Friday, September 4, 2015

University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, Vancouver, BC

Just as I’m about to embark on another northwestern adventure—in the extreme northwest of the American continent—I’d like to take you back to the campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver. Established in 1916, UBC Botanical Garden and Center for Plant Research—literally a five-minute drive from where we were staying during our visit this summer—encompasses 78 acres divided into two major sections: The North Gardens are quite exposed and sunny (at least in the summer) while the Asian Garden is a sheltered coastal forest underplanted with Asian trees, shrubs, vines and perennials.

In contrast to VanDusen Botanical Garden, which feels more like an exquisitely manicured grand estate, the UBC Botanical Garden has a wilder edge, especially the Asian garden where I managed to get lost for a little while. If I lived in Vancouver, VanDusen is where I would take out-of-town visitors or go for a Sunday picnic with the family, and the UBC Botanical Garden is where I would go to find solitude in the woods.

And then there’s the Greenheart Canopy Walkway, which provided adrenaline-filled moments of terror for everybody in my family. More on that later.

For now let’s start near the entrance. There’s an ambience of lushness wherever you look. It’s clear this place gets plenty of water.

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Rodgersia species

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Rodgersia and Hosta

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Kiwifruit vine (Actinidia sp.)

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Vilmorin’’s rowan (Sorbus pseudovilmorinii)

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Stewartia sp.

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This is definitely not a sight I’m used to!

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Flowering dogwood

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There was so much green, it hurt my eyes!

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Hydrangea vine (Schizophragma sp.)

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Hydrangea vine (Schizophragma sp.)

The Moon Gate and Tunnel you see in the next photo separates the Asian Garden from the North Gardens located on the other side of South West Marine Drive, one of the main roads through the University of British Columbia campus. Let’s head to the North Gardens now before we continue down the path to see the rest of the Asian Garden.

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The North Gardens are very different from the Asian Garden in exposure and general feel. The Food Garden aims to inspire Vancouver homeowners to grow their own fruit and produce. On the outer perimeter there are over 100 varieties of fruit trees; raised beds grow a diverse assortment of vegetables which are donated to local food banks. Flowering annuals and perennials growing among the vegetables provide an element of cheer.

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The most interesting plant I spotted in the Food Garden was quinoa. I’ve eaten plenty of quinoa over the years but I had never seen the plant in person. It’s a tall weedy thing, but I’m glad I finally know what it looks like.

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Pops of color between the Food Garden and Physic Garden:

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Large arbor behind the Food Garden:

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The arbor is home to clematis, wisteria and trumpet vine

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Japanese maple and azalea

Now we’re outside the Physic Garden, one my favorite specialty gardens. Enclosed by a traditional yew hedge, it’s a recreation of what you would have found in medieval Europe. Medicinal plants grow in 12 concentric beds around a sundial.

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Yew hedge and entrance to the Physic Garden

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Viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare)

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Elecampane (Inula helenium)

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Spiny bear’s breeches (Acanthus spinosa)

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Houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum)

Behind the Physic Garden is the Alpine Garden. It has “separate beds representing the mountains of Asia, Africa, North America, Europe, South America and Australasia” (1). This is where you will find plants like Yucca and Kniphofia that to me have nothing to do with alpine plants. But who am I to complain? The overall effect was very pretty:

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Berkheya purpurea, a nasty, spiny, yet oh-so-lovely plant from southern Africa. I want one so badly, but every time I’m at Annie’s Annuals, they’re out

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Berkheya purpurea

Now we’ve left the sun-drenched North Gardens behind and are back in the Asian Garden on the south side of SW Marine Drive. The scenery is so different, it’s easy to think you’re in a completely different place altogether.

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Here they irrigate using the most powerful oscillating sprinklers I’ve ever encountered. They have a throw of 50 feet!

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I did all I could not to get wet, but I wasn’t entirely successful. Not that a spray of water is unpleasant on a hot summer day! (2015 was the hottest summer on record in the Pacific Northwest.)

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We’re now at the far end of the Asian Garden where the infamous Greenheart Canopy Walkway is located. “Infamous” is my own word choice because this seemingly innocuous aerial stroll through the trees is not for the faint-of-heart.

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It starts gently enough.

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Until you realize that the suspended walkway sways uncontrollably from side to side.

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Fortunately, there are fairly solid platforms around large trees every now and then.

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But there’s no rest for the weary. Many more sections need to be conquered.

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The views are quite spectacular.

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But I spent all my time focusing on the wobbly expanse of metal and rope ahead of me.

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These photos don’t accurately convey how terrifying it really was. Play the two videos I posted here to get a better feel for the wobbly insanity!

Exhausted and strangely hungry—as if we’d just survived a week of starvation in the wilderness—we made our way to back to the small Reception Centre at the entrance. Fortunately, they sell refreshments and cookies in addition to books, postcards and a small selection of plants. We enjoyed quite decent peanut butter cookies at the picnic area while I photographed these monkey-tail hornbeam trees (Carpinus fangiana). They look both familiar and exotic, and are apparently exceedingly rare in cultivation.

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Soon we were fortified enough to continue our adventures. Click here to read what else we did on this day.

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2 comments:

  1. It's an impressive garden. Although I consider myself fairly risk adverse, I suspect that despite your warnings and your video, I'd have to try that suspended walkway too - the chance to walk among the trees is too great an opportunity to be missed (at least once).

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  2. Fun to see how our visits differ, Andrew and I were there in September of 2010. Your photos of the Physic Garden for example are much more lush than mine. Most everything was brown when we visited. I need to get back there, soon!

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