Sunday, September 2, 2012

Visiting Van Dusen Gardens

On the last day of my vacation I had the good fortune to have the evening to myself in the city of Vancouver, British Columbia.  I was very close to just holing up in my hotel for the night but I reconsidered.  How often do I find myself in Vancouver with some extra time on my hands?

I still had time to make a last visit somewhere but what did I want to see?  The answer was quite easy.  Years ago when I lived on the west coast I was a volunteer at Van Dusen Botanical Gardens.  Since I have moved, Van Dusen has had some major structural changes.  The visitor building and restaurant have been renovated and a second larger building installed.  This was my chance to see those changes in person and revisits a garden that I loved for many years.

Looking across the lily pads to the floating bridge
I wasn't sorry I made the decision to visit.  The old visitors centre used to house a nursery, gift shop, washrooms, cashiers desk and restaurant.  It was slightly crowded.  Today that same building has been completely given over to Shaughnessy Restaurant.

This reflecting pool used to the at the main entrance to the garden.
Now this is a quiet spot where diners can look out and enjoy the view.
Diners can look out to the reflecting pool and enjoy an uncluttered view and quieter atmosphere now.  Those headed into the garden or looking for a gift can head to the new visitors centre.

The new building is, architecturally, a sight to see.
An amazing building that houses a new cafe (which I tried and can recommend.  Toasted cheese and turkey sandwich was wonderful), washrooms, gift shop, nursery and lecture rooms.  And the entrance into the garden is just as captivating as there is a view of the lake and fountain.


While wandering through the garden that evening I was pleased to see families out and about enjoying picnics on the lawn.  The new cafe sells a pass to families that includes garden entry and a loaded picnic basket.  This is such a great idea and one of the things I have always liked about Van Dusen.  This isn't an uptight garden where you aren't allowed to walk on the grass.  It is quite the opposite, people are encouraged to walk on the grass and off the paths.  It makes it feel like it is your own garden and is very welcoming.

Membership is also encouraged and of
good value if you live in the area,
One of the reasons for this more relaxed attitude is that the Van Dusen site was originally, from 1911 to 1960, the home of the Shaughnessy Heights Golf Links.  The grass throughout the gardens was originally installed to be walked upon.  In 1960 the golf lease expired and was not renewed.  It took several years of debating within the community but in 1966 the City of Vancouver agreed to the property becoming a botanical garden.  From 1971 to 1975 the Vancouver Park Board worked on transforming the golf course into the setting for a garden.  A groundwork of lakes, streams and massive rock gardens were created for curator Roy Forster to step in.  From 1972 to 1996 Roy Forster designed and oversaw the planting with Van Dusen officially opening for business in 1975.

Sometimes just the perfect selection of rocks is all you need.
Another aspect of Van Dusen that makes me smile is the weeds.  Yes, you heard me right, weeds.  Van Dusen is 55 acres big.  Big enough that I could not see it all in my brief tour.  Big enough to get lost in.  And big enough that it's small staff of approximately a half dozen gardeners cannot possibly remove every weed or deadhead every flower.  It did my heart good to see some bindweed creeping over a shrub or two.  It gave me hope that despite my inability to get my own garden into shape there's other professional gardeners who suffer the same issues.

This simple arrangement caught my eye
There were other things that caught my eye this trip as well.  I started out thinking I might look at various flower combinations but right away I was struck with how few flowering plants there were.  You can specifically go looking for flower gardens, there is a rose garden and perennial bed among other things but when wandering generally I found that plant material and hardscaping were greater contributors to the overall look of this garden.  Large trees, water features, rocks, various greenery and leaf shapes all jumped out at me.  One interesting spot which really focusses on this type of gardening is the black and gold beds. 


 There are almost no flowers in this bed and yet the eye catching colours of foliage draw your eye.  My excursion was a gentle reminder that it doesn't take bright blooms to create a beautiful garden.  All that greenery is laid out in a very specific way though that makes it attractive. 

While the flowers are nice it's the bright gold of the sedum
and blue of the grass that catches your eye.
Over and over again I noticed trees, paths and beds placed in such a way that they directed your eyes to take in a specific sight.


Although things are done on a grand scale here (I'll never have room enough for a lake or a labyrinth!) I still came away with lots of thoughts on my own garden.  How various parts of the garden are divided up into smaller chunks, placement of focal points and use of paths.  Not to mention this was a lovely trip down memory lane, thanks for joining me.




