VanDusen Botanical Garden (VBG) in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada may well be the loveliest public garden you’ve never seen. I almost didn’t visit either on our recent Pacific Northwest trip, but then I read this description in Donald Olson’s book The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour (Timber Press, 2014):
No question about it: Vancouver’s 55-acre VanDusen Botanical Garden is one of the great gardens of the Pacific Northwest. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the great gardens of the world. Beautifully designed, impeccably maintained, with endlessly fascinating plant material and lots of intriguing outdoor sculpture, it’s a place that will enchant every garden and garden lover.
Established in 1975 in a leafy neighborhood in southeast Vancouver not far from the University of British Columbia campus, VBG was considered one of Vancouver’s best kept secrets. That changed in 2011 when the ultramodern, award-winning and LEED Platinum-certified visitor center opened its door, taking VBG into the 21st century and beyond. If you’re interested in green/sustainable architecture, I recommend this article about the VBG Visitor Center.
The approach from the parking lot is via a foot bridge. Soon you see the visitor center’s dramatically undulating roof supported by massive wood pillars. The walls of the building are concrete and rammed earth.
Bridge to the VBG Visitor Center
The roofs of the visitor center are actually planted with grasses and bulbs. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good view of the top, but the underside of the entrance roof is stunning as it is—as is the interior. I can’t think of another public garden that has such a dramatic visitor center.
Visitor Center exterior
Visitor Center interior
Visitor Center from inside the garden
VanDusen Botanical Garden is on the site of a former golf course, which in turn was located on land owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). In 1971, eleven years after the golf course moved, the city of Vancouver and the province of British Columbia purchased the land with financial assistance from lumber magnate W. J. VanDusen, and VanDusen Botanical Garden officially opened its doors in 1975. Now it is home to 250,000 plants from 7,500 taxa from all over the world. They all seem to thrive in Vancouver’s mild oceanic climate with moderate temperatures (zone 8b, although there are warmer microclimates) and approx. 45 inches (1100 mm) of rain a year.
I wandered through the garden in a counter-clockwise fashion, starting at the Visitor Center. You may want to follow along on this map. I’ll identify plants to the best of my knowledge. In other words, if there was a label, I photographed it so I know what the plant is. Aside from plant IDs, I’ll try to keep my commentary to a minimum so you can enjoy the photos.
Reeds along the shore of Livingston Lake
“Confidence” by Michael Dennis (red cedar sculpture)
Eastern North America section
Glimpse of Cypress Pond through the trees
Bridge across Cypress Pond. The trees on the left and right are bald cypresses (Taxodium distichum ‘Pendens’)
Water lilies in Cypress Pond
Rain drops! Yes, it was actually starting to drizzle although it never amounted to much. I was worried about my camera, but I simply kept wiping it dry with my T-shirt.
Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and bamboo
Umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata)
Gunnera across Heron Lake
Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) of all shapes, sizes and colors
Variegated boxelders (Acer negundo ‘Flamingo’) flanking a large clump of Petasites japonicus
Brunnera macrophylla, all-green and variegated
Astilbe chinensis ‘Vision in White’
Sorry, I don’t know what hosta cultivar this is
Dried Flower Arrangers’ Garden
Dried Flower Arrangers’ Garden
Himalayan white birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemonti)
Coffin tree (Taiwania cryptomerioides)
Vignette in the Sino-Himalayan section
Path through the Sino-Himalayan section
Weeping katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Morioka Weeping')
Weeping katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Morioka Weeping') and waterfall
Alma VanDusen Garden, Alma being the wife of lumber magnate W. J. VanDusen who donated $1 million to buy the land for the VBG
Indian rhubarb (Darmera peltata)
Indian rhubarb (Darmera peltata); the yellow flowers are from a ligularia (not sure which species)
The delphinium in the background are in the Alma VanDusen Garden
Gunnera sp. at Meadow Pond #1
Near Meadow Pond #1
Bottlebrush (Callistemon sp.)
Monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana)
Meadow Pond #2
Devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus)
Orangebark stewartia (Stewartia monodelpha), a beautiful tree native to Japan and Korea
Korean Pavillion, donated to VBG by the government of Korea after the Expo 86 World’s Fair in Vancouver
Hydrangeas—ho hum for many, lovely in my eyes
Hosta ‘First Frost’
Golden catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’)
Hostas mixing with tropical foliage plants
Even an Agave attenuata old enough to have formed a trunk! This was a big surprise because this agave species is one of the wimpiest. VGB must have a very mild microclimate (Vancouver, BC is in zone 8b).
The wooden building in the upper left of the photo above is Shaughnessy Restaurant
A nice place to sit
The yellow-flowering plants are lobster pot pitcher plants (Sarracenia psittacina), carnivorous plants found in the coastal plains from southern Georgia to southern Mississippi
The orange flowers behind the Sarracenia are an Inula species
Transitioning to ornamental grasses
Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’
I’m very glad I visited VanDusen Botanical Garden and would highly recommend it if you’re ever in the area. I will cover the other botanical garden in Vancouver – University of British Columbia Botanical Garden – in another post, but I didn’t think it was quite as beautiful.
The drizzle continued on my drive back to our apartment on the campus of the University of British Columbia, about 20 minutes away, but it stopped later in the evening so there was a bit of color in the sky at sundown:
View of downtown Vancouver from Spanish Banks