Gardening Blog

Alberta-bound

I'd just scarfed down my blueberry breakfast pancakes as the train pulled into Edmonton station, an out-of-the-way outpost with nary a restaurant or shop nearby (apparently, some brain trust decided to move it from town to the boonies). Ordinarily, this would have meant a hefty cab ride in, but John Helder, Principal of Horticulture, Edmonton Community Services, kindly picked us up.

Compared to Winnipeg, Edmonton is a young city. As we got closer, there was plenty of interesting modern architecture. And unlike the railroad station, our host hotel, the Edmonton Delta Centre, can be found smack in the middle of everything, at the edge of a sprawling shopping complex called the Edmonton City Centre West (a great location if you want to take in a movie or do a little window shopping without braving the elements).

Once we'd dumped our stuff and gulped down a coffee, off we went to tour some of the municipal horticultural highlights, sweating prodigiously, as it was a blisteringly hot and humid day. Thank God for my sturdy water bottle and large-brimmed hat.

It's amazing how much ground you can cover mostly on foot in four hours or so. To start, we saw tasteful planting beds around city hall close by the hotel and then the handsome legislature building. Unlike many of the modern structures, it's traditional in style, and it was delightful to see families frolicking in the large ornamental pools in front of it.

“This is great. I once tried to dip my feet in a fountain in Boston, and got shouted at and threatened with arrest,” mused Carol.

John provided a wealth of information about many local community initiatives, including Partners in the Parks. The results of those collaborations are evident everywhere in tidy, well-kept grounds, pretty planters and hanging baskets.

Next, we visited the Lois Hole Memorial Garden, then headed off to see a co-op flower and vegetable patch. We also checked out gardens near the River Walk, including the Chinese and hardy rose garden {“just to show Edmontonians you can grow hardy roses here,” said John).

The three of us meandered along a path–part of Edmonton's North Saskatchewan River valley parks system–crossed the river by footbridge and came upon the renowned Muttart Conservatory, which is home to more than 700 species of plants of arid, temperate and tropical climates–when it's open, that is. Unfortunately, it's closed for renovations until next spring, but John managed to sneak us in to see the species orchid collection, which is one of the top 10 in North America. I especially loved the Anacheilium radiatum, whose beautiful, jasmine-like fragrance perfumed the air.

Back at the Delta, Carol and I parted company and headed to our rooms, anxious to jump into a shower, rinse out a few smalls and just relax and read. (Right now it's Elizabeth Hay's Giller-prize-winning novel Nights on Air, and it's terrific–all about a Yellowknife radio station in the 1970s).

The next day dawned much cooler, so the two of us rented a car and headed out toward the Devonian Botanic Garden, a pleasant half-hour drive. We loved the Japanese and the Patrick Seymore Alpine gardens, though a few of the other beds were looking a tad…um…sparse. Drought? Bad soil? Midnight five-finger discounts?

On the way back, we nipped in to the West Edmonton Mall to have a quick peek. Imagine a large shopping centre with a hockey rink, a huge water park, boats you can rent and more, and you get the general idea. Despite the beautiful, sunny day, it was packed. Apparently, some people even spend their entire holidays there.

Am I the only one who finds this odd?

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