Monday, September 26, 2011


VanDusen pond. Photo courtesy of Robin Thom .


Botanical gardens, unlike the aesthetic gardens or parks, are living museums, where the flora is scientifically organized and didactically displayed. The VanDusen, besides being the most important botanical garden of its kind in Western Canada, is a place for meeting and celebration for Vancouverites, a space dedicated to nature education and a field for experimentation on sustainable building technology.

This entry on the VanDusen Botanical Garden is divided into two parts: this post is about the garden itself, its history and landscape components, as well as some works of art displayed here. The next post will be reviewing the impressive and state-of-the-art Visitor Centre, that we got to visit before its official opening.

Waiting for you. Photo courtesy of Januz .

Who would have thought that until 1910 this site was just a field full of shrubs, that belonged to the Canadian Pacific Railway company . However, from 1911 to 1960 the land was leased to the Shaughnessy Golf Club. Later, the railway company tried to develop the place, but faced opposition from the neighbors who wanted a botanical garden for the city to be built in this location. Thus in 1966 the land was purchased by the City of Vancouver, the British Columbia Government and especially thanks to a donation from the tycoon WJ VanDusen, after whom the botanical garden was named.

Korean pavilion

The garden was built between 1971-75 and several professionals participated in its design. The Floral Hall and the Garden Pavilion were projects by Underwood, McKinley, Wilson & Smith, with the architect Herb Wilson. The Forest Centre was in charge of Thompson, Berwick, Pratt & Partners , with Paul Merrick as main architect. The Visitor Centre is a project of Perkins + Will.

In full autumn colors. Photo courtesy of eyesplash .


The VanDusen is located in a rectangular plot of 22 ha. that follows the predominant east-west orientation of Vancouver's urban grid.

Distribution of the garden. Click photo to enlarge

In a plot of sloped topography, the garden displays 255.000 plants of 75000 types from 6 continents in certain areas, either by geographical origin or grouped by species (like in the Rose Garden, for example.)

We used to have this plant in my garden . We called it "Texao".

A crane and a tortoise in lotus pond. In Asia this would be have had a philosophical meaning.

The design combines picturesque large landscaped areas of lawn surrounded by forests with a succession of ponds, around which small thematic gardens are arranged. Some of them include Sino-Himalayan, South American, North Canadian, South African, Japanese, Mediterranean and many other species. Each garden varies according to the season, therefore it is always a different experience to visit it throughout the year.

Summer Colors.
Autumn Colors in the Cypress Pond . Photo courtesy of Harris Hui .

The garden during the Festival of Lights, Winter.

Only the area near the entrance, particularly the rose garden, has a geometric layout, resembling a mini European garden.

Entrance to the rose garden. Photo courtesy of Gingercat .

The rest has been designed to recreate a natural setting, leading the visitor by subsequent effects of contemplation and surprise, channeling and widening the space in order to achieve more spectacular views.

Livingstone Pond. In the background you can see the Visitor Center under construction.
The waterfall.

In addition to its educational nature, the garden has a social and also recreational roles (judging by the numerous events that take place here, including many weddings, despite the rainy weather of Vancouver). A fun experience is to walk through the labyrinth, in whose center stands a pine tree.


Perhaps the most interesting complement to the natural life are the works of art displayed in the garden, both the permanent and temporary installations. Among the sculptures that form part of the décor of the garden, ZimSculpt was showed during our visit, an exhibition by British artist Vivienne Croisette, based on Zimbabwean sculptures.

In the Christmas season the VanDusen Garden becomes a colorful venue during the 'Festival of Lights".

Festival of lights at Christmas.
Curious form of lighting bulb using recycled bottles.

Here the gardens are decorated with millions of lights, and acquire thematic names such as the "Forest of gingerbread," the "dancing lights around the lake", the "Shrine of desires" or the "Path of the cane candies. "

In some ways the festival reminded me of Kobe Luminarie in Japan .

In the next post will review the innovative VanDusen Garden's Visitor Centre .

The garden welcomes visitors of all ages.



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