Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Memorable Garden Visit

It was a bit chilly and overcast, but we were pleased to wander VanDusen!
I recently hosted some relatives from Hong Kong visiting Vancouver and they were on their first trip to North America. They had toured a good part of the west coast, seeing places like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Yellowstone Park, the Grand Canyon, San Francisco and Seattle.

Japanese blood grass can be found in the gardens
They came up to Vancouver for less than 48 hours but we made the most of it. Yesterday I took them to VanDusen Botannical Garden, and it was my first time to visit during the day, as the previous times I've been there is for the Festival of Lights, when the place is decorated with Christmas lights.

When we arrived just after 11.30am, a tour was just about to start so we joined in and it made our visit infinitely better. Our guide took us to interesting places around the garden and told us fascinating facts about not only the history of VanDusen, but also the various trees and flowers in it.

We also saw this near perfect lotus flower in bloom
The 22 hectare garden has over 7,500 kinds of plants in it from various countries, some of which are extinct in their original habitat. Originally the area was the Shaughnessy Golf Course owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway and management decided it would be good to sell the land to developers.

However, the women golfers protested, saying the place should remain a green space. Eventually the city bought it, but not without funds from wealthy lumberman and philanthropist Whitford Julian VanDusen.

Our guide suggested that it was probably his wife who encouraged him to put up the funds to buy the garden, as she was an avid gardener.

You don't want to mess with the giant rhubarb at night!
After it was successfully purchased, the garden was developed by WC Livingston, who the guide explains, didn't have formal training in designing gardens, but apparently had a talent for it. A large lake is named Livingston Lake in his honour, and it's quite large, with waterlilies in it, as well as a few ducks hanging around.

The garden was opened in 1975 and there are some trees that have been there since the golf course's existence, like a cluster of tall and skinny Douglas Firs and cedars.

We saw some interesting things like Japanese blood grass -- large, long and thick strands of grass that have red tips on them, while the giant rhubarb have massive round leaves, but aren't very friendly; underneath are numerous spikes!

The soft trunk of the sequoia tree
She told us about several of the trees in the garden. There's a Lebanese cedar, but none grow in its native country anymore, while our guide explained indigenous people used cedar trees for a number of things, from the wood to make boats, to the bark to make clothes. She also said they would also conduct rituals to thank the tree for giving them the things they needed.

We saw a sequoia or coast redwood and she invited us to touch the trunk. It was surprisingly soft for an old tree. Our guide said when there are wildfires, the trees are hard to kill off completely because they store so much water in them, which is why their trunks are soft. Also the pine cones hold seeds that don't open unless they are heated by fire.

We saw many kinds of Japanese maple trees, and an interesting aspect of its propagation is that the seeds are shaped with wings so that they can be carried far away by the wind.

Another curious tree is the Princess tree that seems to have eyes drawn on its trunk. She said it was native to western and central China, where families grow these trees when a girl is born. By the time she is ready to be married, the tree's wood is used to build her chest that will hold her trousseau.

Beautiful roses still in bloom in the Rose Garden
The garden also has a maze that kids like to run around in, as well as an impressive waterfall that has the meaning of embarking on a spiritual journey. At the top of the manmade waterfall is a rock garden that's a bit primitive in its presentation, but draws its inspiration from Japanese philosophy.

Our tour ended almost two hours later at the Rose Garden. It's a pity we were in between blooming seasons -- the next spurt will be in August -- but we managed to find a few still in early bloom.

While we didn't cover the entire park, the amount of information we absorbed during our tour was memorable and all afternoon my relatives and I were so thankful to have come across the tour, as we all learned so much from it.

People taking picture of the Princess tree
VanDusen Botannical Garden
5251 Oak Street
Vancouver
(604) 257 8335

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