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Journal American Rhododendron Society

Current Editor:
Dr. Glen Jamieson ars.editor@gmail.com


Volume 40, Number 4
Fall 1986

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The Botanical Garden University Of British Columbia
Vancouver, Canada

Lillian Hodgson
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Lillian Hodgson, former Editor of the Vancouver Chapter Newsletter, is well known as a writer and photographer of rhododendrons. She is a life member of the ARS and keenly interested in the development of the UBC Asian Garden.

        The University of British Columbia (UBC) campus is situated in a spectacular scenic setting at the end of a peninsula known as Point Grey. It is surrounded by the entrance to Vancouver harbour on the north, the Fraser River estuary on the south and the Strait of Georgia on the west. This proximity to the water has a modifying influence on the temperature and provides high humidity to the area.
        At the extreme end, at the top of a steep cliff, is a forest that was once a Royal Naval Reserve that supplied timber for the wooden masts of Captain Vancouver's sailing ships. Because of its history, most of this area has been left intact as a virgin forest. In 1976, this forty acre site was set aside for the Asian Garden, to be a major part of the older Botanical Garden of the University. The Botanical Garden had its beginning in 1916 and therefore celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. The Asian Garden was officially opened in May 1983.
        The Asian Garden, as its name implies, features plants from the Orient, the source of most of our private garden collections. The emphasis is on the genera Rhododendron, Magnolia, Rosa, Sorbus and Hamamelis (Witch Hazel).
        While the planting area for the Asian Garden had to be carved out of the forest, the accumulation of forest debris was an advantage. Furthermore the University already had many mature rhododendron plants that had been growing in a holding nursery close to the site. These plants, together with donations from private donors, constituted an already large collection. So, although this portion of the Botanical Garden is comparatively young, it has the appearance of an established planting.
        The rhododendron collection received an extra boost in 1964 when the Rhododendron Species Foundation near Tacoma, Washington, USA, could not import plants from the United Kingdom and other European sources due to government restrictions. These restrictions did not apply to Canada, so cuttings arrived by "back door strategy" in great numbers and in various conditions. These were to be rooted by Evelyn Jack in the UBC physical plant nursery with great success. A portion were retained by the university as recompense and thus became part of the collection. The Asian Garden now contains over 440 different rhododendron species, some of them rare in cultivation. Several thousand more plants, both species and hybrids are spread over the campus.
        Growing conditions are ideal. At the west side is a 200' cliff that acts as a wind break. This creates a microclimate that allows many borderline plants such as R. burmanicum and R. johnstoneanum not only to survive without protection, but to thrive though damaged to varying degrees after two consecutive cold spells this past winter.
        The parking lot and public entrance to the Asian Garden is situated at the north end of the Alpine Garden off Stadium Road. The Alpine Garden is divided into sections by continent, featuring native plants. Because many of these plants grow in desert conditions, this presents a problem in a climate as wet as it is in Vancouver. That this garden, one of the largest alpine gardens in North America, has a continuous year-round display is a credit to the dedicated staff.

The Alpine Garden
The Alpine Garden
  Photo by Lillian Hodgson

        Dwarf rhododendrons in their simulated habitat form an extensive part of the collection in this section of the garden. From the alpen rose (R. ferrugineum) common to the Pyrenees in Europe to the Sino-Himalayan and Japanese treasures of the genus, the Alpine Garden is the place to see the smaller species that are particularly suitable for the reduced garden spaces of today's homes and the roof gardens of town houses.
        At the perimeter of the Alpine Garden are several smaller gardens. Of particular interest to local horticulturists is a Native Garden section where wild plants of British Columbia are displayed. Here meadows, forests, ponds and bogs are reproduced in miniature, together with well drained raised beds that simulate the desert conditions of the interior of the Province. A double Rubus spectabilis and a double Trillium ovatum are two of the many rare plants found in this garden.
        Adjacent to the Native Garden is the Physick Garden, opened in 1981. Here medicinal plants are quaintly labeled with old-fashioned remedies for all of the ills of man. In the center is a sundial that features a beautiful cast bronze face with the crest of the University and its motto "Tuum est". A closer observation reveals that somebody actually disguised it as "Time Ex". This is a place to indulge your sense of humour as well as to provide for the more serious pursuits of a biochemist. Recent additions to the area are a Winter Garden and a Food Garden.
        The Asian Garden is separated from the Alpine Garden area by a Provincial highway that was pushed through by the Government in spite of protest. The problem presented by this obstacle was solved by building a tunnel under the road which is effectively and appropriately disguised by an Oriental Moon Gate at the Asian Garden end. The highway is several feet above the level of the garden at this point and the sound of traffic is practically eliminated. Conifers planted on the slope will act as a further sound barrier as they mature.
        When visitors emerge from the tunnel they are midway in the garden. Wide paths of deep bark mulch are pleasant under foot and retain the forest atmosphere. With camera ready, lots of film and perhaps a tripod and flash (forests are dark), be prepared to spend several hours in this peaceful setting.
        Most of the individual plants are marked with discreet tags, but larger black signs with white lettering are also placed in the ground. Like all gardens with public access, it is difficult to maintain proper labeling. This garden is better than average.
        Fifteen of the forty acres have been planted, but native conifers and shrubs have been retained to provide shelter. Because some of these trees, many of them over 200' in height, have no lower branches, they provide high overhead shade yet let in sufficient light. Their trunks also provide an excellent base for climbing vines such as Hydrangea petiolaris and Schizophragma hydrangeoides. The native maples, huckleberry, sword fern, mahonia and salal compliment the new plantings. However, this garden is primarily for the study of Asian trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants.
        Many small streams course their way through the forest. Primula species cover the banks in the Spring along with Himalayan poppies.

