The VanDusen Botanical Garden is not just a place of great beauty; it is a legacy for future generations. The Garden’s collections and education programs help to raise awareness of the importance of preserving the earth’s biodiversity, with conservation becoming an increasingly important element of the Gardens’ mandate. Relaying this knowledge to the public, especially children, ensures that all visitors understand the importance of being environmentally responsible.
VanDusen’s role in conservation is to ensure that the Garden’s collections support educational programming related to conserving plant biodiversity and environmental sustainability. Conservation oriented programming aims to encourage the public to play a role in protecting and valuing the earth and all living things. As a member of the Botanical Garden Conservation International,Canadian Botanical Conservation Network, VanDusen joins other botanical gardens throughout the world in promoting conservation and plant biodiversity.
+-Conservation and Horticultural Education
VanDusen Botanical Garden is placing more emphasis on educating the public on environmental topics. Workshops, lectures and tours instructed by garden staff and associates are available throughout the year. Horticultural therapy, tours of ecologically sensitive locations, birding and garden studies at the Garden are helping to promote leadership in plant education and conservation. VanDusen Lectures feature well-respected speakers to inform the public on botanically related topics.
VanDusen played a key role in the establishment of the Master Gardener program in British Columbia and continues to enjoy a mutually supportive relationship with the Master Gardeners Association of BC. As a result VanDusen is able to provide gardening information through the Master Gardeners Plant Information Line, answering questions from the public throughout the year.
To aid in research and to provide references to the community and its many educational programs, VanDusen also houses a horticultural library. This extensive library features over 5000 books and periodicals devoted to gardening, garden design, botany and plant and habitat conservation.
+-Our Commitment to Children’s Education
Children’s education plays a major role at VanDusen. Children learn about conservation and biodiversity while connecting with nature. The wonders of the natural world unfold with the many unique learning experiences provided by hands-on instruction. VanDusen’s curriculum-linked School Programs bring the children out of the classroom and into the garden. School groups troll for aquatic life in Pond Peering, dissect flowers and learn about pollination in Passionate Pollinators. The Secret Garden teaches about insects and Traveling Seeds unlocks the mysteries of seed anatomy. The importance of trees is explored in Branching Out, and Plant Classification. The children explore the garden learning plant taxonomy.
+-Family Programs at VanDusen Botanical Garden
Family programs are an integral part of the Garden’s commitment to education. Children together with their parents discover the underground world of bugs, compost and soil in ‘Underground Adventure’. The workshop ‘Bats, Man!’ demystifies the world of bats and explains that all animals have significant ecological roles. The benefits and purpose of spiders in the garden are explored in ‘Spider Surprise’. These classes and many more not only connect children with nature, but parents explore the world through their child’s eyes.
Collections at VanDusen Botanical Garden feature over 11,000 diffferent species of plants from all over the world. As a documented genetic resource these plants are used for public education and are available for use by visiting researchers. The Western North America section concentrates on plants native to that area, particularly our local region, and as much as possible are planted according to their ecological niche, found under natural conditions. At VanDusen’s front door, beneath a group of century-old Douglas Firs, native companion plantings mimic the drought-tolerant conditions commonly associated with Douglas Fir ecosystems, demonstrating to all our visitors the aesthetic potential of native plants and water-wise plant choices.
The Canadian Heritage Garden includes plants from across Canada with five different sections denoting Canada’s rich geographical biodiversity including the Eastern Canadian Woodlands, the Boreal Forest, British Columbia Forests and the Prairie Grasslands. Indigenous and hybrid plants of Canadian origin are also featured; and the Heritage Orchard displays a variety of fruit trees grown by early settlers.
Collections in the Garden include plants from particular families or genera, such as hollies, camellias, firs, ginkgos, heathers, hydrangeas, horse chestnuts, lilies, tree peonies, maples, apples, prunus, mecanopsis, mountain ash, oaks, beeches, ashes, roses, yews, lilies , viburnums, yews, bamboo, laburnums, maples, perennials, grasses, herbs and ferns.
All collections at the Garden are maintained by using least toxic methods. An Integrated Pest Management program is in place which minimizes pesticide use. Organic mulch is used extensively to control weeds, conserve water and improve soil quality.
Some areas of VanDusen are minimally maintained in a naturalized condition and as a result provide habitat for a range of fauna. The Garden’s animal inhabitants include a wide variety of birds. Great Blue Heron, ducks, geese and other water fowl are frequently observed, as are owls and hawks. Bald Eagles come through from time to time. Many small mammals make their home here, including several families of coyotes, whose population fluctuates from year to year.
Water conservation is an important issue in Vancouver which tends to experience dry summers. Although precipitation is plentiful during most of the year, arid conditions during recent summers have placed a strain on water management, regionally. The Garden, therefore, is engaged in a water conservation inititative that will eventually eliminate potable water use in garden maintenance. This project will replace the existing irrigation system and make use of an underground reservoir on site to store stormwater diverted into the Garden from the adjacent neighbourhood. Water features on site will all be modified to pump and recirculate water and a well will also be drilled to supplement the stormwater.
