One of my childhood memories is of falling into a pond at Bodnant Garden in North Wales. Yes, I come from a family that made sure public botanical gardens were on the must-see list for free days. I still love going to display gardens and I suspect that I am in good company.
We are fortunate to live in an area with so many such gardens. They are great for both getting ideas for your own garden and simply enjoying gardens where somebody else does the weeding. If you appreciate them as much as I do, take this little journey to some of the notable ones that are just a day trip from the Point.
I’ll start next door at the Earthwise Society display garden in the Southlands district of Tsawwassen. It’s astounding what Earthwise has created in just over 15 years cultivating this site. The site has gone through a number of transformations over the years. It’s worth a repeat visit if you haven’t been lately. This compact, delightful garden demonstrates ecological landscape practices for different types of Pacific Northwest gardens.
Not far from Earthwise, the tiny Secret Garden is equally delightful. It’s hard to believe that this tranquil treasure was constructed and maintained not by a dedicated team of volunteers but by a single person providing a calming place of refuge from the stresses of life. If you visit in summer, just check local parking restrictions or park at Southlands and walk over.
A little farther afield, Surrey, B.C. has a number of display gardens, but my favorite is Darts Hill Garden on 16th Avenue. Open on weekend mid-days, it is more than worth the short drive to wander the expansive, well-designed grounds and garden rooms dominated by mature trees and fleshed out with shrubs and perennials from all over the world. My favorite spot is the alpine rock garden, possibly a great inspiration for gardeners who have a hot, sunny spot.
If you fancy an educationally-inclined garden, I’d recommend the University of British Colombia (UBC) Botanical Garden on South West Marine Drive in the West Point Grey area of Vancouver. This rambling garden features a forest canopy walk, ample forests, an Asian woodland, a potager garden, and a truly impressive and expansive geographically-themed rock garden. It’s easy to spend almost a full day exploring this garden in its entirety, although you might want to save some energy for the nearby Nitobe Memorial Garden.
Nitobe Garden is also located on the UBC campus. This compact Japanese garden has been a favorite of the Vancouver community for decades. It shines at all times of the year, and is ever so lovely after a snowfall that sets off the stone lanterns, the koi pond, and carefully selected evergreens. Check opening days and times before you go.
The city of Vancouver proper has a number of botanical and display gardens worth the visit. The largest is Van Dusen Botanical Garden, one of Canada’s destination gardens. In July, stroll the meadow and perennial gardens; expect to see waterlilies, summer bulbs, fuchsias, roses, and lilies blooming. It’s a full day venture and ramble, and you’ll probably want to sit on a park bench or enjoy a meal at the in-grounds Shaughnessy Restaurant to revive your energy enough to wander the remaining half of the garden’s 55 acres of plantings.
A more manageable yet equally enjoyable garden is the quarry garden walk at Queen Elizabeth Park. In many ways, it reminds me of the famed Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, and yet it is almost at our doorstep. It’s also smaller, but it offers delightful views of Vancouver and the North Shore Mountains. And if you are up for more or the day is drizzly, you can step into the tropical indoor garden of the Bloedel Conservatory. The two don’t make an exhausting day unless you go off for a ramble around the entire park. But if you need a break, the Seasons in the Park restaurant beckons you.
The last notable display garden on my short list is the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden in the Chinatown District of Vancouver. A classic scholar’s garden, the emphasis is on design and stonework, but there’s still plenty for a gardener to enjoy. There are a number of bonsai pieces and the overall sense is one of peace and decorum. As with the other smaller gardens, check opening times before you go in order to avoid disappointment. And for this garden in particular, check the availability of special events like tours, concerts and exhibitions. As lovely as your own garden might be, it is a true delight to visit gardens designed and maintained by others with a deep love of gardening. Out there, beyond Point Roberts, are many wonderful ways to get out in the garden.
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