In the Dark of Night: Luminaria

In a northern city like Edmonton, it’s somewhat surprising that we don’t celebrate the inevitable darkness of winter more. It could be as simple as highlighting Elk Island Park, a dark sky preserve perfect for star gazing, or taking advantage of the opportunity to light up the night, outside of the holiday season.

This weekend’s Flying Canoe Volant is a great example of this, lighting up the trails of the Mill Creek Ravine to encourage families to explore an area typically avoided after dark. And every December, the Devonian Botanical Garden’s Luminaria transforms the Kurimoto Japanese Garden into a beautiful canvas of lights.

Luminaria

Luminaria

Mack and I had been meaning to visit Luminaria for years, but never planned well enough in advance to do so. Tickets are sold fast and furious weeks prior to the annual festival, held the first weekend in December. In 2015, organizers added another layer to the tickets, asking patrons to choose between limited on-site parking and free shuttles from either the University of Alberta or Devon in advance. Mack and I found the shuttle option both convenient and seamless – we hopped on the LRT from home and walked over to the waiting yellow buses parked across from Health Sciences/Jubilee Station, and allowed the able drivers to take care of the rest.

Luminaria

Angels among us

It was clear that for some, Luminaria is an annual family tradition that helps mark the beginning of the holiday season. Patrons varied in age, with some groups spanning multiple generations.

Luminaria

Kurimoto Japanese Garden

The main attraction is, of course, the Kurimoto Japanese Garden, its paths lined with 2,000 candles. Each night, volunteers light the candles, all carefully placed into paper bags weighted down with sand. To recreate this magic at home, the gift shop even had ready-made kits for sale.

Luminaria

Small but mighty

Just to the right of the garden was a section called Memory Lane, meant for those wishing to light a candle in remembrance of a loved one. Volunteers reminded us to be mindful of those in mourning along the path.

Luminaria

Memory Lane

The rest of our stroll was a mix of quiet reflection and appreciation of the lights in a context of darkness, and a reminder that the festive season was around the corner. A highlight for me was enjoying the complimentary hot apple cider while listening to roving Christmas carollers.

Luminaria

Carollers under the lights

Besides the main attraction, there was a small hay bale maze for the young ones to explore, and those of all ages had the option of writing down a wish to hang on their trees (reminding me of the Nuit Blanche Wishing Tree installation in Churchill Square last fall). There was also a small indoor craft sale to peruse for those thinking ahead. Our only complaint was with the food offered on-site, as the choice was limited to beef stew. Perhaps other options could be offered in the future that would be equally easy to eat and venue-appropriate? A broader menu would at least encourage patrons to linger, as we found we were done exploring the garden and the surrounding attractions in about an hour.

Luminaria

Wishing upon a star

Our first time at Luminaria did not disappoint, and we really did appreciate how easy it was to get to and from the Devonian Botanical Garden. If you’re interested in checking it out for yourself, mark your calendars for December 2-4, 2016. Tickets go on sale September 1, 2016.

Date Night: Birch Patio and the Devonian Botanical Garden

Though we later decided to indulge at the Hardware Grill Chef’s Table for my birthday, my initial answer to Mack’s question about what I wanted to do for my birthday was, “Date Night at the Devonian Botanical Garden”.

When it was announced that Elm Café would not only be taking over food service at the Devonian Botanical Garden, but also would be organizing a series of themed food and amusement nights every Thursday in the summer, I knew I wanted to check it out. It seemed like a great way to increase traffic to the attraction in a creative way. The evenings range from Cuban-inspired dinners with a side of rumba, pasta- and ricotta-making paired with an Italian feast and Taiko drumming lessons followed by a Japanese meal. But Mack wasn’t the least bit surprised with the date night I was most taken by: the July 4th County Fair. Hot dogs, burgers and popcorn with some live music? Count me in!

The drive out to the Gardens at rush hour wasn’t as bad as we originally anticipated, not taking much longer than the suggested Google Maps time. We paid admission ($13 for adults) and were immediately whisked away with the musical stylings of Up the Creek, a bluesgrass band.

Date Night @ the Devonian Botanic Garden

Up the Creek

It was a gorgeous night to enjoy dinner outdoors. Elm Café’s concession stand at the Gardens is called The Birch Patio, and that night, in addition to their usual menu of daily soups and sandwiches was bison or chorizo bratwurst, beef burgers and ice cream sundaes. I ordered a chorizo bratwurst ($5) and Mack chose the burger ($7).

Date Night @ the Devonian Botanic Garden

Al fresco dining at its best

Neither was particularly fancy, but they were tasty, and fitting for the night’s theme and atmosphere. It also meant that we had room for popcorn and ice cream afterwards!

Date Night @ the Devonian Botanic Garden

Bratwurst, burger and lemonade

The real treat for us was the excuse this date night provided to get out to the Garden in the first place. Neither of us had been before, so we relished the opportunity to finally explore the greenery for ourselves.

Our biggest mistake was failing to remember bug spray, and again, when encountering bottles of it at the admissions counter, not recognizing that as a sign. We were literally chased off of some of the wooded trails by mosquitos, so hopefully this serves as a warning to any who follow in our footsteps – do not forget the repellant!

Date Night @ the Devonian Botanic Garden

Into the woods

Besides the unavoidable pests, we really enjoyed wandering through the different areas, encountering wildlife, and stopping to smell the roses.

Date Night @ the Devonian Botanic Garden

A family of geese

Date Night @ the Devonian Botanic Garden

I found a treat!

Date Night @ the Devonian Botanic Garden

Rose garden

Date Night @ the Devonian Botanic Garden

More flowers

Mack even had the chance to do his best impression of Juliet!

Date Night @ the Devonian Botanic Garden

We both looked forward to finishing our visit at the Kurimoto Japanese Gardens, and they didn’t disappoint. The soothing water feature, manicured lawns, and blossom-lined paths were even more beautiful than the pictures suggested.

Date Night @ the Devonian Botanic Garden

Kurimoto Japanese Gardens

Date Night @ the Devonian Botanic Garden

Waterfall

Date Night @ the Devonian Botanic Garden

Flowers

Date Night @ the Devonian Botanic Garden

On the bridge

Date night at the Devonian Botanical Garden was a fun way to spend a summer evening – I’d encourage you to check it out while you have the chance! Take a peek at the remaining schedule here.