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The UBC Botanical Garden in Vancouver, British Columbia

Flowers in naturalistic disorder at the entrance to the garden
Flowers in naturalistic disorder at the entrance to the garden | Source

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 and quite rustic. It does contain flowers and a lawn, but it has fewer flowers than other botanical gardens in Vancouver. The UBC garden displays a wide variety of plants, however, and has a special charm of its own. It's an interesting and educational place to explore.

The garden is owned and run by the University of British Columbia but is open to the general public. A highlight of a visit 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.

The botanical garden is located on both sides of SW Marine Drive. A tunnel under the road allows pedestrians to travel from one part of the garden to the other. The green area between the garden and the ocean is part of Pacific Spirit Regional Park, which is forested.

A confident squirrel seen by the ticket booth and shop at the entrance to the garden
A confident squirrel seen by the ticket booth and shop at the entrance to the garden | Source

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 to the garden, it was quite a surprise 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 SW Marine Drive. This section is known as the North Garden.

Flowers and Fruits in the Garden

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I found this interesting fruit in the David C. Lam Asian Garden.
I found this interesting fruit in the David C. Lam Asian Garden.
I found this interesting fruit in the David C. Lam Asian Garden.
A suspended walkway in the tree canopy
A suspended walkway in the tree canopy

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.

Part of the suspensory mechanism of a walkway, as viewed from a multilevel platform
Part of the suspensory mechanism of a walkway, as viewed from a multilevel platform

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.

Looking at the Great Lawn from the Carolinian Forest
Looking at the Great Lawn from the Carolinian Forest

Succulent and Cactus Photos

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The succulent troughs
The succulent troughs
The succulent troughs

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.

Physic Garden Photos

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The Physic Garden in late AugustA close-up view of the sundialThe Doctrine of SignaturesRose hips are a good source of vitamin C.
The Physic Garden in late August
The Physic Garden in late August
A close-up view of the sundial
A close-up view of the sundial
The Doctrine of Signatures
The Doctrine of Signatures
Rose hips are a good source of vitamin C.
Rose hips are a good source of vitamin C.

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 which 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.

Plants in the Food Garden

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An artichoke flower head or inflorescenceDark purple tomatoesThe Indigo Rose tomatoThe flowers and young leaves of nasturtiums are edible. The flowers have a peppery taste.An immature artichoke flower head - the stage that is eaten
An artichoke flower head or inflorescence
An artichoke flower head or inflorescence
Dark purple tomatoes
Dark purple tomatoes
The Indigo Rose tomato
The Indigo Rose tomato
The flowers and young leaves of nasturtiums are edible. The flowers have a peppery taste.
The flowers and young leaves of nasturtiums are edible. The flowers have a peppery taste.
An immature artichoke flower head - the stage that is eaten
An immature artichoke flower head - the stage that is eaten

Admission Cost

The garden is open every day throughout the year. Currently, admission from March 15th to October 31st costs $9 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 $20 if a person wants to travel along the tree walk.

From November to mid-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 in the garden that are kept in frames are also able to flower in winter. There is even a special garden for the season - the Winter Garden - that contains both colour and fragrance in the colder months. Admission during the winter is by donation. The tree walk is open from April 1st to October 31st and is closed during winter.

A poppy in the garden
A poppy in the garden

Directions

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 by the entrance to the garden.

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 Texture

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A tree in the Carolinean Forest
A tree in the Carolinean Forest
A tree in the Carolinean Forest

Things 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. There are 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.

© 2016 Linda Crampton

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Comments 22 comments

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 months ago from USA

This would be a lovely place to visit -- from the gardens to trying to catch a glimpse of a black squirrel, as they don't make them like that where I live. I might have to scoot on my rear end across that scary bridge. Especially with balance issues traversing that thing could be nuts. I loved your photos, too.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Flourish. Thanks for the comment. I agree with you - using the suspended walkway would definitely not be advisable for someone with balance problems. As far as I know, there's never been a safety problem with the tree walk, but the goal of travelling from one platform to another could be a major difficulty for people in certain situations.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 months ago from The Beautiful South

My head would spin but it looks safe enough. I would try that tree walk, looks like great fun!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Jackie. I might try the tree walk again now that I've completed it once. It's certainly interesting! Thanks for commenting.


