Exploring the UBC Botanical Garden in Vancouver, British Columbia
A Unique Place to Explore
The UBC Botanical Garden in Vancouver is a great place for plant lovers. It's not a typical botanical garden consisting of neat flowerbeds and carefully manicured lawns. Instead, it contains multiple habitats, some of which are forested. It does contain flowers and a lawn, but it also has natural areas and specialized mini gardens. The UBC garden displays a wide variety of plants. It's an interesting and educational place to explore. It's also an important research area for botanists.
The garden is owned and run by the University of British Columbia but is open to the general public. A highlight of a visit to the garden for some people is the Greenheart TreeWalk. This construction allows people to travel along suspended walkways in the forest canopy. The journey gives a walker a new perspective on nature.
I enjoy walking, nature study, and photography, so I always love visiting public gardens. Unless otherwise noted, all the photos in this article were taken by me.
UBC is the oldest university in British Columbia. The botanical garden was established in 1916. It's located on both sides of Marine Drive in the western part of the city of Vancouver. A tunnel under the road allows pedestrians to travel from one part of the garden to the other.
The Asian Garden and the Tree Walk
The UBC Botanical Garden contains multiple smaller gardens, each with their own unique features. The area next to the garden entrance is the David C. Lam Asian Garden. It contains an interesting mixture of local trees and Asian plants. On my first visit, I was quite surprised to see typical British Columbian trees beside the trail and then to notice plants with exotic leaves, stems, flowers, or fruits mixed in with them.
At the end of the Asian Garden is the Greenheart TreeWalk. The suspended walkway is 308 metres long and at its highest point is located 23 metres above the ground. It travels through the canopy of a coastal rainforest habitat. I describe the walk in more detail below.
Before (or after) reaching the tree walk, visitors can travel through the red Moon Gate and the adjoining tunnel to reach the section of the garden located on the other side of Marine Drive. This section is known as the North Garden and contains flowers, succulents, trees, and other interesting sights.
A moon gate is a circular opening in a wall that allows people to pass from one area to another. It has symbolic meaning in Chinese culture. Red is the colour of good luck. It's interesting to think about these points as one approaches and travels through the moon gate in the garden.
Flowers and Fruits in the GardenClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Greenheart TreeWalk
The tree walk was built by a company called Greenheart. No nails or bolts were used to attach the walkway to trees. Instead, a specialized cable tension system was used to hang the construction from the trees. Part of this system can be seen in the photo below. It seems to be very effective. I've never heard of a problem with the tree walk.
The walkway is constructed in segments with stable platforms in-between the segments. People need to move in single file along the walkway but can stand beside each other at the platforms. They can travel along the walk on their own or in a group during a guided tour.
The walkway tilts from side to side as a person moves along it. Some people may find this fun while others may not like the sensation of being unstable while being at a considerable height above the ground. I'm one of the latter group of people. I'm glad that I've walked through the tree canopy at least once, though. The view from the platforms was impressive and provided the opportunity for some great photos.
Over the past 100 years, the mission of UBC Botanical Garden has broadened to include education, research, conservation, community outreach, and public display of temperate plants from around the world.— UBC Botanical Garden website
Scenes at the UBC Botanical Garden
The Great Lawn and the Carolinian Forest
Soon after leaving the tunnel between the two sections of the garden, a visitor will see the Great Lawn. The lawn and the nearby flowers and shrubs resemble a typical botanical garden. The flowers in the herbaceous border beside the lawn are colourful and attractive. The border is limited to one location, however, and doesn't travel around the lawn.
Next to the Great Lawn is an area known as the "Carolinian Forest". In Canada, this term refers to a distinctive and attractive group of deciduous trees that grow in eastern North America. The trees grow well in the botanical garden. The goal is to create an arboretum containing groves of trees and herbaceous plants from the east coast of the continent.
Succulent and Cactus PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
The E.H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden, Cacti, and Succulents
The alpine garden and the nearby cactus and succulent display give visitors another chance to see plants that don't normally grow in Vancouver. The alpine garden consists of beds containing high altitude plants from different continents. The substrate, spacing, and—as much as possible—the microenvironments of the plants are carefully controlled to help them survive.
Near the alpine garden is a frame that contains a cactus display. The succulents are grown in special troughs next to the cactus frame. The troughs look natural but are actually made of an artificial mixture of materials. The troughs allows proper drainage during Vancouver's wet winters, allowing the succulents to survive.
