Archive for the ‘Gardens to Visit’ Category

Tofino Botanical Gardens
Andrea Bellamy |


Ah, Tofino. How I love thee. The surfing, the storms, the Sound (Clayoquot Sound, that is).

Back in the summer of ’93, when I was a 17-year old idealist telling everyone I met to hug a tree, over 825 people were arrested for protesting the logging of Clayoquot Sound’s old growth forests. I caught wind of a trail-building project and immediately parked my tent in the bush so I could help build the Clayoquot Witness Trail, which allowed the public to access the forests we were trying to save and to experience Vancouver Island’s old growth rainforest first hand. It was an exciting, inspiring experience that proved to be life-changing.

I guess that’s partially why I feel such an affinity to this magical part of the world. Also, it’s just mind-blowingly gorgeous. But it’s also constantly under threat – from industry and tourism mainly. So I heartily commend the folks behind the Tofino Botanical Gardens. Essentially a series of gardens, such as the Children’s Garden, Kitchen Garden, Skunk Cabbage Walk, etc. set within a second-growth rainforest, the Gardens are dedicated “to the cultivation and display of plants native to the world’s coastal temperate rainforests, and to research and education programs to improve knowledge and understanding of the ecosystems of the UNESCO Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve.”



Cuba redux
Andrea Bellamy |


Cuba. Ten days. Two very different experiences. Today I’ll write about the first: Havana.

Both over and underwhelming, Havana is a city of conflict and wild contrast. Walk down one quaint cobblestone street in Habana Vieja (Old Havana), a UNESCO Heritage Site, and every building along it will be precisely restored, paint fresh, potted palms lining the tidy streets. Turn the corner and you may fall into an open sewer. Pass decaying buildings that are so decrepit you believe they must be adandoned… until you catch a flash of movement inside and realize it’s someone’s home. The juxtiposition of the two extremes is jarring and unsettling.

It’s not just the physical nature of the city that is precariously balanced. The contrast between rich and poor – tourists and Cubanos, and, although it’s illegal to amass wealth, poor Cubanos and rich Cubanos (who generally get that way through working the black market or other illegal activity) – is a constant source of tension and strife. We were constantly bothered by jinetaros – hustlers – out to get our money. And who could blame them?


But the spirit of the place. The music! And yes, the people – once you got past the jinetaros and met the real Cubanos.

Contrary to what I read before my trip, I saw little evidence of urban agriculture in Havana proper. Houseplants were popular, but silk flowers even more so. I couldn’t understand why when even a pot of herbs would supplement their meagre rations.


I only saw a couple of these makeshift gardens in Havana.


We stumbled across this plant shop, run out of someone’s home.




Tuscan Farm Gardens

Like Girl Gone Gardening, I dream of owning a small farm. I’d grow my own organic produce, raise chickens and goats, sell eggs and veggies and bouquets of flowers at a roadside honesty stand, and have way too many cats. Sigh…

Tuscan Farm Gardens is one couple’s version of that dream. Their 80 acre family estate, 40 minutes east of Vancouver in rural Langley, started when the retired couple moved from city life to “playing in the dirt” and has since become a destination garden, Bed and Breakfast, and apothecary. Famous for endless fields of lavender and echinecea, this West Coast farm is as close to Tuscany as I’ll be getting – at least for a year or two.

Read Heather’s Journal for the low-down on how their dream evolved, and add Tuscan Farm Gardens to your itinerary for your next trip to Vancouver.


The revolution is fertile

Yippee, we’re going to Cuba!

Ben and I have been attempting to go for years now, but one thing or another always prevented us. Now, in a spontaneous and daring manuver, we’ve booked a flight to Havana for mid-January.

Of course, I started researching gardens immediately. They do have a botanical garden and several smaller gardens I’d love to check out, but while searching, I came across several articles on Cuba’s green revolution, which sprang out of a food shortage brought on by the ongoing US embargo and Russia’s 1990 withdrawal of food subsidies.

An article on writes:

Although the streets of Havana, Cuba, are dominated by decrepit buildings, it is rare to come upon an abandoned lot strewn with rubble and weeds. Instead, these disused plots are coveted prizes: sites that precipitate heated standoffs between gardeners with trowels and boys carrying baseballs and bats. But, because the Cuban state favors redistributing vacant plots to those willing to grow food on them, the gardeners usually win. The result is that Havana’s urban fabric now boasts an unusual juxtaposition of decay and growth, as urban gardens and farms arise alongside crumbling architectural remnants of bygone times.

