A Natural Balance: The K.C. Environmental Science Centre and Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens at Acadia University by Alex Novell and John Leroux

The things I know about plants are very little, but I do love a well-done garden. I first heard of the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens at Acadia during other, unrelated readings about the Irvings. I didn’t go to Acadia, so I never experienced the gardens or their associated building, the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre as a student. At one point, pre-pandemic, I was considering going to a conference at Acadia, and I definitely would have made time to see the gardens. (Unsurprising twist: the conference went online.) A Natural Balance: The K.C. Environmental Science Centre and Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens at Acadia University is a lovely volume about the history of the building and the gardens, starting with the original donation from Arthur Irving and family, to the conception stage and plan revisions, to building the garden and how it’s worked for the campus and the university community. Alex Novell was the landscape architect involved in the design and creation of the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens, while John Leroux is a scholar in architecture and art history. Together, they tell the story of the building, the gardens, the specific design choices and traditions they spoke to, as well the transformation these places made on the Acadia campus.

The book is divided into what I would call a series of long essays, starting with a foreword by Arthur Irving discussing his connection with Acadia, the monetary gift to the university his family gave, and his appreciation for how they turned out. After that Novell and Leroux alternate explaining the birth of the building and the garden, and bringing us to the final product. Interspersed with these explanations are beautiful, full-colour photographs of the building and the gardens, sharing the details of each part of the buildings and garden. For those of us who enjoy staring at beautiful plants, this book is a goldmine.

The final section of the book is an appendix providing a list and pictures of all of the plants in the gardens. As is explained by Novell and Leroux, the design of the gardens prioritized local plants and trees, across a variety of different types of systems: woods, meadows, streams and ponds, and even the rare sand barren, all of which are found in the Annapolis Valley region. The garden and building were thoughtfully designed, meant to harmonize the Acadia campus, and the care demonstrated is apparent in the photos on every page.

A #ReadAtlantic book!

Overall, this is a nice, though specific book. It certainly works as recruitment material for Acadia (or it should be. If no one has leveraged it yet, they should start), and also works as a collection of the flora and fauna across the different types of ecosystems in Atlantic Canada, with clear, large photos. My plant knowledge was slightly increased in reading this, and the photography overall is excellent. One aspect that I wish had been more emphasized in the text was the student use and value of the building and gardens. There were a few quotes, including an opening one for the book, from students and alumni who valued the gardens and building, but the focus on the utility of them from a student perspective was provided by faculty and administration. However, the building and the gardens were clearly a labour of love and that is reflected in the book itself.

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About the Author:

Alex Novell is a chartered landscape architect and Fellow of the British Landscape Institute. John Leroux is an art and architectural historian, curator, and former architect. He is the author of fifteen books, including Building New Brunswick and The Lost City.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Goose Lane Editions (July 6 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 176 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1777663202
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1777663209

Alison Manley bounced around the Maritimes before landing in Miramichi, NB, where she works as a hospital librarian. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. When she's not reading biomedical research for her work, she likes reading poetry, contemporary and historical fiction, and personal essays. Noted for a love of bright colours (and lipstick), you can find her wandering the banks of the Miramichi River with a book and a paintbrush.

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