People & Places

New sun shelter at Experimental Farm sets the stage for botanical garden

Soon after the Central Experimental Farm was founded in 1886, plans for a botanical garden were clearly illustrated. Best intentions aside, the garden never took root — and now Ottawa is the only G20 capital without a botanical garden. However, over the years, there have been concerted and determined efforts to push forward the creation of this garden. While much of this has involved behind-the-scenes planning and the creation of a master plan, early this summer, volunteers took a solid first step towards claiming a 34-acre plot for Canadensis: The Garden of Canada.

In June, the Canadensis Botanical Garden Society unveiled a large sun shelter, on the site where they intend the headquarters of the garden to be. It’s a place for gathering, for resting and for picnics, before taking a ramble around the nearby Fletcher Wildlife Garden and the Arboretum.

Photo by Nico Valenzuela

What began as an idea for a small performing arts space in 2016, transformed into a pavilion near the historic red barn on Prince of Wales Drive. Johan Voordouw, an assistant professor at the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism at Carleton University, led the project with three masters students, Matthew Lerch, Adam Paquette and Olivier Larocque.

“The brief was very open. They gave the students a great deal of latitude to come up with their own ideas,” said Voordouw. “It took a lot of creative thinking by many individuals to ensure it could be built with the tools and people we had available.”

The sun shelter is an open and airy structure, sinuously wavy, like a ripple across a pond. Constructed from two layers of ¾” marine-grade plywood glued together, the structure is anchored on a pebble platform by two large wire cages full of stones and a plywood leg. It’s slightly pre-historic in form and feel.

“We chose the materials because they could be easily CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) milled and so they can be cut in a very precise way,” explained Voordouw. “This is what allowed us to be so exact with a very complex form. First the pieces were cut, and then slotted together to form 11 large units about the size of a small car. These were then lifted into place and bolted together. The project was literally designed as a big three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, and the large plywood pieces are connected by a joint that looks very similar to a puzzle piece.”

Photo by Nico Valenzuela

The sun shelter cost approximately $30,000 to build, with much of the labour, engineering expertise and materials donated by Canadensis volunteers, according to Gérald Lajeunesse, chair of Canadensis.

A statement on the project’s website sums up the raison d’etre succinctly: “Botany matters. In today’s world, where environmental systems are increasingly interdependent, living plants are literally the ‘lungs’ of the planet. Canadensis: The Garden of Canada will offer a unique place to celebrate our great natural heritage and demonstrate our ongoing commitment to sustainability in the context of climate change.” Amen.