Vellur profile image

Vellur 2 months ago from Dubai

I enjoyed the tour through UBC Botanical Garden in Vancouver British Columbia. It must be great to see varied habitats in one place. The tree walk sounds fun but a little scary for me! Great photos, enjoyed reading.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks, Vellur. I appreciate your comment. It is great to see such a variety of habitats and plants in the garden. It's an interesting place.


Gina Welds-Hulse profile image

Gina Welds-Hulse 2 months ago from Rockledge, Florida

This looks like a wonderful outing. There is a Botanical Garden about 20 or so miles from me that I have been thinking of going to. I love these kinds of trips.

That black squirrel is beautiful. I've never seen one before. Thanks for sharing.


Buildreps profile image

Buildreps 2 months ago from Europe

Thank you for the tour through this beautiful garden. The walk through the tree tops must be exiting.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Gina. Yes, the trip to the garden can be wonderful. There is a lot to see for someone who is interested in plants. Thank you for the visit.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Buildreps. Yes, the tree walk is exciting for many people. It's great to experience nature from a higher level than normal. The surroundings look very different when viewed from the tree canopy!


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

I think I was there once with my parents on a vacation, but I'm pretty sure I was like ten or something, so I really don't remember. So thanks for taking me along this time. It really looks like a great place to visit.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

The garden is a great place to visit, although some people may be surprised when they enter it and see trees instead of lots of flowers. The nice thing about the garden is that it contains many types of plants. Thanks for the visit, Bill.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 months ago from The Caribbean

Thanks for the tour of the UBC Botanical garden. I visualize the underground tunnel allowing one to see both sides of the garden. Your photos are helpful and the videos are a great addition.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment, Ms. Dora. I appreciate your visit. Unfortunately there's just a pathway at one end of the tunnel, which doesn't look very interesting, but there are trees at the other end. Your idea of the tunnel sounds much nicer!


Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin 2 months ago from Oklahoma

Just a really cool place. I especially like the idea of walking in the tree canopy.

Great read!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, Larry. Walking in the tree canopy can be fun, as long as a person doesn't mind the movement of the walkway. It's certainly an attractive idea to many people who visit the garden!


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 months ago from southern USA

What a wonderful and interesting place to visit, the UBC Botanical Garden in Vancouver! Your photos are breathtaking, Linda. I really love the Asian garden.

I've been to botanical gardens before, but nothing like this one here. Thank you for taking us along with you. I'm terrified of heights, so not too sure about that tree walk!

This is such a beautiful hub.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the lovely comment, Faith. I know what you mean about heights. I was able to complete the tree walk, but I have mixed feelings about it. I loved being surrounded by the tree canopy and being able to take photos of scenes that I hadn't photographed before. I must admit that I wasn't at ease when travelling along the walkways, though!


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 2 months ago from the short journey

Thanks so much for this introductory visit to the UBC gardens. This is definitely on my to do list, and hope sooner than later. I was in upper Washington again about a month ago and almost made it across the border this time. Clearly, doing so is going to take more planning, but I hope to take my growing grands to this place thanks to your review. It would be an amazing opportunity with so much to learn about there. I would love to show them the plantings from the East Coast and let them connect with their roots, excuse the pun. :) I'm guessing it would be at least an overnight stay. Any recommendations for nice but economical lodgings and family restaurants/food stores? (Maybe you should build a guest house for your readers to rent!)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the visit and the comment, RTalloni. I think your grandchildren would enjoy visiting the garden. They would probably learn a lot, too! I'm afraid that I don't know enough about local lodgings to recommend a good place to stay. The Tourism BC website might be helpful, though. They list accommodation of different types. There are lots of family-style restaurants in the area, but I don't know how nutritious their food is.


BlossomSB 2 months ago

Some years ago I stayed in the Youth Hostel in Vancouver and went on a guided walk which was a great overview of many of the interesting sites there; one of them was the Botanical Garden, so I was delighted to 'visit' it again in your interesting article. I also noted that one of your photos was of an Australian eucalyptus tree that was pointed out to us on the walk.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Blossom. Thank you for the comment and for sharing the information. It sounds like you had an interesting trip to Vancouver.

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