VanDusen collaborates with local native plant salvage efforts in order to preserve native flora that would be lost in the process of land development projects. These plants are exhibited in the Western North America section as well as in naturalized areas on site.
Also, the Garden has acquired over the years plant material that has subsequently become endangered in the wild. VanDusen has benefited from plant collecting expeditions conducted by the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, for instance. Wild collected seed has resulted in the acquisition of species not found in the horticultural trade. For example, Zen’s Magnolia was grown from seed acquired thirty years ago and grown on by a local nursery and is located in the Sino-Himalayan garden. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Global Trees Specialist Group and Kunming Institute of Botany has listed Magnolia zenii as ‘critically endangered’. Only 40 to 50 specimens exist in its native habitat of the Yunnan province in China due severe environmental fragmentation.
Waterwise Gardening & Water Conservation
As many of you are aware, VanDusen has made a commitment to environmental responsibility. As a botanical garden with a mission to connect people with the importance of plants, we must demonstrate sound operating practices if we are to take a leadership role in conservation.The Vancouver Park Board is funding an important study to determine how we might significantly reduce our water consumption here at the Garden.
We have long had concerns about our use of potable water in maintaining our collections. We practice horticultural techniques, such as mulching, but the fact is we still must water during dry periods. It is important that we avail ourselves of current technology to minimize water use.
Earth Tech, a local firm with a sound track record in sustainable storm and water strategies, in collaboration with the City’s Engineering Department and Park Board staff, will conduct the study. They will examine options that include reactivating the reservoir under the Stone Garden and deepening our lakes to store stormwater from the neighbourhood. A plan for an efficient irrigation system is also part of the work. We look forward to receiving a range of ‘cutting edge’ alternatives that, when implemented, could set precedents for the management of other public spaces in the city.
Kids & Conservation
A natural connection
Picture a bright, sunny day at the Garden and overlay a soundtrack that includes shrieks of delight coupled with laughter and excitement. Focus in more closely and what do you see? A group of children lying on their stomachs, trolling Cypress Pond with hand-held nets. Unfolding before you is a typical school program at the Garden – this one called Pond Peering. What you don’t see and may not realize are the effects that such programs have on their participants. School children leave the Garden with a greater respect for nature, an increased understanding of how all its components interrelate and, most importantly, their own role in stewarding the natural world. Children are encouraged to use all their senses to explore the world about them. Their joy at experiencing its wonders is profound. For instance, in Passionate Pollinators, students from grades two through four are guided through the complexities of plant pollination. ‘Why do plants have flowers?’ ‘What is pollen?’ ‘‘What do flowers turn into?’ ‘How do they do it?’ ‘‘What do insects, such as bees and moths, have to do with it?’ ‘Why do plants need to create seeds?’ These are big questions. Do you know the answers? Any eight- to ten-year old who has been to a VanDusen school program will be able to tell you. When the children see, smell, feel, touch and sometimes even taste what pollination is all about, abstract concepts become real and meaningful. They learn the value of living things and come to see that it is all connected.
By participating in nature’s magic, children are taught the importance of conservation. Children who have experienced that joy and wonder begin to care about the environment and may be inspired to share their experience with family and friends, or seek further information in books or online. They may join an environmental club; or take part in a school or community garden; or plant a seed in a pot and tend it. No child comes away from a field trip to VanDusen Garden untouched – each takes away special memories. For nearly 30 years, VanDusen Garden has been connecting kids to nature and, by extension, to conservation. Some of the Garden’s volunteers first came here as small children; now they return with their own, or occasionally come back as teachers leading classes. All programs are guided by a dedicated volunteer trained in interpretive techniques to make nature come alive for children. Teachers are supported with a pre-trip information package that reinforces the learning experience in class. The small fee that the Garden charges does not begin to cover the costs of providing teaching materials, tools and volunteer training. The program is supported in part by the generosity of individual donors. Thanks to continued support from the RBC Foundation and their Bursary Fund, students from financially-challenged schools are also able to participate. Some of the program’s most eloquent spokespersons are the participants themselves.
“I learned that plants are under water and the pond has zillions of creatures. Thank you so, so,so, so,so much.”– Romina (grade 2)
“It was so exciting! That was the best field trip ever!” – Judy (grade 3)
“The field trip fired their imaginations and enabled them to appreciate plant life from an ‘adventuring’ point of view.” – Nuala (a parent)
“I’m not afraid of bees any more.” – Farid (grade 4)
“What is your favourite thing in the pond? Are there frogs the colour of a rainbow?” – Sharon (grade 3)
The next time you are in the Garden and come across a school group, take a few moments to join them in their pond peering or bee-to-flower journey. See the world through their eyes – it’s an amazing place!