At first glance, flowers are blooming. Bees are drawing nectar and volunteers weed rows upon rows of vegetables.
I’m standing in the St. Albert Botanic Park’s small parking lot. The sweet fragrance of flowers gently wafts through the air. A boulder-shaped fountain bounces several mini-waterfalls off its rocks into a burbling stream.
The five-acre botanic park is a summer pageantry of plants in bloom. My first whiff is in the Rose Garden, where hundreds of elegant plants showcase their delicate petals.
An explosion of colour is everywhere throughout the park’s 15-plus gardens – blue delphiniums, red poppies, purple coneflowers and pink peonies, as well as yellow and orange lilies. Every bed is skillfully designed taking flower shapes and form into account. Nothing jars.
Ravens, sparrows and two grey doves swoop through the air. As I stroll along the undulating brick pathways, the sense of tranquility and serenity immediately cocoons you.
“It’s peaceful. It’s a lovely place to de-stress and walk through. If you sit on a bench and close your eyes, you can smell the different scents. And this year, people really need something like that,” said park president Patricia Bell.
Everyone walking through the botanic park, young or old, masked or unmasked, is relaxed and smiling. Perhaps that's because it’s one of those sunny days that displays Alberta’s deep blue sky. Perhaps it’s because the long, narrow park that runs along Sturgeon Rd. is widely spaced out and there are no worries about proper social distancing.
In the Rose Garden, several young children flick their hands in a traditional five-tiered fountain. It is the Spruce Grove family's first visit to the park with mother Aglaia Dolotin.
“This is a great place to have kids explore,” said Dolotin. She homeschools her children, and field trips play a large role. Dolotin takes photographs and records videos of field trips that are later incorporated into her children’s studies.
Further down in the Cottage Garden, hobby photographer Mervin Harper drops by regularly. He's a professional hair stylist, and the COVID pandemic has added unwanted stress to his business. But the many flower gardens offer calming downtime.
“This (taking photos) is something I do where I’m not creating for other people. I do it for me,” said Harper.
And he highly recommends the botanic park for everyone.
“In the region, it’s one of the premier spots. There’s variety, quality and the people I talk to are really knowledgeable.”
Whenever Bell hears these glowing tributes, she feels gratified in large part for the 40 dedicated volunteers who keep the park in pristine condition. In 2019 alone, the park racked up 13,281.75 hours of sweat equity.
Bell, who was one of the park’s founding members, strongly believes the protected area is good for everyone’s mental well-being.
“It’s peaceful. When I go in the Rose Garden, I just want to sit there and let the wind blow through my hair.”
Although she encourages everyone to visit, she cautions that the linked gardens are not a play park.
“We are a botanic park. There are flower gardens and a variety of trees. We try to show and educate residents about what is hardy in our area. We spend thousands of dollars a year to maintain them. Plants are labeled and this is a park to walk through and learn.”
Volunteer garden enthusiasts are needed and can apply at 780-458-7163. Information on the park’s many gardens is available at stalbertbotanaicpark.com.