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Exploring Vancouver’s Beautiful VanDusen Botanical Garden

Linda Crampton is a writer who lives in Greater Vancouver. She enjoys walking and likes to take photographs of her discoveries.

A beautiful water lily at the VanDusen Botanical Garden in British Columbia

A beautiful water lily at the VanDusen Botanical Garden in British Columbia

An Attractive and Interesting Garden

The VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver is a wonderful place to visit. The garden is 22 hectares (55 acres) in area and is easily reached by public transit from the downtown core of the city. Although it's called a garden, the area resembles a park. It contains a wide variety of beautiful plants from different parts of the world, several ponds and lakes, different habitats, a collection of smaller gardens, and some interesting sculptures.

The garden attracts many local and migrating birds, which add to the enjoyment of a visit. Fish, turtles, butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects can also be seen in the garden, as well as wildlife such as squirrels and an occasional coyote. Although most of the flowers are in bloom in spring, summer, and early fall, the VanDusen Garden offers attractions and special events for plant and nature lovers all year. It even contains flowers that bloom in winter.

I always enjoy my visits to the garden and love to take photographs there. I find new inspiration for photography after walking for just a few paces because there's so much to see. I took all of the photos in this article except for the one showing me photographing a monkey puzzle tree, which my sister took.

The roof of the Visitor Centre looks like an orchid when viewed from above.

The roof of the Visitor Centre looks like an orchid when viewed from above.

Every part of the garden that I've explored is attractive with respect to life or design. Even the Visitor Centre has interesting features.

The Visitor Centre

The VanDusen Botanical Garden opened on August 30th, 1975. It was named after Whitford Julian VanDusen, a local lumberman and philanthropist, who died in 1978.

The entrance to the VanDusen Botanical Garden is located in the Visitor Centre. This building was created in 2011 and looks like an orchid when viewed from above. It was designed to be a model of sustainability and has several environmentally friendly features. Solar energy provides power. Water is obtained by capturing rain and by purifying and reusing other water.

The Visitor Centre houses the largest public access horticultural library in western Canada. Visitors can do research in the library without charge. However, they must be a member of the VanDusen Botanical Garden if they wish to borrow a book. Membership is available to the general public for an annual fee.

The Visitor Centre also contains the Truffles Cafe, a gift shop, and washrooms. The cafe provides light meals and snacks. A nearby building houses the Shaughnessy Restaurant, which can be reserved for special events. "Shaughnessy" is the name of the neighbourhood in which the garden is located.

Some Highlights of a Visit

One of the nice things about the VanDusen Garden is the variety of landscaping that it offers. In some parts of the garden I feel like I'm walking on a forest trail; in others I'm travelling over an expansive area of grass or beside formal flower beds; and in still others I find myself beside a naturalistic pond or lake containing aquatic plants and animals.

The garden contains plants from around the world. There are many different things to see in the garden and many highlights to enjoy. Some of my personal highlights are described below.

  • The lakes and ponds are lovely places to see plants and animals, including ducks and ducklings in the spring and early summer.
  • The rose garden contains a sundial as well as roses. Other beautiful flowers and trees are located nearby. This is a very photogenic area in summer.
  • Other mini gardens with different plant types offer their own attractions. Examples include the Sino-Himalayan garden, the heather garden, the fragrance garden (in season), the rhododendron walk, and the fern dell.
  • The maze is made from 3,000 pyramidal cedars and is technically known as a hedge maze. The hedge is over six feet tall. A monkey puzzle tree is located in the centre of the maze, and a taller one is located outside the maze. There is a raised viewing terrace by this tree for people who would like to get a good photograph.
  • The Great Lawn was once part of the Shaughnessy Heights Golf Club, which now exists on a different site. The repurposed "lawn" is very large and is a beautiful area. It's a lovely place to sit and relax, have a picnic, or watch a special event.
  • The trails are a major highlight for me because by walking along them I can see all of the garden's attractions. A map is very handy to make sure that sections of the garden aren't missed, since the trails wind, branch, and intersect. The garden's website provides a downloadable map.