In 2002, Cubans produced 3.4 million tons of food from 35,000 hectares of urban land; in Havana, 90% of the city’s fresh produce came from local urban farms and gardens.The urban farms and gardens come in various shapes and forms. One type is the organoponico, or intensive vegetable garden, where vegetables and herbs are grown in containers on hard surfaces. Then there are the smaller plot, patio, and popular gardens, which are managed by a family or group. Factories, offices, and businesses offer a third model of urban gardens–workplace gardens–which grow the food served in company cafeterias.

The workers of Havana are not the only ones who reap the rewards of Cuba’s ambitious urban agriculture program; retirement homes, schools, and hospital kitchens also receive anywhere from a fluctuating donation to steady supply of food from neighborhood plots.

City Farmer says:

Participation in the popular gardens range from one to seventy people per garden site. The majority of gardeners are men, although women and children also participate. Popular gardens are usually organized around a household, but it is not uncommon to find arrangements in which more than one household shares or subdivides a garden site.

A wide selection of produce is cultivated, depending (on family needs, market availability, and suitability with the soil and locality. In addition to vegetable and fruit cultivation, some popular gardens also cultivate spices and plants used for medicinal purposes.

Garden productivity has been achieved with minimal external inputs, applying principles of organic agriculture that are low cost, readily available, and environmentally sustainable. Gardeners seldom use chemical fertilizers, relying instead on organic fertilizers in the form of chicken or cow manure, compost from household food waste, and occasionally vermiculture (the use of worms). Also, there is no great demand or availability for chemical herbicides, as weeds are easily controlled by hand weeding. Inter-cropping is commonly practiced, and vegetation stories are sometimes used with taller trees and plants acting as a protective canopy for lower crops. Farmers often maximize the use of land by cultivating crops which produce in the ground, on the ground, and above the ground. A popular combination includes cassava, which provides abundant shade, sweet potatoes, which provides good ground cover, and occasionally beans, which fixates the soil with nitrogen.

What an inspiring example of necessity driving innovation. I’d love to bring some tools and seeds down to support these urban gardeners, along with the other basic supplies I plan on carrying with me. Can anyone who has been to Cuba before offer recommendations on gardens to visit, and/or supplies to donate?


Andrea Bellamy |

It’s kind of lame that I’ve never visited Heronswood, Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones’ Kitsap Penninsula, Washington nursery, especially since we’re only a couple hours away.

I heard Dan speak at a Vancouver Rose Society talk a few years ago – he’s a delightful speaker. And from what I’ve heard and seen in photographs, the garden is delightful, too.

While I’m tempted to wait until the spring to visit, winter might be a good time as well. I love seeing gardens in the winter when they’re so bare-bones. It’s a great way to look at the underlying structure in a garden without being over-wowed by flowers and foliage. And, of course, it’s a great time to check out plants for winter interest.

Read a NY Times story on Heronswood here.


The Eden Project
Andrea Bellamy |

How cool is this? You know when, in sci-fi movies, an alien bacteria creates an inhospitable Earth, the heroes simply band together and create a biosphere-type orb out of plastic wrap that they can live in safely while repopulating the planet?

Tim Smit, co-discoverer of The Lost Gardens of Heligan, who I’m beginning to think is the most brilliant man ever, has now brought us The Eden Project.

It started as a crater, and is now home to over 100,000 plants representing three of the world’s climate zones (“biomes”).

“The Humid Tropics” (Rainforests and Tropical Islands) is the theme of the first biome (the world’s largest greenhouse!), while “The Warm Temperate regions” (the Mediterranean, South Africa & California) are represented by the second biome. The third, or “Outdoor Biome”, is a temperate zone where a range of plants from the India to Russia rub shoulders with the native flora of Cornwall, and the Atlantic rainforests.

I wanna go!


Adventure: Nitobe Memorial Garden
Andrea Bellamy |

Yesterday my boyfriend Ben and I went to Nitobe Memorial Garden at UBC to check out a matcha festival.

Considered to be one of the top traditional Japanese gardens in North America, Nitobe Memorial Garden honours the Japanese scholar, educator and diplomat Dr. Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933).

Nitobe is meticulously designed and maintained, down to each pebble; every leaf and stone. And everything is infused with meaning.

There is tranquil harmony here, in the careful balance of masculine and feminine forces traditionally attributed to natural elements: waterfalls, rivers, forests, islands and seas. Grab a pamphet on your way in – it directs you on a self-guided tour.

