Once you’ve turned off busy Oak Street into the entrance to VanDusen Botanical Garden, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief. Even when full of tourists, the garden is a calm oasis. It’s considered one of the top 10 botanical gardens in North America, and it’s easy to see why. You won’t get lost on the well-marked paths throughout the 22-hectare garden, but you can wander for hours. It’s a lovely, easy walk for both long and short legs, and many of the walkways are wheelchair and stroller accessible. There are benches dotted everywhere along the paths for a rest and many expanses of green lawn for kids to romp around on. Older kids and adults will have fun trying to find their way through the maze in the West end of the garden. If you walk across the floating boardwalk on the Cypress pond, watch out for red-eared turtles and herons. There are also numerous large carp nosing around most of the water features.
Follow one of the three marked walking routes, each of which takes from about 20 minutes up to two hours, or try a self-guided walking tour. For a little more structure and to learn a lot about the plants of the garden, you can take a guided tour with one of the docents daily, April through October. If all the walking has made you a bit peckish, VanDusen is an ideal place for a picnic. If you’ve forgotten to pack a lunch, however, hot dogs, paninis and ice cream are available at the little stand in the herb garden.
History of the Botanical Garden
Around 1900, the Canadian Pacific Railway logged the site. Not long after, the land was leased by the Shaughnessy Golf Club, where many a golf professional and even a US president played 18 holes. In the mid-fifties, the CPR had its eye on the land for a housing development. Ten years later, the VanDusen Botanical Garden Association was formed to protect the land for public use as a garden. Since its official opening in 1975, the garden has been public space for Vancouver locals and visitors alike to enjoy nature.
Just because it’s the rainy season, er, autumn, don’t think that the gardens won’t have much to offer. There’s always something spectacular in season, all year round. Not to mention the special events hosted at the gardens like the monthly HSBC VanDusen Family Program, held the third Saturday of every month. The theme for October is “Autumn at VanDusen”, where you can take a Halloween-themed tour of the botanical garden aimed at kids ages five to 11. And of course you’ll want to visit Santa and see the gorgeous display of 1.4 million lights at the annual Festival of Lights, starting December 9, 2011.
Don’t forget to check out the gift shop on the way out — if you saw some flowers or ornamental grasses that you absolutely must have for your garden at home, you just might find them for sale.