At some mid point in September, Fall arrives to kick out Summer in Vancouver, BC – and it can be rather aggressive about it. But then Fall settles in, it plans to stay awhile after all, and after a few days you find it you’ve missed it. Fall is like an old friend come again to visit. A friend that curls up on your couch, convinces you to warm up a pot of tea for the both of you, and then fills the afternoon with stories of where it’s been and what it’s done since you last saw each other.
One of our favourite places to visit in each of the four seasons in the Vancouver area is the VanDusen Botanical Garden. The garden boasts a landscape covering a massive 22 hectares, with plant species representing ecosystems ranging from the Himalayas to the Mediterranean, from Louisiana swamps to the Pacific Northwest. The gardens are often empty in the Fall, allowing you to enjoy this Shaughnessy neighbourhood gem with that great urban luxury, near silence and nature’s own serenity.
So pull on your coziest sweater, grab a take-away mug of your favourite warm beverage, and follow us into the gardens…
The soft sounds of wet leaves beneath your feet almost meditative and the gardens offer endless opportunities for nature photography.
As the Fall weather moves in, the heat of summer abates, and the lush greenery of the evergreens pops in the garden. Hardier bamboo also thrives and adds to the quiet rustling sounds made by the Fall leaves as an occasional breeze moves through.
The VanDusen Botanical Gardens offer a variety of paths to wander the vast grounds, but whatever paths you choose, be sure to eventually wind your way to the back of the gardens; to the labyrinth!
The VanDusen Botanical Garden’s hedge maze – to be technically correct – is made of 3,000 pyramidal cedars, Thuja occidentalis Fastigiata, planted in the autumn of 1981.
It is a true maze, and the hedges extend well above six feet, ensuring that one cannot cheat by looking over the walls. Follow your instincts (or your own personal maze-solving algorithm) and find the treasure at the centre – the Monkey Puzzle tree!
Take the time to capture some of the garden’s smaller treasures on your journey back to the main visitor’s centre. The great variety of flora show nature’s adaptive use of geometry and creative use of colour.
There are the serpentine twists of the plants themselves:
And on the macro level, soft intricacies of bark whorls:
Beyond the Fall foliage itself, the berries and fruits that remain in later months of the year showcase fantastical colour choices:
Upon returning to the VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre, top up your mug with another warm beverage, and gaze upward at the orchid-inspired green roof.
The centre offers both a casual dining option, Truffles Café, as well as a fine dining restaurant, The Shaughnessy Restaurant, that gazes out on the spectacular grounds – in case you need more than a mug of cocoa to warm you up. Truffles also offers the option of a picnic basket that you can take with you on your journey, or a more formal Afternoon Tea, in addition to their standard menu.
The VanDusen Visitor’s Centre was designed to reflect a balance between architecture, landscape, and nature, and is targeting LEED® Platinum certification and Living Building status. As Vancouver continues it’s initiative to become the greenest city in the world (Greenest City 2020), buildings like the VanDusen Visitor Centre are an example of what can be achieved, beautifully, inside the restrictions of net-zero energy use, net-zero water use, non-toxic materials, carbon footprint offsets, and the recycling of 80 to 100 percent of construction waste.
The centre is available for public rental and has formed a beautiful backdrop to some of Vancouver’s most exclusive events, including the recent Luxury Supercar Weekend.
The beauty of the natural surroundings also serves to frame philanthropic efforts, such as the fundraiser held by the team from UR Building Knowledge to raise funds to build schools in Burma. UR Building Knowledge is a non-profit organization; 100% of the funds raised go toward building a school, buying educational materials, and for scholarships for children whose family can not afford the cost of schooling.
The view of the gardens outside the floor-to-ceiling windows of the visitor’s centre showcased the handwoven schoolbags from Burma that were for sale at the fundraiser (the green one came home with us).
UR Building Knowledge’s silent auction also offered the opportunity to take home miniature gardens of one’s own:
As well as framed correspondence between India and Burma from the 1930s through to more modern times (which also came home with us).
We’ve enjoyed touring the grounds of the VanDusen Botanical Gardens in every season. From the riotous blooms of Spring and Summer (be sure to check out the seasonal Laburnum Walk), to the holiday lights of Winter, and yet Fall in the gardens is still one of our favourite times to visit.
Perhaps it is the Fall signs of nature’s never-ending perseverance that we love so much. As we headed to the parking lot on our last visit, we glimpsed a solitary blossom at the end of straggling branch… the Van Dusen Botanical Gardens had one more moment of hope and beauty to share before we left.
(and on that final hopeful note, UR Building Knowledge continues its fundraising efforts year round; donations may be made via their website for the building of schools in Burma)
Parks in Vancouver, BC