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A Garden and Friends: The Flowering of the Devonian Botanic Garden

Sunlight filtering through the mixed stand of aspen and birch places a crazy quilt of light and shadows upon the woodland path. Not far away, the brilliant display of iris in full bloom brings a dell to vibrant life. Over a piece, the blooms of a mountain species, so very delicate in appearance, belie the tenacity with which the plant defies the extremes of its alpine existence.

It is a splendid morning at the University of Alberta Devonian Botanic Garden. All about, plants native to Alberta compete for attention with introduced species. Some make a brazen show of color. Others capture attention coyly, saving their charms for the sharp-of-eye. Enveloping all — the native and the newcomer, the dandy and the demure — is the perfume of the parkland in summer. Upon all shines the bright Alberta sun.

Perhaps it was on a morning such as this that the late Sandy Dyde (H.A. Dyde, QC, '16 BA) first contemplated his gift to the University which made possible the founding of the "Botanic Garden and Field Laboratory" of the department of botany in 1959.

The story of the Garden's development from its modest beginnings to the present day is one of businesses, private foundations, government and individuals cooperating in the best tradition of support for a university endeavor. Two of the earlier grants to the Garden came from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust in Scotland and Imperial Oil respectively. The Smith contribution initiated the Alpine Garden, and the Imperial Oil funding established a garden of plants used by the Native peoples of Alberta. For all capital grants made to it, the Botanic Garden has received matching funds from Alberta Advanced Education.

The land donated by Mr. Dyde to the University comprised about 32 hectares (80 acres) of Aeolian sand dunes and peat slough located five kilometres north of Devon, just off the road which would later become Highway 60. Here, under the direction of Dr. J. H. Whyte, plots were cleared, drainage ditches dug and several small buildings erected. All this was done on a minimal budget.

Then came calamity. In 1974 there was a wet fall. It was followed by a winter of heavy snow. In the summer of 1975, the excess water did not drain and thousands of plants were killed. The water did recede by the spring of 1976.

Meanwhile, the Friends of the Garden — a group founded in 1971 with 100 charter members — had set about raising funds to repair the damage. The Friends were successful in obtaining a large grant from the Devonian Foundation — not only to repair the damage done by the flood, but also to build a headquarters complex and greenhouses, and to acquire an additional 44.5 hectares of land. At this time the Garden's official name was changed to the University of Alberta Devonian Botanic Garden.

Shortly afterwards, the Garden became an administrative unit of the University's Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies, and in 1976, Pat Seymour, who had served as the Garden's assistant director for five years, became it's director.

At the same time, work on reconstructing the flooded area began. The Calla Pond was deepened to six metres. On one side was planted a collection of trees and shrubs; on the other, a Garden of Alberta Plants. The iris Dell ditch was extended into the Grebe Water and land raised in-between for the garden of plants used by the Native peoples of Alberta.

An herb garden was constructed with a grant from the Clifford E. Lee. Foundation — it now contains a wide variety of herbal plants. The Muttart Foundation provided money for the construction of the show greenhouse and, with a later grant, for its landscaping. This greenhouse will eventually have only southern hemisphere plants.

The Iris Dell now boasts an extensive collection of Siberian Iris backed by cultivars of Thuja. The Primula Dell now contains a large collection of Primula, Meconopsis (Himalayan Poppies) and other plants. The deep snow cover of this area makes it excellent for Himalayan and west-Chinese plants.

In a basin in the sand dunes has been constructed a large alpine garden. Here a lawn is surrounded by a scree, a boulder bowl, a traditional rock garden (with native alpines) and two simulated glaciated ridges. The vegetation includes specimens from Europe, the mountains of Asia, and some from as faraway as New Zealand. This garden is at its best in May.

A nature trail links the alpine garden to the headquarters complex and extends through the 44.5 additional hectares.

To the south of the headquarters is a 2.5-hectare plot which has been reserved for the Kurimoto Japanese Garden, so named in honor of the late Yuichi Kurimoto of Nagoya, Japan. Dr. Kurimoto, '30 BA, the founder of Nagoya University of Commerce, was the first Japanese national to graduate from the University of Alberta. Prior to his death, he donated two lanterns for the garden, and last fall the Garden acquired a third when a stone lantern presented to the people of Alberta by the governor of Hoffaido, Japan was turned over to the University. That lantern now has a temporary home in the Garden's Muttart Showhouse.

After Dr. Kurimoto's death, his family made a generous contribution toward the Japanese Garden, and it is currently about one-third funded. The Kurimoto Garden, for which the architect is Dr. Jubo of Osaka Prefecture University, will take about two years to complete once construction begins.

As an adjunct to its other activities, the Garden operates a year-round education program, sponsored by the Friends of the Garden. This activity has increased steadily over the past four years, and in the past year there were 874 registrations in 66 courses, which ranged from practical gardening to crafts and flower arranging.

The Friends organization itself has grown from the 100 original members to 912 in 1985. Among the benefits of membership are a quarterly magazine, Kinnikinnick, and access to free seeds — one of the ways in which the Garden's new plant introductions reach the public.

Over the years, the Friends have contributed more than 50 per cent of the Garden's budget, and their support has been a tremendous help. Their fundraising includes sales at the Shop-in-the-Garden and at various Edmonton locations at special times of the year. A most versatile and enthusiastic group, last year members contributed a total of 5,414 volunteer hours.

Published Summer 1986.

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