Monday, May 11, 2009

VanDusen Botanical Garden: a local's secret

Laburnum blooming in VanDusen in early May 2005
Laburnum in VanDusen, alive with the sound of bees - May 2005

Vancouver's wet climate and mild temperatures produce some of the most lush, botanically diverse gardens in North America. Because of these conditions, Vancouver's gardens are vibrant and green year round. This is unlike elsewhere in Canada where you'd normally only seek gardens in the spring and summer months. Vancouver's mild temperatures mean that you can visit the local gardens even in the middle of winter and you'll still have plenty of things to see.

Yellow irises - May 2005

You can guarantee that almost every tourist coming to Vancouver knows about Stanley Park. And you'd be surprised at how many tourists come to Vancouver, only to spend their entire time travelling the six hour round trip to see Victoria's Butchart Gardens. But for those garden loving individuals, there is actually another garden here in Vancouver which is equally worthwhile but it often flies under the tourist radar. That garden, dear reader, is VanDusen Botanical Garden.

VanDusen Botanical Garden main entrance - May 2005

VanDusen Botanical Garden (called "VanDusen Gardens" or "VanDusen" by locals) is my favourite garden in Vancouver, and it has to be the one of the city's most impressive as far as botanical gardens go. Formerly a golf course up until 1960, it opened its doors as a botanical garden in 1975.

Floating bridge - May 2005

Though not as famous as Butchart Gardens, it's about the same size but is cheaper and has a fraction of the crowds. It's also convenient to get to as it's located a 12 minute (5 km) drive south of downtown Vancouver - nestled on a massive 55 acre city block in the gorgeous, the prestigious, and the disgustingly pricey residential neighbourhood of Shaughnessy.

The satellite view of VanDusen from Google Maps

If you enjoy horticulture, botany and meandering through tranquil gardens, you'll want to seriously consider a visit to VanDusen. Organized into 55 unique themes, it's more than just pretty flowers. In a way, the garden is set up to be a living museum - every plant, flower, tree, fern is meticulously labeled by its genus and species. It's not just beautiful - it's educational! You'll want at least 2 hours here to give it justice. And don't forget the hedge maze!

Entering the hedge maze - May 2005

In terms of dining, VanDusen has a reputable gourmet restaurant aptly called Shaughnessy for those looking at making a special event out of the visit. They also have a beautiful gift shop. But VanDusen almost acts as a surrogate community centre for the Vancouver community, hosting plant sales, plant shows, car shows, cultural displays, botany/horticulture classes, flower-arranging classes, lectures - you name it.

The lushness of spring flowers - May 2005

This is even more true in December when they host the annual Festival of Lights Christmas light display - the busiest time you'll ever experience at VanDusen! But outside of Christmas time, VanDusen offers a surprisingly quiet environment.

A quiet moment under the canopy of a Japanese maple - May 2005

Although the garden changes with the seasons and is beautiful year round, there's something really special about visiting VanDusen in the month of May. It's at this time of the year when VanDusen becomes magical with intensely coloured rhododendrons and bright yellow laburnum alive with the buzz of bees. The new green foliage appears so vibrant, as if somebody tweaked the saturation in Photoshop. VanDusen in May can feel like you're walking through an impressionist painting - and you feel as though you have the whole garden to yourself.

Korean pavilion in the Sino-Himalayan garden at VanDusen - May 2005


Erik Mondrian said...

Great post. :D I remember reading up on Queen Elizabeth Park (and its Bloedel Conservatory) sometime ago and had been meaning to check out info on VanDusen as well - after noticing it nearby on Google Maps - but never got around to it. Definitely sounds like it's an underappreciated gem.

Looking so much forward to seeing all these great places you're writing about soon... can't believe I'm already moving up to Vancouver in less than 3 weeks... end of May. :O

Robyn said...

Thanks! :)

Wow - that's so soon! You must be getting nervous! I'm going to start typing out my random observations and the next thing you know, you're going to be responding, "Yup... been there, done that.... hey wait, I'm that dude in the background in that photo." ;D

Queen Elizabeth Park is very beautiful - it's an old rock quarry (like Butchart Gardens) that was transformed into a garden, so it has a certain vertical feel that you don't get at VanDusen. But I somehow prefer VanDusen because it always feels like you're the only one there. That, and it's like the holy grail for botany geeks in Vancouver. All the tourists bus themselves 3 hours away to Butchart Gardens when we have our very own Butchart Gardens right here. Although I finally went to Butchart last September, and it is quite special.

For what it's worth, VanDusen's having a volunteer session on May 23rd for half the day, and I'm tempted to go! There's something so soothing about gardens, and I miss having a backyard.

Erik Mondrian said...

Background? What are you talking about? I'll be the guy in the foreground, running up to the camera while waving and making faces. ;)

And yeah, it is soon... Amazing how time flies by. I am nervous, but excited, too; most of the stress isn't coming from the move itself so much as from all the stuff I still need to do down here before I leave. :O Or is that pretty much the same thing? :D

Gonna try to spend some time at all of those places this summer: VanDusen, QE, even Butchart. They all look beautiful, and I'm sure going out like that and seeing 'em and "knowing" them will hopefully help me feel more "at home," as in this quote that you actually might appreciate from The Great Gatsby:

It was lonely for a day or so until one morning some man, more recently arrived than I, stopped me on the road. "How do you get to West Egg village?" he asked helplessly. I told him. And as I walked on I was lonely no longer. I was a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler. He had casually conferred on me the freedom of the neighborhood.

M. D. Vaden of Oregon said...

Those Goldenchain trees in the first frame look pretty nice as a grove. I think that looks even better than singles.


Unknown said...

As a tourist to Vancouver I 'discovered' Van Dusen Gardens in December 2005 - I went to the Festival of Lights - and I loved it - so much so that I revisited VDG the following December on another trip to Vancouver. I have since visited Vancouver 3 times during the summer and as yet haven't been back to VDG - but having read the blog and seen your pics - now high on my list for my next visit.

BC Robyn - your blog is brilliant - am systematically working my way through it........Very very good.