Other interesting attractions at the garden include the colourful Korean Pavilion, the medicine wheel in the Canadian Heritage Garden, totem poles, sculptures, giant redwood trees, and a waterfall.

Read More from WanderWisdom

The Rhododendron Walk

An exploration plan is necessary during a visit to the garden unless someone wants to wander at random and be surprised by what they discover.

Special Events

Special events are held in the garden throughout the year. The most well known and best loved of these are the Sakura Days Japan Fair in the spring, which is part of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, and the Festival of Lights at Christmas.

"Sakura" is the Japanese name for cherry blossom. The Sakura Days Japan Fair showcases Japanese music, dance, arts and crafts, and food. It offers performances, demonstrations, and opportunities for visitors to participate in activities. The beautiful cherry blossoms in the garden provide a lovely backdrop to the event.

The Festival of Lights is attractive and impressive. Over a million Christmas lights entertain visitors, except on Christmas Day when the garden is closed. Some of the lights are "dancing" and are involved in a light show. Other attractions are part of the festival as well, including Santa Claus. The festival is so popular that it's advisable to buy tickets in advance.

Other events that are held at the garden include flower shows, plant sales, bird walks, specialty car shows, and Easter egg hunts in the maze for children. Weddings and filming also take place in the garden.

Davis Ruben Piqtoukun created the first sculpture shown above. He's an Inuit sculptor and printmaker from the Northwest Territories.

Exploring the Neighbourhood

Several hours are needed to explore the whole of the VanDusen Garden. Seats, water, and washrooms are located at various places in the park. If visitors get hungry during their walk, they'll have to go back to the cafe in the Visitor Centre to get a snack unless they've brought food with them.

If an entire day is available to explore botanical gardens, a visit to the VanDusen Garden can be combined with a visit to the nearby Queen Elizabeth Park and Bloedel Floral Conservatory. These are also very beautiful sites. The park is free to enter, but the conservatory charges a fee.

Both the Bloedel Conservatory and the VanDusen Garden are owned by the City of Vancouver. They are jointly run by the Vancouver Park Board and the VanDusen Botanical Garden Association. Each organization has specific responsibilities with respect to governance of the gardens.

Guided tours of the VanDusen garden begin at the Visitor Centre. Cart tours are available for people with limited mobility. The garden contains both paved and unpaved paths. The paved paths, Visitor Centre, and restaurant are all wheelchair accessible. Certified guide dogs are welcome, but not other pets. Smoking is prohibited. The garden is open every day of the year except Christmas Day.

It's advisable to check the garden's website before a visit in order to discover the current open hours and admissions cost. The site has a bloom calendar. The garden was open to the public when this article was last updated, but “new operational measures” were in effect due to the coronavirus pandemic. The same precautions apply to a Bloedel Conservatory visit.

Getting to the VanDusen Botanical Garden

The VanDusen Botanical Garden is located on Oak Street at its intersection with West 37th Avenue. When I last visited the garden there was no parking fee, which is not the case in some other Vancouver parks. Parking is limited, however.

The garden can also be reached by public transit. A bus travels along Oak Street and stops by the garden. SkyTrain is the rapid transit system in the Greater Vancouver area. The nearest SkyTrain station to the garden is at the Oakridge Shopping Centre. Translink runs the public transit system in the greater Vancouver area and has a useful trip planner app on its website.

The VanDusen Botanical Garden is one of the gems of Vancouver. It's definitely worth seeing for both local people and for visitors to the city. The length of a visit is up to the explorer, but the garden is capable of providing many hours of enjoyment.

Flowering dogwood

Flowering dogwood

Resources

  • The VanDusen Botanical Garden website offers useful information about the garden as well as current admission prices and procedures. It also has information about the Bloedel Conservatory.
  • Translink has an online trip planner app for travellers by public transit.

© 2014 Linda Crampton

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