The total collection of approximately 120,000 accessioned plants represents some 6,000 taxa and includes significant collections of Magnolia, Acer (maples), Sorbus (mountain ash), Styracaceae (storax family), Rhododendron and climbing plants.— UBC Botanical Garden website
Physic Garden PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Harold and Frances Holt Physic Garden
"Physic garden" is an old name for a garden containing medicinal plants and used to educate physicians and apothecaries. The Harold and Frances Holt Physic Garden is enclosed by a hedge made of yew. Yew is poisonous and was traditionally planted in a physic garden. Its presence was a warning sign that other poisonous plants were located in the garden. Like pharmaceutical medicines, some natural medicines have the potential to harm instead of help if used incorrectly.
The physic garden consists of concentric beds bordered by bricks and is most attractive during the spring, summer, and early fall. The bronze sundial is interesting at any time of year, however. It bears engraved depictions of items related to natural medicine.
The Garden and the Canopy Walk
The Food and BC Rainforest Gardens
The Food Garden grows vegetables and fruits, including unusual or exotic types as well as more common varieties. Organic techniques are used to produce the food, which is given to those in need. A major goal of the garden is to educate the public about food production.
The BC Rainforest Garden contains typical coastal rainforest trees. It also contains a pond and boggy areas that can be traversed via stepping stones. The garden attracts birds, insects, and even frogs.
There are other interesting sights to see in the UBC Botanical Garden. Visiting them all takes time but is very enjoyable, especially in summer. The garden has a number of facilities that can be rented as well as viewed, including an amphitheatre and the Garden Pavilion. These constructions are located near the lawn.
The garden's website provides a downloadable map so that people can plan their exploration in advance. A link to the website is provided in the "Resources" section below.
Plants in the Food GardenClick thumbnail to view full-size
The garden has a library that contains an extensive collection of reference works. It's a useful place for researchers. The public can explore the Reading Room section of the library but can't borrow items. The garden holds frequent workshops that may be of interest to local people.
The garden is open every day throughout the year, with the exception of statutory holidays during the winter. In 2019, admission from April 1st to October 31st costs $10 for adults. Concession rates apply for people in various categories, such as those aged 65 or older. The adult admission price does a major jump to $23 if a person wants to travel along the tree walk. The tree walk is open from April 1st to October 31st and is closed during winter. Admission to the garden during the winter is by donation.
From November to March, there are fewer plants to see in the garden, although a visit can still be enjoyable. Evergreen plants are still present but there is less colour in the garden outside of the growing season. That being said, Vancouver generally has mild winters, which allows some plants to bloom. Some of the plants that are kept in frames are also able to flower in winter. The garden contains a special mini garden for the season—the Winter Garden—that contains both colour and fragrance in the colder months.
It would be a good idea to look at the garden's website before a visit. Many ticket packages are available. A person may need some time to choose the best one. In addition, admission costs and open hours may change.
In addition to driving to the botanical garden, a visitor has the option of taking a bus. The #49 bus stops at the corner of 16th Avenue and SW Marine Drive. From here, it's about a ten minute walk to the garden entrance.
It's also possible to walk to the garden from UBC, which is located nearby. The university campus is big, however. In addition, it's surrounded by an area known as the UBC Endowment Lands, resulting in a very large site. A walk to the botanical garden may take a considerable amount of time, depending on the starting point. The C20 shuttle bus may prove useful in this situation. It starts at the UBC bus loop and stops at Stadium Road very close to the garden entrance.
The organization that runs Vancouver's public transit system is known as TransLink. The TransLink website has information about bus routes and timetables in the Greater Vancouver region and includes data for the #49 and C20 buses.
Other Plants in the Garden: Design and TextureClick thumbnail to view full-size
Things for Visitors to Consider
A complete exploration of the UBC Botanical Garden takes hours. It might be a good idea to take a snack and water on the journey. It's important to dress for the weather and to bring rain or sun protection if necessary. Good walking shoes are also important. The garden contains three washrooms—one at the shop and garden centre located at the entrance to the garden, one in the Garden Pavilion, and one by the exit of the tree walk.
Some of the garden is accessible to wheelchairs, but not all of it. Some trails are paved while others are made of wood chip or gravel. In addition, some of the trails are irregularly graded.
There are special requirements for those planning to go on the tree walk. These requirements include no flip-flops, sandals, or high heels, the ability to keep both hands free in order to hold on to the guide ropes, and a backpack or other carrier for young children instead of a stroller.
The preparation for a trip to the garden is very worthwhile. An interesting mix of nature and cultivation awaits the visitor. The exploration will probably be both fun and educational.
Questions & Answers
© 2016 Linda Crampton