Vancouver's temperate climate and soft, plentiful rains encourage verdant growth throughout the Lower Mainland, sustaining a wide array of gardens, parks and green spaces. B.C.'s provincial flower is the dogwood (Cornus Nauttallii) and in spring, the region's spreading dogwood trees are clothed in fragile, creamy white blossoms.
Vancouver’s leading recreational space and the city’s green heart, Stanley Park is a magnificent 404 hectares (1,000 acres) of dense West Coast forest. Dozens of marked trails enable roaming through this "jungle" of giant trees while an 8.8-kilometre (5.5-mile) seawall pathway provides some of the best sea-to-sky mountain views anywhere in the world. Other highlights include a mini-forest of totem poles, excellent, family-friendly beaches and a large outdoor swimming pool overlooking the waterfront. One of the best ways to see what’s on offer is to take a narrated one-hour Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tour (www.stanleypark.com).
The park is home to an array of visitor attractions, including the family-friendly Vancouver Aquarium (www.vanaqua.org), the Miniature Railway and the Nature House at Lost Lagoon (www.stanleyparkecology.ca). Others might prefer the rose or rhododendron gardens. The park is also a great spot on a summer evening – take in an al fresco show at Malkin Bowl’s Theatre under the Stars (www.tuts.ca) or just listen out for the boom of the Nine O’clock gun, which sounds every evening. Diners are well-catered to in the park – there are several lunch and dinner options, including the celebrated Fish House in Stanley Park (www.fishhousestanleypark.com), one of Vancouver’s most popular seafood restaurants.
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Consider a “day out in Stanley Park” story that shows readers the full range of what’s available here. You could start with a jog or cycle around the seawall; dip into attractions like the Vancouver Aquarium and Lost Lagoon Nature House; dine at one or two of the park’s popular restaurants; catch a show at the Malkin Bowl; peruse the plethora of statues dotted around the park; and – finally – catch a jaw-dropping sunset at Third Beach.
Completed in sections over many years, the 8.8-kilometre (5.5-mile) Stanley Park seawall is popular with walkers, joggers, rollerbladers and cyclists. Walking the park’s entire seawall stretch takes two to four hours (less by bike) and you’ll be treated to spectacular ocean and mountain vistas along the way – plus plenty of beach and forest pit stops if you need a rest. And keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, including beady-eyed blue herons and skittering sea otters.
But the seawall isn’t just about Stanley Park. The entire 22-kilometre (13.7-mile) stretch runs from the Convention Centre to Stanley Park and then via False Creek and Granville Island to Kitsilano – perfect for a long day out by bike and a great story idea for urban adventurers.
Vandusen Botanical Garden
When the Shaughnessy Golf Club moved a few kilometres south in 1960, the aim was to turn the remaining 22.25-hectare (55-acre) course into a posh subdivision of sprawling mansions. The local gentry, unconvinced their neighbourhood needed more homes, lobbied the city and provincial governments, as well as the Vancouver Foundation, then led by W.J. VanDusen, to buy the grounds and turn them into a botanical garden. The result: a world-class bed of flowers and a ranking among North America’s top 10 garden attractions.
Set against the distant backdrop of the North Shore mountains, VanDusen offers a network of 40 small, specialized gardens. In spring, its Rhododendron Walk blazes with colour, while the nearby Korean Pavilion is a focal point for the garden’s Asian plant collection. Planted in 1981, there is also a maze, walled by 1,000 pyramidal cedars, that’s a children’s delight and a favoured location for TV and movie producers. In winter, the gardens are famed for their Christmas light display.
In 2011, the park opened a dramatic new $21.9 million Visitor Centre. A chic, eco-friendly structure with a petal-shaped green roof, it comprises a shop, library, café and exhibition space.
Bloedel Floral Conservatory and Queen Elizabeth Park
Vancouver’s “Little Mountain,” the city’s highest point, is a 150-metre (500-foot) granite outcropping that, for years, was an industrial rock quarry. Now, it’s a spectacular setting for a 52-hectare (130-acre) park-and-garden complex that receives six million visitors a year – second only to the much larger Stanley Park. There are also spectacular views of the city, framed by the dramatic North Shore mountains.
