The VanDusen Botanical Garden is a distinctive green space situated in south-central Vancouver and is an important botanical hub for the diverse community it serves. Originally a golf course, this 55 acre botanical garden established in 1975 has provided not only recreational space, but also a variety of educational opportunities and magnificent horticultural displays. The especially broad mission of the VanDusen Botanical Garden challenges the complex organizational structure in effectively planning and coordinating within the gardens, but allows them to meet the diverse expectations of the Vancouver citizens and tourists who visit this popular temperate rain forest region.
Previously owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, the garden property functioned as the golf course of the Shaughnessy Golf Club from 1911 to 1960. During this period, the landscape was characterized by the long fairways and picturesque views of the region, which are evident in the Garden to this day. In 1975, when the VanDusen family established the VanDusen Foundation and created an endowment to fund the development of the grounds, this botanical garden became an even more important resource for its visitors. The Garden is now one of 211 green spaces administered and maintained by the Vancouver Park Board. The VanDusen Botanical Garden Association also serves as a dual partner in the administrative structure, and is responsible for the educational programming, the library, and the marketing and fundraising activities of the Garden. The partnership between the Vancouver Park Board and the Garden Association is both a challenge and a blessing, especially for the Park Board Regional Director, who is currently serving as the interim garden director and maintaining effective coordination of the two groups. Interestingly, the first director, Mr. R. Roy Forster, was largely focused on horticulture and botanical collections, which led to the establishment of a large array of gardens and botanical collections during his 20 year tenure. The current search for a new director will greatly determine the future focus of the Garden’s efforts.
Throughout the Garden runs a common theme of spectacular plant display. The broad-reaching mission of the VanDusen Botanical Garden is displayed in its 40+ different botanical collections. These collections illustrate geographic and botanical relationships that create a greater appreciation and awareness for the natural world. From the Rhododendron Walk to the Sino-Himalayan Garden, the wide variety of collections situated within the context of peaceful lakes, rolling hills, and open vistas of the surrounding mountains makes this Garden truly enjoyable. A very popular and unique Elizabethan maze, composed of more than 3,000 pyramidal cedar, also provides a twist of mystery for children and adults alike. The Garden areas are linked in a suspenseful, curving, and exciting manner. They include historical spaces, such as the Alma VanDusen Garden, which was built into the existing unique landscape of the former golf course. Other gardens in this area include multi-ethnic gardens, such as the Meditation Garden and the Bamboo Collection, and native plant collections as found in the Western North America Flora Collection. The Rose Garden, Rock Garden, Fern Dell, newly renovated Perennial Garden, and Alpine Container Collection are other highlights that pull the individual gardens together into a cohesive, multi-dimensional green space that offers intrigue in any season.
Another great benefit of this green haven is that it harbors many types of wildlife, which provides an illustration of ecological principles. More than 60 kinds of birds can be seen throughout the year at VanDusen, including herons which reside around the aptly named Heron Lake. The conservation mission at the Garden has been reinforced in recent years as native plants and plant communities have been established and highlighted in educational activities. VanDusen also strives to serve as a role model to the community by enhancing sustainability through activities such as water conservation, composting, and integrated pest management practices. This is just one more example of how the broad mission of the VanDusen Botanical Garden allows for adaptation to the dynamic needs of the public.
The VanDusen Botanical Garden reaches a wide audience and affects many people in the surrounding region. The Garden receives around 150,000 visitors each year from all over the world. The Vancouver regional media mentions VanDusen Botanical Gardens 600-700 times annually, and its popularity is steadily increasing. Almost 2,000 volunteers and 7,000 members support the Gardens by assisting with the educational activities, annual Plant Sale, and other special events such as the Christmas Light Display. Training courses for the Master Gardeners of British Columbia are hosted at the Garden, and educational opportunities such as seasonal tours and courses in natural art and science are offered to children, adults, and families throughout the year. The VanDusen Botanical Garden recognizes the value in inspiring and teaching people of all ages about nature, and it is shown in the many opportunities offered on a regular basis.
The future of the VanDusen Botanical Garden includes a $20 million capital campaign with the theme "A Garden Renaissance." The campaign was initiated in order to facilitate the much needed facilities expansion and infrastructure maintenance. To date, $7 million have been committed to the effort, and the Park Board is confident about raising the remaining sum. Additionally, in a city-wide effort, VanDusen is also making preparations for the 2010 Winter Olympics which will provide a great opportunity as well as a great challenge to the Garden.
In closing, this garden is a priceless green space in Vancouver and is an irreplaceable resource for the people it serves. There is one thing certain about the VanDusen Botanical Garden- its future will involve great accomplishments. It is evident that this botanical garden will continue to survive and flourish as it has since its beginning just a short 30 years ago.