New Aga Khan Garden opens Friday at U of A Botanic Garden

Designed for the region's climate and topography, spectacular one-of-a-kind garden offers a place for connection, contemplation and education.

A unique and spectacular new addition to the University of Alberta Botanic Garden will be unveiled to the public this Friday as it opens for the season.

The Aga Khan Garden, a new 4.8-hectare garden made possible by a $25-million gift from the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili community, was designed for the Edmonton region's climate and topography.

The geometrically designed garden, which is a modern interpretation of traditional Mughal architecture, features secluded forest paths, wide stepped terraces, granite and limestone walls and paving stones, 12 water features-including some that stream into wetlands-and an outdoor amphitheatre.

A fruit orchard containing plum, cherry, apple and pear trees, along with one apricot tree, extends around the large Calla Pond at one extremity of the garden while more than 25,000 trees, shrubs and perennials, annuals and wetland plants from different species around the world, all selected for fragrance, beauty and the ability to survive Alberta's harsh climate, have been planted in the garden.

"This is a garden you get once in a lifetime," said Lee Foote, director of the U of A Botanic Garden. "It engages all the senses, from the sound of the water to the taste of the fruit, the smell of the roses, the feel of the limestone and granite, and the sheer beauty of it all."

It is the latest in a network of 11 Islamic gardens and parks built or restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture around the world that offer spaces for connection, contemplation and education, enabling cultural understanding to flourish.

This one also has the distinction of being the northernmost in the world and only the second in North America.

"It is unique, it is grand, it will be a great benefit to the community and it is an important step towards cultural understanding, tolerance and respect," added Foote.

Finishing touches on landscaping and planting around the garden will be going on throughout the 2018 season. Next year, once new plantings have had a chance to to become established, a public grand opening celebration will take place.

Tours of the new garden will be offered on weekends, providing information on the architectural features of the new spaces. Future interpretive programming is in development including components on botany and the environment, art and design, music, sound and poetry, and intellectual understanding. Plans are also being made for programming in an open-air amphitheatre attached to the Aga Khan Garden, built into an existing woodland bowl and surrounded by forest.

Foote expects that with the addition of the Aga Khan Garden, attendance at the U of A Botanic Garden will more than double, from 75,000 to 160,000, within three years.

The University of Alberta Botanic Garden opens for the season this Friday, June 29, until Oct. 8, 2018.