Posted by Vi Hughes on May 28, 2019
This Tuesday we had the pleasure of meeting at the U. of A. Botanic Gardens and enjoyed a lunch in the open air Pine Pavilion followed by a nice walk in the sunshine and a guided tour of the Aga Khan Garden by Rotarian Lee Foote. Dr. Lee Foote is a professor in the Department of Life and Environmental Science in the Faculty of Agriculture and Director of the UofA Botanic Gardens. Lee told us that he is a lifelong Rotarian, having been an Interact Member and Rotary Exchange student in his youth and is now a member of the Edmonton Rotary Downtown club.
He spoke to us on the topic of gardens and their meanings to various people. He said that gardens have a special place in the human psyche, having a calming effect and on the human soul. They bring solace when our lives are full of inconsistencies and trouble. Gardens take us back to perfection. Gardening is an exercise in perfection, even if we never fully get there.  The U. of A. Botanic Garden has all kinds of people who visit, from the school children to young people who sneak off into the bushes for a little hanky panky, to the young moms with their children in strollers and on to older folks with canes or wheelchairs. They come because the garden offers something different to each of them and brings them peace in some way.
The garden now occupies two hundred and fifty acres, all of which was donated over the past sixty years to the U. of A. by various people who saw the value in gardens. It is composed of twenty-three modules each with a different emphasis, and many of which support ongoing research studies at the U. of A. He said that they have twenty five hundred different species of plants, both native and non-native. The garden hosts about seventeen thousand school children each year who come to learn about nature, He said that they have three basic rules for the children who come , they have to get dirty, they must experience something gross and they should know that there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. As we walked through the garden after his talk we passed several groups of children down on the muddy edges of the many waterways and ponds fishing for bugs and critters with their hand nets.
The newest addition that has literally transformed the garden is the Aga Khan Garden, Alberta (AKGA) In 2009, the Aga Khan, the religious leader of the worldwide Shia Ismaili community, in recognition of the outstanding work the local Ismaili community had done in integrating the many Ismaili refugees who settled here after their expulsion from Uganda and east Africa, asked the local Ismaili community what he could do for them, Their answer was - give us a garden. In response he offered to make a donation of twenty-five million dollars to the U. of A. Botanic Garden to be used to build a representative Muslim garden. The planning was extensive, as they visited and studied many different gardens around the world and tried to capture the essence of what those types of gardens represent. Gardens have strong religious connections in many parts of the world. In the Muslim religion, and in most hot dry climates this is a walled or sunken garden with water as the central feature. It offers protection from the heat and wind and has life giving water to support crops and fruit trees. Ancient gardens had waterfalls, fountains, greenery, sunken beds and bathing pools. The garden was to be built to the highest standard, meaning it could endure for three to six hundred years. The garden here is built on concrete piers for stability on the sandy soil, the granite used on the surfaces is very thick and the workmanship is of the highest standard.  It is a kind of engineering marvel that was designed to a very high architectural standard, using geometric design and many other features so that the visitor has a new vista as they round each corner. The garden, which opened in July 2018 has the core elements of a central waterway, four geometric lawns and sunken beds, (which have to be checked every morning in order to rescue any trapped rabbits, muskrats or other small creatures). It also contains an elevated platform or Talar which serves as a viewpoint over the garden. They have incorporated many other elements such as multiple different types of fountains and pools of water, each with different meditative purposes. They have also planted fruit trees and will soon have so much fruit they will need to invite outside groups to gather the fruit. The flowering plants have been selected to provide both colour and scent. The overall effect is stunning, as we later experienced on our guided walk through the AKGA.
The Botanic Garden offers many different programs throughout the year giving visitors many different ways to experience the garden, from an outdoor amphitheater that hosts musical and theatrical productions, to children’s day camps, painting and photography classes and date nites to special events held in the Kurimoto Japanese Garden such as the Tea Ceremony and the December Luminaria. There are programs to interest all ages and interests. Lee thanked us for coming and he hopes to be able to host more Rotary events like this in the garden in the future.