Primulas in the Alpine Garden
Primulas in the Alpine Garden
  Photo by Lillian Hodgson

        The rhododendrons are more or less grown in series, but not to the extent that contrast is sacrificed. Local growing conditions are a most important determining factor in the planting of individual specimens. So while most of the Grande series is located at the southern end of the garden, some of the plants are interspersed throughout the garden. Microclimates enable such plants as R. griffithianum, R. xanthostephanum and R. edgeworthii to survive until unusual cold weather damages them. R. keysii, a plant that usually suffers some bud damage even in the mildest winters, bloomed profusely this year as if nothing had happened.
        Many plants are rare in cultivation in North America. The white form of R. macrogemmum grows happily beside a small stream. This species is listed in The Rhododendron Handbook (The Royal Horticultural Society, London, 1980) as a "species not in cultivation", Selected forms of R. wardii, R. martinianum KW 21557 (Greig) and an unusual R. mollicomum thrive in this perfect setting. There is a particularly outstanding dark pink form of R. metternichii from a native collection. Growing many individuals from wild seed collections is an important long term goal of the garden. There are already significant populations from wild sources of species such as R. barbatum and R. thomsonii in the collection.

R. mollicomum    R. macrogemmum
R. mollicomum
  Photo by Lillian Hodgson
   R. macrogemmum
  Photo by Lillian Hodgson

        Vancouver is noted for its tree lined streets. In fact the Parks Board planted its one millionth tree a few years ago. Leaves are gathered annually and shared with the University. It is quite a sight in the fall to see great mounds of decaying leaf mould appear at the northern end of the Asian Garden. This is combined with steer manure and used as a mulch after two or three years. No chemicals are ever used and weevil damage is rare.
        Azaleas are not neglected. A short distance from the Asian Garden is the Nitobe Memorial Garden, an authentic Japanese garden designed by a Japanese architect. The combination of flowering cherries and azaleas in bloom in the spring is a photographer's paradise.
        Eastern North American native azaleas can be found in what is known as The Triangle together with many species rhododendrons donated by Ted and Mary Grieg. Adjacent to this area is a beautiful Rose Garden that serves as a test area for roses in this climate. This section is across the road from the famous Museum of Anthropology.

The Rose Garden
The Rose Garden
  Photo by Lillian Hodgson

        The Triangle is no longer part of the Botanical Garden, but cuttings have been taken from the plants and transferred to the Asian Garden. In this collection is an unusual white form of R. smirnowii of probable interest to Eastern North American hybridizers. Also found here is an exceptionally beautiful blue R. augustinii. These mature plants are a distinct asset to the campus.

R. smirnowii
R. smirnowii
  Photo by Lillian Hodgson

        This is a large campus and some pockets of plants are in remote places. One such treasure is the fairly large area of R. triflorum situated at the southern end of Westbrook Road, just north of Triumf (the Tri-University Subatomic Research Facility). It was here that I saw for the first time R. triflorum var. mahogani with its unusual amber flowers with terra cotta blotch and spots, so different from the pink and mauve flowers that we usually associate with this series.
        Vancouver is a city of gardens. With the mildest climate in Canada it is inevitable that its parks and private gardens grow plants that produce flowers on almost a year round basis. The various smaller gardens that are a part of the larger Botanical Garden are a valuable source of information for the public as well as the student.
        The Botanical Garden of the university serves both academic and community needs and has further enhanced this by initiating a plant introduction scheme. In cooperation with the British Columbia Society of Landscape Architects and the British Columbia Nursery Trades Association, plants are evaluated from the Botanical Garden collection. To date the following have been introduced: Viburnum plicatum 'Summer Snowflake', Anagallia monellii var. linifolia 'Pacific Blue', Artocostaphylos uva-ursi 'Vancouver Jade' (a new kinnickinnick or bearberry), Genista pilosa 'Vancouver Gold' and Microbiota decussata 'UBC Clone 12701' known as ' Russian Cypress'.
        One of the most popular Canadian televised garden programs, "The Western Gardener", is co-hosted by David Tarrant of the Botanical Garden staff. Equally popular with the public is the phone-in "Hortline". Unfortunately, another program using gardening as therapy for the sick and handicapped had to be abandoned due to lack of funds. However, information and experience gained during such experiments is never lost and the Extended Care Unit of the University's hospital is carrying on. Four seasonal books on "Gardening as Therapy" by Margaret Walline are now available.
        Enthusiasm and dedication by the staff and public ensure an exciting future for this garden. Certainly nature has blessed it with a setting that is one of the most beautiful in the world and a climate temperate enough to grow most of the treasures from the Orient.

R. metternichii
R. metternichii
  Photo by Lillian Hodgson

        The Botanical Garden has already gained international acclaim and should be a major tourist attraction in the future, not only to rhododendron enthusiasts, but to all who love plants. The changing seasons provide immense contrast of colour, shape and form within the beautiful natural landscape - even on a rare occasion in the winter when a snowstorm covers the elegant Japanese stone snow lanterns in the Nitobe Memorial Garden.

References:
1.  Giles, Valerie, "Far From the Maddening Crowd", The Alumni UBC Chronicle, Spring 1986, pp. 14-15.
2.  Straley, Gerald, "Botanical Garden of the University of British Columbia", Garden, Vol. 7:5, Sept/Oct 1983, pp. 6-11.


Volume 40, Number 4
Fall 1986

DLA Ejournal Home | JARS Home | Table of Contents for this issue | Search JARS and other ejournals