what's new at the tofino botanical gardens?

What's New at the Tofino Botanical Gardens?

by George Patterson, Tofino



The pace of change in a garden is much slower than the pace of change on, say, a construction site. When I go into Tofino to pick up the mail, buy groceries or have a cup of coffee, people often ask, “What’s new at the Garden?”

It is a tough question, one that reminds me that Tofino Botanical Gardens is not dedicated to that which is “new”, “fast” or “the best”. Gardens are more about things that are gradual, enduring and appropriate. The gardener’s moves or chops are rarely dramatic, brilliant, or even memorable. Instead they tend to be moderate, steady and oft-repeated. Sounds boring, but somehow it is not.

So, even though there is not much “new” at Tofino Botanical Gardens there is some news.

This January, Tofino Botanical Gardens became a non-profit society. This is the first step in a plan to establish Tofino Botanical Gardens as a permanent institution whose mission is to help people from local communities and visitors from afar explore the relationship between culture and nature. The strategy for making the transition from a private garden to a public one was developed with advice from the Gardens Conservancy.

The Gardens were founded to serve as a kind of gateway to the cultural and natural histories of the Unesco Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve and to promote the importance of protecting our natural heritage for future generations.

Work on Tofino Botanical Gardens began in 1997. The plan was an ambitious one, including a dormitory for students, researchers, artists and volunteers, a field station laboratory/classroom, a theatre and a few other elements that we have not yet been able to raise enough money to get built.

But many of the elements of the original vision have been accomplished. The Frog Pond, the Forest Boardwalk ( I like to think of it as the Valerie Langer Boardwalk), the Evian, Jan Janzenís Gazebo, and the Café Pamplona are actually there, built on the ground and regularly enjoyed by many visitors. Last spring we planted the first group of trees and shrubs in the Chilean Plant Garden. We are fortunate to have 15 wonderful and powerful pieces of sculpture by Michael Dennis. Carmen Bell continues to tend the Medicinal Herb Garden and create a line of products from her harvest.

Our sub-tropical garden of bananas, palms, gingers and other tender plants is doing well.

We have expanded our still modest collection of species Rhododendron. A collection of Primulas has been established The Giant Himalyan Lilies flowered last Summer.

All of the work at Tofino Botanical Gardens for the past three years has been accomplished by volunteers. This represents nearly 6000 hours of volunteering by students, interns, Woofers and travelers. Their contributions and enthusiasm have been essential to Tofino Botanical Gardens’s development This year we plan to expand our volunteer program to include more opportunities for local residents. Please call if you are interested.

The Tofino Lantern Festival, produced by the Rainforest Education Society, and held at the Gardens is one of the best community events of the year. The gardens are lit up by the warm smiles of parents and children as much as by the hundreds of beautiful lanterns and luminarias.

Last year, the first Tofino Food and Wine festival was held at Tofino Botanical Gardens. The weather was beautiful and the gardens were full of well-fed sybarites sampling food from Tofino’s finest restaurants and wine from all over British Columbia.

My favorite event, however, is still the Annual Frog Release organized by Professor Gary Marks and his Wickaninish Elementary School kindergarten/first grade class. Last year I tried to convince the kids that watermelons grew on Palm trees. That not one student was taken in by this shameful scam is a testament to their own intelligence and instincts as well as Professor Marks’ pedagogical excellence. We plan to open the gardens to more events like this in the coming year.

Tofino Botanical Gardens has been a member of the American Association of Botanical Gardens & Arboreta since 1998. As a small, young and, until now, privately funded garden we have benefited greatly from this association. Being able to share information and experiences with many of the most successful public gardens in the world has helped us to focus our mission, improve operations and plan for the future.

Three years ago we helped to found VIGA, the Vancouver Island Garden Association. This is a group of twenty gardens on the island that are open to pubic visits. A broad range of gardens participate. Butchart Gardens is the largest, Ronnings Garden up at the tip of Vancouver Island in Holberg is probably the smallest in terms of visits, but is very rich in mystery and charisma. Milner Gardens and Woodland in Qualicum Beach is a marvelous estate garden now owned by Malaspina University that is a key element in their two year horticultural sciences program. The opportunity to meet with the staff of these other gardens is a constant source of inspiration & renewal.

We are also members of Botanic Garden Conservation International which encourages and supports botanic gardens totake a leading role in plant conservation, and become responsible for their own national plant collections. BGCI has developed the Global strategy for Plant Conservation and an International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation. Tofino Botanical Gardens has subscribed to the Agenda (this is akin to signing the Kyoto Accord), and we look forward to developing the resources to participate actively in this effort.

We look forward to the coming season knowing that it will be filled with seeds, cuttings, bone meal, eel grass, pruning, tying, dividing, weeding, raking, shoveling, sweeping, etc. And that we will be seeing many old friends and making new ones.


The Tofino Botanical Gardens are open to the public from 9am till dusk. For for more information, visit the gardens’ website at www.tbgf.org


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Tofino Botanical Garden news from March 2004. Written by Tofino Botanical Gardens director George Patterson for Tofino Time Magazine.

tofino time march 2004
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