A number of stone lanterns, strategically placed, grace the two-acre oasis. Stone lanterns appeard in Japan during the Asuka period and were used to light the front of Buddhist temples. Their decorative use in gardens began with the rise of the tea ceremony and the need to illuminate the roji path to the tea house. This Nitobe family crest lantern (shizen doro) was not in garden designer Dr. Mori’s original design but was added later as a gift from the city of Morioka. The stone is local to Morioka district and it bears the crescent moon and stars of the Nitobe family crest.

Stones, which have many symbolic meanings in Japanese gardens (female, male, child; alarm, sensory awareness, etc.), anchor and provide the “bones” of the garden.

I love the serenity inherent here. I really want to create a Japanese-style garden when we move to our new place, but I’ve never been good at self-restraint. Maybe it will serve as an exercise in that.


The Lost Gardens of Heligan
Andrea Bellamy |

In its heyday, Heligan Manor, the former seat of the Tremayne family, was one of the glories of Cornwall, England. Almost completely self-sufficient, it had a number of farms, quarries, woods, a brickworks, a flour mill, a sawmill, a brewery, and productive orchards and kitchen gardens. Its land extending over a thousand acres, it was the centre of the community and supported 20 “inside” staff and up to 22 “outside” staff.

The outbreak of war in 1914 put an end to that. Many of the staff died in battle, and, although the Tremayne family returned after the war for a few years, they eventually rented the estate out to friends and moved away. Although basic maintenance was undertaken to the grounds around the house, the gardens were gradually abandoned.

Fast-forward to February 16, 1990. That was the day that Tim Smit and John Willis decided to explore the rumours that, near the village of Mevagissey, Cornwall, there was an overgrown tropical valley; some claimed there were desolated temples and mosaic floors found in the middle of the forests.

Crawling on hands and knees through massive, overgrown laurel hedges and the ruins of glasshouses, they discovered this lost world.

Now, through a painstaking process of restoration, Heligan is returning to its former glory. The Lost Gardens of Heligan extend to some eighty acres, the site of the largest garden restoration in Europe.

One of the reasons Heligan is so valuable is that no major alterations had been carried out over this last century and all the vernacular and garden buildings remained untouched. There are very few examples of gardens which haven’t been modernised and Heligan provides a unique snapshot of the Victorian vision and ingenuity which first created this subtropical paradise.

From the official Heligan website:

It’s hard to believe that this garden was under several feet of brambles and overgrown laurel when it was discovered in 1990. Now the Italian Garden is restored to its former glory and is one of the most beautiful areas in the Pleasure Grounds.

This is cool. This is where the Tremaynes kept their bees to produce honey for the Big House. Each hollow contained a bee skep, like an upturned basket, in which the bees made their home.


Don’t let your children run loose here

The Duchess of Northumberland’s controversial poison garden has been officially opened.

Cannabis, opium poppies, magic mushrooms and coca – the source of cocaine – all feature at the centuries-old Alnwick Garden.

The Home Office granted the Alnwick Garden Trust permission to grow the plants late last year.

Poisonous foxglove, tobacco and wild lettuce, which can be used as a tranquilliser, will also be grown.

The site has been designed by Belgian Peter Virtz. More than 50 dangerous plants are included in the collection.

To highlight its hazardous nature the garden’s beds are laid in the shape of flickering flames.

Members of the public will be escorted around the walled garden by marshals.

The Duchess of Northumberland officially opened the garden with Northumbria Police chief constable Crispian Strachan.

She said: “Drugs are a major concern across the country and an emotive issue.

“The garden will offer a new avenue, outside the classroom, to get people talking about the misuse of drugs – most of which grow in nature.”

From the BBC news


Adventure: UBC Botanical Garden

One of Vancouver’s garden treasures is the UBC Botanical Garden, which makes for a fabulous day of adventure. Originally created as a research centre focused on the native flora of British Columbia, the mission of UBC Botanical Garden has broadened to include research, conservation, teaching and public display of temperate plants from around the world, particularly Asian, alpine and native plants.

Their website is awesome. There’s a blog, but even better I think is their “botany photo of the day” page, which, with its descriptions, acts like a blog anyway.

Lupinus polyphyllus in the Native Garden at UBC Botanical Garden.

During summer (until late October), the garden is open every day from 10am to 6pm. It cost $6.00 to get in.

Check their website for upcoming events; don’t miss the Apple Festival, on October 15 & 16, 2005.


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