Updated date:

Exploring the Lovely UBC Botanical Garden in Vancouver

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

A poppy in the garden

A poppy in the garden

A Unique Place to Explore

The UBC Botanical Garden in Vancouver is a very interesting place for plant lovers. It's not a typical botanical garden consisting of neat flowerbeds and carefully manicured lawns. Instead, it contains multiple habitats with different features. It does contain flowers and a lawn, but it also has forested areas and specialized mini gardens. The UBC garden displays a wide variety of plants. It's an enjoyable 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 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 of the photos in this article were taken by me.

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

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.

Plants next to the entrance

Plants next to the entrance

The David C. Lam Asian Garden

The David C. Lam Asian Garden is the first area seen by visitors after they enter the botanical garden. David Lam was a businessman, a philanthropist, and a Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. The Lieutenant Governor represents the queen in the province. Lam was widely respected. He died in 2010.

The garden named in Lam's honour 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 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 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. The gate is red, which 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 UBC 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. The second video below gives a good idea of what it's like to travel along the walkway.

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

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

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 garden's 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

The E.H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden

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

Harold and Frances Holt Physic Garden

"Physic garden" is an old name for a garden containing medicinal plants that was 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 twelve 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. It bears engraved depictions of items related to natural medicine.

An interesting sign in the garden describes the doctrine of signatures. The sign is shown in the photo sequence above. The doctrine claims that God has given medicinal plants a feature that indicates their benefit for an illness. For example, as the sign says, the leaves of the lungwort have white spots. This reminded doctors of the appearance of a diseased lung and indicated to them that the leaves were a suitable treatment for lung disease.

It's very important to note that today there are conflicting reports about the safety of lungwort. Plants shouldn't be eaten unless their safety has been confirmed by experts and unless there is no doubt about their identification.

The “Doctrine of Signatures” is a belief that all plants have a divine mark of their curative power. For example, yellow plants, like the flowers of goldenrod, Solidago virgaurea, were presumed to yield a cure for jaundice.

— UBC Botanical Garden Website

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. These include the Garry Oak Meadow and Woodland Garden, the Arbour Garden, the Cattail Marsh, the Walk in the Woods Trail, and additional areas. Visiting everything in the UBC garden 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.

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.

Admission Cost

The garden is open every day throughout the year, with the exception of statutory holidays during the winter. In 2020, 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 area for the season—the Winter Garden—that contains both colour and fragrance in the colder months.

It's important to look at the garden's website before a visit. Many ticket packages are available. People may need some time to choose the best one. In addition, admission costs and open hours may change. In certain situations, specific policies may be in effect for visitors.

Looking upwards under a tree always produces an interesting view.

Looking upwards under a tree always produces an interesting view.

How to Reach the Garden by Public Transit

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, creating 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.

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.

Resources

  • The UBC Botanical Garden website has information about current admission costs and open hours.
  • The TransLink website is useful for someone who wants to travel to the garden by public transit. The site contains a trip planner to help people reach their destination.

© 2016 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 05, 2020:

I hope you do, Liza. That should be interesting to see!

Liza from USA on January 05, 2020:

You're most welcome, Linda. Next time, I should share my mom's garden :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 05, 2020:

Thank you very much, Liza. I appreciate your comment and the fact that you read the article a great deal. I love exploring botanical gardens and seeing plants from around the world.

Liza from USA on January 05, 2020:

Hi Linda, I might be a little bit behind but, I prefer taking time to come back to some of your past articles. Your article on UBC Botanical Garden was fascinating! In addition to that, I was delighted as there is a dedicated Asian Garden as well. The garden looks lovely :) Looking at the flowers reminds me of my mother's garden in my hometown.

Thank you for sharing this!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 11, 2018:

I appreciate your comment very much, Eurofile.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 11, 2018:

This is an incredibly well-illustrated article.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 21, 2017:

Hi, Adele. I've been to the Butchart Gardens a few times. The site is very impressive! Unfortunately, the UBC Botanical Garden and the Butchart Gardens don't have reciprocal admission. I wish they did. It would certainly make exploring the sites more affordable.

Adele Jeunette on July 21, 2017:

Thanks so much for the article. We went to the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, and now I'd like to take a trip and go see the two of them. I wonder if they have reciprocal admission. I'm a member of the Botanic Gardens in Denver & was pleased to learn that I could get my family in for free at a couple of gardens in San Francisco.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 05, 2017:

Thanks for the comment, nityasree.

nityasree on June 05, 2017:

nice blog

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 17, 2017:

Thank you for the comment and the bookmark, Unbrako.

Unbrako Delhi on May 17, 2017:

That is an extremely smart written article. I will be sure to bookmark it and return to learn extra of your useful information. Thank you for the post. I will certainly return.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 07, 2016:

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

BlossomSB on October 06, 2016:

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.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 06, 2016:

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.

RTalloni on October 05, 2016:

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!)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 03, 2016:

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!

Faith Reaper from southern USA on October 03, 2016:

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.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 03, 2016:

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!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on October 03, 2016:

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

Great read!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 03, 2016:

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!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 03, 2016:

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.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 03, 2016:

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.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 03, 2016:

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.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 03, 2016:

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!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 03, 2016:

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.

Buildreps from Europe on October 03, 2016:

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

Gina Welds Hulse from Rockledge, Florida on October 03, 2016:

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.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 02, 2016:

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.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on October 02, 2016:

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.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 02, 2016:

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

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on October 02, 2016:

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

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 02, 2016:

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.

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 02, 2016:

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.