Now collaboratively managed by VanDusen Botanical Garden, the park’s centrepiece is the Bloedel Floral Conservatory, a huge glass bubble that’s one of the largest domed greenhouses in the world. It is home to hundreds of exotic plants and dozens of wandering birds and, with its controlled climate, is one of the best places to avoid the rain in the city.
UBC Botanical Garden
The oldest and one of Canada’s finest botanical gardens is really five gardens in one, each with a different theme and character. These include the Asian Garden, with its fragile magnolias and 400 varieties of brilliant rhododendrons; the B.C. Native Garden, displaying more than 3,500 plants from across the province; the Alpine Garden, featuring rare, low-growing mountain plants from Australia, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa; the Physic Garden, which re-creates a 16th-century monastic herb garden; and the Food Garden, an amazing patchwork of raised beds and more than 180 fruit trees. A recent addition to the garden is the Greenheart Canopy Walkway, a guided nature stroll on suspended bridges through the trees.
Nitobe Memorial Garden
Named after Dr. Inazo Nitobe, a Japanese scholar and diplomat, this tranquil garden features gently curving paths flanked by carefully-placed rocks, trees and shrubs. Visitors can wander counter-clockwise, accompanied by the soothing sounds of the lake, waterfalls and tiny streams, and experience a host of native and imported plants, azaleas, maples and flowering cherry trees that colour the gardens year-round.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
This treasure of tranquillity is valued for its rarity. Built at a cost of over $5.3 million in 1986, it was the first, full-scale classical Chinese garden built outside China. All components of the garden were carefully selected from nature or hand-built by skilled artisans in China. These 52 artisans then brought to Vancouver all the materials and traditional tools needed to spend 13 months building this historical, architectural and horticultural masterpiece. Unlike in a Western garden, the major feature of a classical Chinese garden is not necessarily the plants. An artful blending of architecture, culturally significant plants, naturally sculpted rocks and elegantly winding jade-green waterways follow ancient Chinese garden traditions. The garden runs a popular series of evening concerts in the summer.
Open April to mid-October, Chilliwack’s 12.9-hectare (32-acre) Minter Gardens is divided into 11 themed areas. It’s owned and overseen by renowned gardening expert Brian Minter, who travels the world to find new and exciting plants for the gardens every year. Celebrated for its rose gardens, conservatories and large collection of Penjing Rock Bonsai – the biggest outside China – the attraction, which is a 90-minute drive from Vancouver, is a popular day trip from the city, especially in summer when the gardens are ablaze with blooming flowers.
The smooth rock bluff surrounding the old-fashioned Point Atkinson Lighthouse in this West The smooth rock bluff surrounding the old-fashioned Point Atkinson Lighthouse in this West Vancouver park is an ideal spot for picnicking and, particularly on sunny weekends, you’ll find lots of couples here – and it’s only a 20-minute highway drive from downtown Vancouver. During the summer, the park is a favoured location for wedding parties having their pictures taken. The lighthouse stands amidst some of the Lower Mainland’s oldest Douglas firs, accompanied by eagle nests and the twisted, rust-red trunks of nearby arbutus trees.
Pacific Spirit Regional Park
Nestled between the city and the UBC campus, this giant wilderness park is ideal for a spot of tree-hugging away from the bustle of the downtown core. Striped with walking, hiking and biking trails, the park also includes Camosun Bog, a wetland haven for native bird and plant species.
Park and Tilford Gardens and Shops
Created in 1969, these glorious gardens are a popular spot for summer weddings – and it’s easy to understand why. The eight themed gardens range from the roses and cool formality of the White Garden to the colourful spring bulbs and spreading annuals of the Display Garden, while the Oriental Garden showcases traditional bonsai trees and a tranquil pond. Located on the site of a former winery/distillery, the gardens also offer a popular Christmas light display.
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Appeal to your green-thumbed readers by taking a park and garden crawl around Vancouver. Include as much diversity as you can – from the formalism of the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and the Nitobe Memorial Garden to the rainforest wilderness of Pacific Spirit Regional Park. Interview gardeners at VanDusen Botanical Garden and the Vancouver Parks Board for insights on the challenges and rewards of growing in the region. End your day in the city’s world-renowned green gem: checking out the gardens, forests and beaches of Stanley Park.
Create a Twitpic photo essay on the plants you discover on your weave through the city’s green spaces.