21 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness Marguerite girl !
    This is such an amazing place and I did smile big time with the weed comments .. it would make me smile too ! : ) .. There are so many aspects to how a garden is designed from our own small ones to these magnificent huge ones .. but always a common thread .. how we love plants !
    The last two pictures really caught my attention ... that fantastic tree as a focal point and the beautiful pond .. I would be totally lost wandering around taking pictures .. could be days out there in fact ! LOL
    Great to see people walking on the grass and having fun looking at things : )
    A very nice tour girl, thank you !
    Joy : )

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    1. Joy, they do focal points in a big eye catching way don't they? Coming around the curve of the path toward that arching conifer I was floored. Oddly I didn't even remember it from when I was there last but I'm sure it must have always been there.

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  2. Marguerite thank you for a lovely vitual tour it sounds like a lovely garden and so nice it encourages families, I love the picnic basket idea, foliage, water and rock can be seen all year (well some foliage takes a winter break) the flowers are there but a short time they are glittering extras, a lovely use of grasses and I love that gold and black bed,

    replying to your reply on my last comment, I have crossed Canada by train Halifax to Vancouver, I was lucky and did a month maternity nanny job in Victoria, Vancouver island twice, baby 1 1992 and baby 2 1996, I love Canada and would love to make another visit before I'm too old but I don't think it will happen, Frances

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    1. What a wonderful trip that must have been Frances to come across the country by train. It would be a long trip but you would see so much along the way. I particularly liked the encouragement of families to use the garden, young families need to know that gardens aren't just stuffy places where you can't touch anything.

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  3. I used to volunteer there, too! So glad you went! Kind of jealous, too! Would love a stroll through Van Dusen, to see what's going on!

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    1. Norah, I had forgotten you volunteered there as well! It was wonderful to walk back in time a bit, there's an old rhododendron I used to love so I paid it a visit. Made the whole trip worthwhile just for that.

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  4. What an inviting garden. I love the idea of picking up a loaded picnic basket and heading out to the lawn to enjoy it. This garden has great design elements --- as you noted, it doesn't need a lot of flowers, it has views and paths and wonderful foliage combinations. I'm glad you had such a nice visit in a favorite place!

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    1. Laurrie, walking through there with new eyes after a few years in my new garden I took notice of very different things. The use of big foliage really hit home with me.

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  5. Enjoyed this so much. Have never visited though. A beautiful garden. Thank you for sharing it! Lots of layers heh..

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    1. So many things to think about on my tour. Living on the island I wonder if you ever went to Butchart Gardens instead? I recall visiting there when I was quite young, never did get around to making the trip when I was older. Wish I had now.

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  6. I enjoyed your garden tour. I like the plant combinations, especially the black and golds.

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    1. Janet, that black and gold is really quite arresting. I remember not liking it much when I volunteered there but this time I couldn't take my eyes off it. Changing tastes with age maybe?

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  7. I've enjoyed reading about your trip back to BC Marguerite. We drove through Coombs last week on our way to Tofino. If only I had known about the market.
    Your shots of Van Dusen make me think I should visit it next week when I'm in Vancouver. I was there last year about this time. I was hoping to go there in the spring but somehow I never seem to go to Vancouver in the spring.

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    1. Good thing about Van Dusen is there doesn't seem to be a bad time to visit. I remember doing seed collecting rounds in February and the daphne and witchhazels were already in bloom. If you have the time you should go. Too bad about missing Coombs but I'll bet you had a great time in Tofino. That's a great place to spend a few days relaxing.

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  8. Very pretty shots, the first photo is lovely.

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    1. Hi Karen, thanks but I must confess these were heavily manipulated. I took them with my camera phone which is pretty terrible for photos and employed a lot of editing to try and make them presentable.

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  9. I am so glad you shared your visit to this lovely garden. It is gorgeous! And I got some great ideas for some problem areas in my garden. I particularly like the foliage bed...awesome!

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    1. Isn't it great when you stumble upon a photo or idea on another blog and it just fits what you were looking for? I'm so glad there was something here of benefit to you as walking through that garden gave me so many ideas of my own.

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  10. Hello: Spent some time catching up on your last three posts this morning, Jim and I have been sick with summer colds..so the garden photos were a feast for the eyes..bit overwhelmed by the mountain pictures as we leave here a week today for Victoria and I've never see B.C. before..glad you had a marvelous time, glad you are safely home..I love the idea of large rocks and grasses..I'm trying to persuade Jim to haul out more of my Muskoka rocks to P.E.I..we took some out this year..Loved all your posts, your pictures are inspiring..happy gardening Lannie

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    1. Hi Lannie! I wondered if you had taken your trip yet or not. Sorry to hear you haven't been well but hopefully you'll be feeling right good by the time you leave. I can see why you would want to transport some rocks. I've been thinking about big rocks in my yard for some time but all the ones I find here are quite small.

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  11. Hi Marguerite, well worth making yourself delay the "holing up in hotel" moment, what a glorious place. If I ever get to visit Vancouver again (we have friends there), I will make a point of getting to Van Dusen, looks like my kind of place, relaxed but inspirational.

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