Text | Cherry Tierra
Photography | Paul Swanson
Dubbed as a ‘Place of Peace’, the Alberta Aga Khan Garden resonates with more then just a beautiful landscape. The choreographed, designed urban landscape reinforces the multi ethnicity that Canada rejoices in its ethnic diversity. The landscape that boasts of a botanic garden also asserts the importance of nature for all human existence. The 4.8 hectare Moghul inspired Charbagh concept took a decade to be completed from concept to execution. The Aga Khan Garden of Alberta for the first time in the Western world heralds the geometry, pattern and design associated with the Islamic architecture of Asia. In this landscape project This newest and sprawling landscape is the northernmost Islamic inspired garden that has been carved out of Alberts’s rugged countryside on a tract of land not too far from the Edmonton Airport. The Garden is a visual and sensorial delight, a marked feature of the Moghul Renaissance that consciously designed the landscape on the seven senses. A beauty that the eye perceives, the aroma of flora and fauna, the texture of differing elements, the sound of the birds, bees and water and then the fruits and herbs – no sensorial stimuli was left unattended. A complete sensuous sensory experience is what the Moghul gardens anticipated and the Aga Khan Garden in a vastly different climate captures the essence of the same in the northern hemisphere of the earth. It is a landscape to enjoy unity, diversity, multiplicity and ethnicity all at the same time.
It does not harp on any religion though heavily inspired by Islamic architecture it resonates on multitude of humanity and its connection with nature. It is an emblem in a society that believes in democracy and humanity with nature as a unifying feature. “It is a huge opportunity to draw a distinction between the culture of Islam and the religion”, says Lee Foote Director of the University of Alberta Botanic Garden. “It is a showcase of architecture and cultural meaning. Those with deep faith will see in it the work of their creator, in others awe will be inspired by the architecture and wonder of nature.” The Garden is designed on the elements drawn from the Persian Gardens and is heavily inspired by the likes of the architectural treasures such as Taj Mahal , Red Fort and others. The Charbagh concept is beautifully laid out with different pavilions, portals and terraces that extend into the vast landscape. The colonnaded terrace that offers picturesque views of the garden on the upper terrace were rendered by Portuguese limestone that was selected for its texture and colour. These are 18” feet tall, twenty stone columns that top a colourful canvas. This rendering of colonnade evokes an impression of a rising ancient ruin. This is the ‘Talar‘– the Persian word for throne The ten star fountain area and the lit niche wall are all important features of Islamic geometry and pattern that are found resplendent in the project. Similarly the material palette of the Aga Khan Garden has been carefully studied and incorporated for the aesthetic and functional use. Canadian stone has been used primarily with paving stone quarried for the project from Quebec. “There is no architecture like this anywhere in Alberta”, says Paul Swanson, the assistant communication coordinator for the Botanic Garden. “I don’t think there is anything near as ornate as this.”
Water is an essential element of the Persian gardens. The same concept has been ingenuously created within the terrain of the Garden landscape. The terraces are intersected by irrigation channels and pathways, fountains and trickling water bodies to cascading waterfalls are found in abundance and the reflecting pools that heralds the visitor into this awe-inspiring wonder land are all intrinsic elements that complete this Persian landscape in the northern hemisphere of the globe. From the imposing throne room, one experiences a tapestry of waterfalls, fountains, reflecting pools and a series of formal gardens laid out in the traditional Charbagh concept. The Islamic geometric, rectilinear lines that run through the garden enrich the concept and introduces the Islamic architecture and culture to the masses of Canada. The senior horticulturist of the project Todd Gieshe realized the challenge of a garden of such nature in the north and the varying flora and vegetation that will have to be planted for a perennial effect. But the end result was a rainbow of colours that magnificently stood out in the opening of the Alberta Aga Khan Garden that opened to the public on the Canada Day weekend this year. The spread of this botanical marvel boasts of more than 25000 plants, trees and shrubs.
There are sunken gardens of purple and white irises, crimson and white petunias and Asiatic lilies. Tactile bronze life sized frogs, salamander and toads are perched around the man made stream. The air is resplendent with sweet fragrance that emanates from white roses and the smell of mulch. Carved out of the forest this Garden sits at the edge of a pond flanked by orchards of apples, apricots, cherries, plum and many others. More than 20,000 annuals and perennials, 10,000 plants, 3000 shrubs and 500 trees were planted in the initiation of the project, many more thousands are planned in the ongoing works of this project where the vegetation is selected for its colour, fragrance, texture strength and acclimatization to the weather.
The project is not just a beautiful garden, it is an experiential exposure to the Islamic culture and architecture and a retreat in nature for all that traverse its meandering paths. The future plans of the Aga Khan Garden are ambitious with studies of the inclusion of interactive elements to be implemented in the coming years. There are plans of including botany and environment, art and design, music and poetry with an emphasis of inter-cultural understanding. These elements will be the key features of future growth using the 250 seat Greco-Roman amphitheater that is already incorporated in the current layout of the garden landscape. The Aga Khan Garden has been designed and conceptualized on an eastern model but constructed on the western land for unity and cohesion among all faiths. For true manifestations of understanding and tolerance in humanity the Garden manifests a unity and imparting of knowledge through design. Conceptualized, spear headed and funded by The Royal Highness, The Aga Khan of Ismaili community, it heralds the knowledge and partakes the sensibilities of the Islamic religion to the western world. This Garden of peace has been designed for posterity, and for many generations to come.