The University of Alberta Botanic Garden is opening its gates to children and students for free this fall.
“We know what a tough time families have been having, especially kids,” education co-ordinator Jennine Pedersen said. “We want the garden to be a space where they can come and explore nature.”
Pedersen said while the move is temporary, it’s hoped one day to be permanent.
“This is actually part of a larger dream we have,” she said. “We’re looking for partners to reach out to us, who maybe want to be involved in making this dream possible and having kids at the garden free forever.”
The ultimate goal is that all the garden’s children’s programs — like school field trips — will be free and accessible to all kids.
With borders locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Alberta families have stayed closer to home this summer. The garden normally opens to visitors in the spring, but this year didn’t until June 1 — and Pedersen said it has been busy.
“We’ve had pretty good attendance over the summer. This is a great, safe area. Lots of space to spread out,” she said.
While some programming such as field trips had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, the garden is looking to develop new programming that’s safe, fun, engaging and gets kids back outside.
“Having kids connect with nature is more important than ever,” Pedersen said.
“Nature teaches you so many lessons that you can’t learn on a screen. So it allows you to learn problem-solving skills and creativity skills and you just learn about the wonder that’s around you.”
The gardens have seen several major upgrades in recent years, including the construction of a new entry pavilion structure over the past year, which included a new admissions area, gift shop, concession and outdoor seating area.
The opening of the Aga Khan Garden two years ago also resulted in twice as many visitors as normal during the first two months.
The 11-acre garden has 12 water features, about 665,000 kilograms of granite, fruit orchards and more than 25,000 trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and wetland plants.
Also popular at the facility is the the five-acre garden Kurimoto Japanese Garden — which opened in 1990 and is created in the kaiyou (strolling garden) style but filled with plants hardy to Alberta’s northern climate.
“We have 240 acres of beautiful, beautiful garden to explore,” Pedersen said. “Beautiful ponds, flower beds, trees, lots of insects, squirrels.
“It’s just a great place to enjoy with a family.”
While the tropical butterfly showhouse is also a popular attraction, the garden’s indoor features are closed to the public this year because of the pandemic.
Children up to the age of 17, as well as college and university students with a valid student ID, get free admission to the U of A Botanic Garden until the last day of the open season on Oct. 12.
“It’s really nice to have something to do that’s really cheap for the kids and kind of take advantage of the weather while it’s still nice,” mom Kasia said while at the garden with her kids on Thursday.
“Especially in a place like this, where you can really social distance and not have to worry about getting too close to other people.”
Admissions must be reserved in advance online. While kids and students are free, admission for adults is $18.75 and seniors is $12.75.
The Edmonton-area garden is the northernmost of its kind in Canada. Despite the colder growing climate, over 7,000 varieties of plants can be found at the 180-acre garden.
The facility, located north of Devon along Highway 60 in Parkland County, was previously known as the Devonian Botanical Garden before being renamed a few years ago.