I spent time in Vancouver visiting most of the city’s famous gardens, but also found myself blown away by the quality of horticulture on show in its public open spaces.
It is not surprising to say that two gardeners on holiday visited a fair number of gardens. When in Vancouver we made trips to Bloedel Conservatory, VanDusen Botanical Garden, Dr Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden, Nitobe Memorial Garden and UBC Botanical Garden – many of which I am sure I will cover in more detail at some point.
However, one thing that really stood out was the quality of the horticulture in Vancouver’s public parks. It seems worlds apart from what we have been used to in parks in England, and the standards of the gardens in the city’s parks rivalled its more famous open gardens and Botanic Gardens we visited (and even surpassed at times). In truth, Vancouver is blessed when it comes to open spaces as there are 230 parks in total taking up an estimated 11% of the city.
Vancouver’s most famous urban park is undoubtedly Stanley Park. With over 400 hectares of forest and wildlife located just over the water from downtown Vancouver it is a huge tourist attraction and millions of visitors make the short walk or bus rise from the centre of the city to this green oasis.
Stanley Park is huge and offers a wealth of opportunities, including the scenic seawall path skirting round the park allowing for fantastic views across the water to the city skyline and the Lion’s Gate Bridge, to the huge aquarium (which we went into but was so rammed with visitors).
But it is the trees in Stanley Park’s temperate-zone coastal rainforest that really captures the imagination as you wonder at huge centuries-old Western red cedars, big-leaf maples, Douglas firs and Western hemlocks that dominate along the near 30 kilometres of trails. You can even see young trees growing out of the stumps of previously toppled ones.
Queen Elizabeth Park
While it is the forest which takes the plaudits at Stanley Park, go into the heart of Vancouver and you will discover the impressive gardens of Queen Elizabeth Park. Located at the junction of Cambie Street and West 33rd Avenue it is only 15 minutes by car or public transport from downtown Vancouver, and we were lucky enough to be staying only 10-15 minutes’ walk from the park.
I will admit to knowing little of Queen Elizabeth Park itself before heading there, knowing only that the Bloedel Conservatory was located within the site. The plan for the day was to see the Conservatory and then VanDusen Botanical Garden – which was a further 10-minute walk past the park – and I really hadn’t expected to be so impressed by the horticulture on show at Queen Elizabeth Park and spend so much time there.
The park spans 52 hectares in total and it offers some fantastic views of Vancouver, standing at 152 metres above sea level and offering views across the city with mountains overlooking in the background. I saw this on my first morning in Vancouver and was blown away by what I was looking at, so much so that I had to keep going back to take pictures and enjoyed an ice cream beholding that fantastic view.
So what does the park have to offer horticulture-wise more than you’d expect to see at an everyday park? Along with the proliferation of redwoods and cedars in the arboretum, there are the landscaped quarry gardens and a rose garden.
The quarry garden is the jewel in the park’s crown, with blasts of colour and interest throughout the large excavated area it covers. Add in the calming stream and waterfall to the specimen trees and shrubs and herbaceous displays and it all results in a real treat for the eyes and senses, which is a real surprise in a public park. The rose garden is a good size and features sizeable borders with many varieties of rose – including hybrids like Parkland and Explorer series developed in Saskatchewan – along with a number of shrubs and big impressive plants (I remember some huge examples of Nicotiana of show).
Throughout the gardens in the park it is noticeable that the standards of horticulture are set really high. A lot of thought and dedicated attention is obviously given to the gardens, which is worlds apart from the norm in public parks over here, where money is ever-dwindling, speed of work is priority to quality and displays tend to be un-inspirational.
A lot of artistic thought seems to go into the public horticulture in Vancouver and that makes these public parks go-to destinations for tourists and locals alike looking for some gardening stimulation. You can also see a lot of inspiration from around the world, from oriental gardens in particular, in these parks and this mirrors the cross-cultural mix of the city as a whole.
I was really impressed by the quality of public horticulture that I was lucky enough to experience across Vancouver, and wish other cities would follow suit. These free-to-access parks allow people who maybe cannot afford pricey Botanic gardens to see excellent horticulture, inspirational gardens and have access to relaxing spaces that can stimulate them. Those Vancouver residents are so lucky to have such glorious open spaces in their city and I would recommend anyone visiting Vancouver to check out some of these parks.