University of British Columbia (UBC) Botanical Garden was founded in 1916 and moved to its current off-campus location in 1966. It is home to more than 10,000 plants displayed throughout 110 developed acres in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Botanical Garden prides itself on extensive collections within the genera Rhododendron, Rosa, Clematis, Magnolia, Carpinus, and Acer, specifically snake bark and palmatum species.
To fully understand UBC Botanical Garden, one must understand the climate and the land. Glaciers had a major impact on the soil depth in areas north of Portland, Oregon. As the sheets of ice moved, they scraped the surface of the land, leaving a very shallow layer of top soil. This resulted in what is now coniferous forest in Vancouver. The climate of the area also has a tremendous impact on the flora and therefore the Botanical Garden. UBC Botanical Garden is positioned on an embankment, surrounded by water. Strong winds come off of the water from the west, but thanks to the garden’s location due east of Vancouver Island, it is protected from the brunt of the winds. Additionally, moisture has an effect on the garden. Vancouver experiences heavy rainfall in winter and almost none in summer. Along with the city’s mild winters, these conditions are ideal for plant growth far different from that which is seen in other regions of North America. With the advantage of this climate, the garden has focused on research and collection, specifically testing the hardiness of plants.
The Centre for Plant Research serves as the main tie between the garden and the University of British Columbia. Current research includes a poplar genome project, the taxonomy of snake bark maples, and studies on Lonicera, Exacum, and Staphylea species. The garden used to have stronger connections to UBC, specifically through the horticulture department, which has transitioned into agroecology. The Botanical Garden now relies heavily on the support of their Friends of the Garden group. This group of volunteers assists the garden in many ways, including fundraising. UBC provides approximately two-thirds of the Botanical Garden’s annual budget; the rest must be collected through admission revenues, gift shop sales, and fundraising.
UBC Botanical Garden has done an excellent job of recognizing and responding to the growth in technology. Their website and bioinformatics system is attempting to reach an audience that may not otherwise visit the garden. They reach over 250,000 unique "visitors" annually via the web while they may only have 20,000 visitors through the gate. This is accomplished through a newly renovated website that is updated daily with a "photo of the day" and other pertinent information. A discussion board brings in over 1,000 active users in fewer than three weeks. The Botanical Garden is also maintaining a plant database containing cultural and location information for all of the plant materials on the property. Photographs of plant materials are also being added to the database. They plan one day to connect this database to their curatorial records so accession numbers can directly link the user to the plant information. This also has web applications as off-site users could access the information remotely. This outreach to the community at-large is an exceptional effort to raise awareness of horticulture to the public.
UBC Botanical Garden has also ventured outside of its immediate community through plant explorations. Several trips, focusing on southern Asia, have been taken to collect materials for trials within the Botanical Garden. These expeditions resulted in extensive collections of alpine and Asian flora which ultimately helped to form the E.H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden and the David C. Lam Asian Garden. The Asian Garden is the largest on the property, encompassing several shaded trails that are perfect for walking.
In addition to their interest in plants, the Botanical Garden has a commitment to environmental stewardship. Visitors will notice dead and decaying trees that have been left standing for wildlife habitats throughout the garden. Gardeners are dedicated to a chemical-free maintenance regime. They use an infra-red treatment for weed control, which is not as effective as chemical treatment, but certainly better for the environment. The Botanical Garden also strives to plant only species plants - no hybrids or cultivars.
The future of the UBC Botanical Garden is exciting as it embarks on the creation of a Carolinian Forest, which will be centered on plants of northeastern North America and the plant explorers who originally discovered them. This is one way that the Botanical Garden is looking to reduce the "postage stamp" effect of collections through careful planning. Additionally, the curators have begun to seriously investigate accessions for accurate information, including plant location and origin. Any plants that are unidentifiable are being removed. This is an important step in maintaining accurate plant records and an excellent botanical collection.
UBC Botanical Garden is a beautiful collection of plants from around the world. Their dedication to horticulture, technology, environmental stewardship, and the public is exceptional. If traveling to Vancouver, it is a garden not to be missed.