Twilight Picnic Experience at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden

It is shaping up to be the summer of the staycation, with non-essential inter-provincial travel still up in the air, and international travel ill-advised. As a result, attractions close to home are getting a long second look from locals seeking an escape from the city or something to help break up the summer months. The University of Alberta Botanic Garden seized this moment, and put together a special event that combines access to nature with local food. A couple of weeks ago, Mack, Emily, and I were invited to attend a preview of the Twilight Picnic Experience they have begun offering at the Garden.

Located 15 minutes southwest of Edmonton in Devon, the University of Alberta Botanic Garden covers 240 hectares, boasting cultivated gardens and plant collections, indoor showhouses, and natural areas. To limit the spread of COVID-19, the Botanic Garden was closed until recently; on June 1, 2020, they re-opened to visitors by reservation only.

University of Alberta Botanic Garden

Kurimoto Japanese Garden

The Botanic Garden has offered food-inclusive events in the past – back in 2013, Mack and I enjoyed a carnival-themed date night catered by Elm Cafe. By comparison, the Twilight Picnic Experience presents an opportunity for a more intimate and romantic evening.

That night, still without childcare options, and with a daughter who happens to love picnics, we brought Emily along. Before settling down for dinner, we chose to wander the grounds first, finding quiet solace in nature. It was such a privilege to have the spaces we visited to ourselves; when we were in the beautiful Aga Khan Garden this time last year, we were far from the only patrons present. Twilight Picnic Experience attendees will have exclusive access to Garden for two hours after 8pm.

University of Alberta Botanic Garden

Emily in the Aga Khan Garden

Mack and I were able to observe some of the one-way signage and seating closures in place to encourage physical distancing, in preparation for busier occasions. Coupled with the Garden’s intentionality regarding guest limitations, we would feel more than comfortable returning again later this summer.

We headed back to the Kurimoto Japanese Garden to collect our picnic box, and set up our blanket next to the water feature. The Gardens will be limiting the number of parties each night to 30, so there will be plenty of room to spread out.

We weren’t sure what to expect from the picnic box, but upon opening, were immediately blown away by the presentation of the food. They’ve sourced sweet and savoury items from a number of local purveyors, garnished with edible flowers and herbs from the Garden itself.

University of Alberta Botanic Garden

Picnic box

Our box featured products from many of our favourite small businesses and farmers’ market vendors, including fruit from Steve & Dan’s, charcuterie from Meuwly’s, sourdough from La Boule, and peppers and cucumbers from S4 Greenhouses. It was my first time trying the Happy Camel’s labaneh (yogurt cheese), a delicious spread on the accompanying fresh pita. Mack was particularly taken with the raspberry scone, while Emily devoured (and was subsequently covered in) the strawberries.

University of Alberta Botanic Garden

Family picnic

For those looking for something a little more extravagant to nosh on, picnic baskets can be customized with caviar, smoked salmon, or foie gras for additional fees. As well, the Kurimoto Japanese Garden is licensed, so picnic-goers can also have a beer or some bubbly to sip along the way. Lastly, other extras are also available to enhance the evening, including bouquets of flowers and handmade cards.

It looks like this concept of an intimate picnic at the Botanic Gardens has struck a chord with locals; all of June is already sold out!

Thanks again to the University of Alberta Botanic Garden for hosting us that evening – it was a wonderful way to safely shake up our pandemic routine and experience some nature along the way.

To book your own Twilight Picnic Experience, check out the University of Alberta Botanic Garden’s website.

Late Summer Picnic and Photowalk

Our city was blessed with an absolutely gorgeous weekend, but given our late start to the warm weather this year, I think we deserve it. Mack and I took advantage of it by finally having a picnic and a long walk in the river valley, tracing a route very similar to the one we took for our fall photo walk last year.

Downtown Edmonton

Through Louise McKinney Riverfront Park, we saw the Edmonton Queen take off with a boatload of passengers, and a number of canoes out on the North Saskatchewan.

Chinese Garden

Edmonton Queen cruising

On the other side of the connecting foot bridge, we found a shaded bench and unwrapped our lunch. We had picked up a few hot pressed sandwiches from Sobeys Urban Fresh to take along – an uptown turkey club for Mack and a chicken apple brie sandwich for me. We were surprised when we watched the deli attendant throw both sandwiches in the microwave before putting them in the panini press – the microwave was probably the cause for the chewy bread. I was looking for a bit more sweetness in the sandwich (the red chili jelly didn’t do it for me), and a lot more fresh herbs, but the apples had a nice texture and the quantity of chicken was fair.

On the foot bridge!

Our lunch

After lunch, we walked up to the Muttart Conservatory to explore the grounds. We intend to return to check out the newly-renovated pyramids sometime, but likely on a day when spending time indoors is more justifiable. We did pop our heads inside to see the new cafe, accessible to patrons without an admission fee.

Muttart Conservatory

Cafe inside the Muttart

The area surrounding the Muttart is beautiful in its own right, something neither Mack or I knew. Beds of plants, maintained by the Edmonton Horticultural Society (which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year), help celebrate some of the province’s perennial flowers, and help remind those passing by about the flora and fauna contained just beyond the glass.

Mack explores the gazebo

By one of the Muttart’s outdoor gardens

We even stumbled across a garden grown specifically for the Edmonton Food Bank (with, among other vegetables, tomatoes, cucumber and zucchini), maintained by the youth at the Yellowhead Youth Centre – too cool.

A Garden for Edmonton’s Food Bank

A sunflower in the city

Thanks for a relaxing afternoon, Mack! What did you do to take advantage of our glorious weekend?