Along the Alaska Highway and 25 kilometeres outside of Edmonton, the University of Alberta Botanic Garden covers 190 acres with beautiful gardens and ecological preserves full of a dizzying variety of more than 11,000 plant species. (In 2017, the Garden assumes a new name to reaffirm its university roots, after four decades of being called the Devonian Botanic Garden.)
During my visit along Canada’s Garden Route one day in May, general manager Ruby Swanson led me to a hillside covered with prairie crocuses (Pulsatilla patens), and that was my first experience of the Devonian. As first impressions go, it was gobsmacking. As we climbed the hill for a view of the gardens below, we brushed past the softly nodding heads of the purple-blue flowers that bloomed at our feet.
This is just one of the many collections of plants within the gardens. There’s the Primula Dell hidden in a forest glade, quietly awaiting discovery. In contrast, the Patrick Seymour Alpine Garden basks in the glorious open sunshine, while the Martagon lily collection edges the banks of a gently flowing stream.
You’d think the plants and gardens would be enough of an invitation to explore the Devonian, but there are events galore that show off the garden in many different ways. Here are five ways to experience the Devonian this season.
1. Kurimoto Japanese Garden Spring Festival, June 2. Held in the Devonian’s classic Japanese strolling garden, this spring festival draws more than 800 people. Under the cherry blossoms, visitors take part in the music, food and culture of Japan.
2. Opera al Fresco! June 21. Enjoy wine and hors d’oeuvres with your arias as Edmonton opera stars sing among the flowers at this popular annual midsummer event.
3. Canada Day Celebration, July 1. Pick up a packed lunch from the Birch Patio, operated by Chef Nate Box, and picnic among the plants during this daylong celebration featuring live music and outdoor events.
4. Perseids Pajama Party, August 16. What’s that up in the night sky? It’s a meteor shower! Don your PJs and nestle into cozy sleeping bags for a family adventure full of stars, stories and nighttime adventures.
5. Luminaria, December 7, 8. The glow of 1,700 candles light the way through the snow-rimmed paths of the Kurimoto Japanese Garden during this popular seasonal festival. Carollers, bonfires and apple cider complete the magical evening.
More from the Devonian Botanic Garden
Ruby Swanson talks about her favourite spot in the main garden: