After 79 years the Cascades of Time Garden a delight for flora fans

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BANFF, Alta. - It's a tiny patch of floral tranquility in one of the most beautiful parks in Canada.

While the streets of the Banff National Park townsite are virtually awash with 3.5 million visitors a year, the Cascades of Time Garden located at the end of Banff Avenue and on the way to the Banff Springs Hotel offers a surprising break from the frenetic pace.

The ornamental gardens are located in a five-hectare (12-acre) plot of land which also includes the Banff Parks administration building.

The site was originally the home of the Brett Sanatorium and Hotel built in the 1880s by Dr. Robert Brett, a company doctor for the Canadian Pacific Railway, in response to the discovery of the sulphur hot springs in Banff.

When the hotel burned down in the 1930s the plot of land was snatched up by Parks Canada, which built the administration building and the gardens in 1935.

"They commissioned Walter Beckett, an Ontario architect, and what is a bit unusual about this project was Beckett had to plan for not only the building but the landscape. In a lot of projects you would have an architect and a separate landscape architect," said Steve Malins, a spokesman for Banff National Park.

The garden itself takes up about 1.6 hectares of the site.

"The garden was definitely a huge feature for Beckett. He had this notion of Cascades of Time and not because it faced Cascade Mountain," he said.

Malins said the goal was to feature a cascade of time in the way the garden was set up with a forest zone boundary on two sides, stone patches and pools of water.

"He even had notions of casts of dinosaurs and early cave dwellers in amongst the garden too, but fortunately that didn't happen," said Malins with a laugh.

"What we ended up with is this beautiful, classically designed garden that really emphasizes the space. He wanted views of the mountain but also wanted to add some colour to a relatively short growing season."

Depending on the weather the goal is to have the flowers planted by the May long weekend and in place until the first frost, often in September. Approximately 50,000 annuals are planted and eight Parks Canada staff take care of the administration building grounds during the summer season.

Beckett drew his inspiration from the grounds of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa and from a number of English estates.

Malins estimates that more than 100,000 people visit Cascades of Time, which is less than one per cent of those who visit the townsite. But despite the numbers it is rarely empty.

"People picnic in there. There's often people playing bocce ball or Frisbee and of course quite a few weddings and wedding photos are often taken amongst the gardens."

Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter.

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If You Go...

Cascades of Time Gardens is free and open from the May long weekend until late September.

The site is within easy walking distance from Banff Avenue, the town's main thoroughfare.

A number of sulphur hot springs are available at hotels in the area.

Organizations: Cascades, Parks Canada, Banff Springs Hotel Time Canadian Pacific Railway

Geographic location: Banff Avenue, Banff National Park, Canada Ontario Ottawa Time Gardens

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