow! This is incredible!” Is all I could keep saying as we saw the expansive garden unfold in front of us from atop of the Aga Khan building. This structure is truly unlike anything else I’ve experienced in Edmonton. I felt like I had been transported to another country. As the sound of multiple waterfalls filled the air, my husband commented about how peaceful it felt in that moment. My kids couldn’t get over all the fountains there were to explore. My absolute favourite part of this garden were the tiny bronze reptile statues hidden throughout the waterfalls and reflecting ponds. We made a game of trying to find the lizards, frogs, and fish. The kiddos also really enjoyed walking across the stepping stones that crossed the fountain. It is not the slightest bit dangerous, but to their almost 3 year old selves, I’m sure it felt like the height of living life on the edge!
The Aga Khan Garden overlooks the Calla Pond which is where we headed off to next. I really loved the expansiveness of the gardens that gave my kids room to run and explore. Obviously, you want to keep your kids on the walkways, but otherwise, there’s just so much room to run! This time of year is quite picturesque around the pond with many trees in blossom and the pond full of ducks and geese. We even saw several goslings.
Adventuring Through the Patrick Seymour Alpine Garden
Beyond the Aga Kahn Garden you’ll find the Patrick Seymour Alpine Garden and the Collections. At first the Alpine Garden seemed like just a big hilly, rocky area. But as we got closer, we could see signs of Spring popping up everywhere with bright yellow, pink, and purple flowers. There are several stoned trails through the alpine garden that were a fun mini “hiking” experience for our little ones. This early in the season, the Collections aren’t quite in bloom, but we still loved exploring the pathways and footbridges. In the Indigenous Gardens, we were impressed by the wooden sculptures.
Brunching in the Kurimoto Japanese Garden
At this point, we were more than famished from all of our exploring and luckily we had planned ahead and ordered Brunch Boxes. Brunch Boxes are a new offering from the Botanic Garden that allows you and your family to enjoy freshly prepared food as you picnic anywhere in the gardens. Both adult and child brunch boxes are available, but you must pre-order online (and the cost of the brunch box includes your admission to the garden!). We chose to enjoy our picnic in the Kurimoto Japanese Garden which proved to be a popular picnicking spot. There are plenty of shady grassy areas to spread out. Tip: bring a blanket along for your picnic. As we devoured mushroom and asiago quiche (my favourite), fresh fruit, yogurt parfaits, chocolate passion choux pastries, handmade chocolate covered pretzels, and ham and gruyere croissants (among other treats), we were serenaded by live music (check out the live music and events scheduled for upcoming dates). I couldn’t have planned a more enchanted, magical day if I had tried!
With our Brunch Boxes, we chose to add-on Mimosa Kits and Smoked Salmon. As I write this, my mouth is watering for the Smoked Salmon that included a fresh baguette and a herb cream cheese spread. The mimosa kit includes a small bottle of Prosecco and orange juice plus a glass flute that you get to keep! Our kids were so enamored with the fancy glasses that we let them have a little orange juice toast with them before mom and dad enjoyed our mimosas. So fun! You can also choose to other add-ons to your brunch experience including fresh cut flowers or a UABG picnic blanket.
After brunch, we continued our stroll around the Kurimoto Japanese Gardens and admired the blooming cherry blossom trees, and the streams and waterfalls flowing throughout. There are many footbridges and stepping stones that our kids loved racing across.
A Garden for All Seasons
With two little ones, a few hours of walking at the gardens maxed us out and it was time to head home. There was still so much of the gardens we didn’t see, though, so we’ll definitely be back! Plus, I’m anxious to see the gardens as they bloom and transform through the summer. And don’t forget that the gardens is equally as enchanting and magical come wintertime with it’s Luminaria event. You can bet we’ll be checking that out this year, too!
University of Alberta Botanic Garden:
When: May 6 – September 30, 2021
Hours: May 10 am – 5 pm; June – September 10 am – 10 pm
Admission: Adults $18.75, Youth (13-17) $9.50, Children (3-12) $5, Children 2 and under – Free
Brunch Box Cost: Adult $60, Children $35 (includes admission); Optional add-ons starting at $14
The writer was a guest of the University of Alberta Botanic Garden, however the Gardens did not review or approve this article and all opinions contained within the article are the writer’s own.