Tuesday 2 April 2019

Visiting the Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver, BC

I was in Vancouver last week and, on Tuesday, experienced the warm-coat-and-umbrella side of our coast's unpredictable spring weather.  The day dawned cold, with rain showers and gusty winds that left me craving somewhere warm and tropical.  It seemed a perfect time to visit the Bloedel Conservatory. 

The Bloedel Conservatory is a 140-foot diameter triodetic dome, 70 feet high at its tallest point, set into a plaza atop Little Mountain in Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Park.  It was conceived as a project to mark Canada's centennial in 1967 but challenges afforded by the site (it was at the time an open 5.5 acre fresh water reservoir for the city) delayed opening of the conservatory until 1969.  The design solution to the site challenges is amazing, with the reservoir capped but still functional and the Bloedel Conservatory with its surrounding plaza built adjacent to it, all at the city's geographical center and its highest elevation.

The conservatory houses a botanical garden.  It's divided into 3 botanical zones - tropical, subtropical, and arid, although they are currently in the process of taking out the arid zone plants in order to replace them with plants more suited to the humidity inside the dome.  Fifty years of growth and cultivation have allowed the garden to develop into a dense planting of full sized trees with a lush under-story of shrubs, ferns, bromeliads, and flowering plants. Flying freely through this botanical wonderland are more than 120 tropical birds.  It did, indeed, feel like I'd taken a short trip to the tropics.

I could tell you more about the conservatory's history, it's plantings, and its current management but I'll provide you this link instead, devoting most of the remaining space in this post to photos*. I do encourage you to click on the link and to read more about this wonderful project. It's an interesting part of Vancouver's history.

By the time I'd explored the conservatory and emerged outdoors again the weather had brightened and warmed, affording me an opportunity to explore the surrounding park.  

The views from the plaza around the conservatory were spectacular, even with the relatively low cloud cover.  I could look across the city and the Fraser River to the North Shore mountains in one direction, and across the river delta land and flat fields of Richmond and Delta to the Strait of Georgia in another.  I didn't have a camera lens sufficient to the distance but, truly, it's worth visiting the site for just the views alone.

Like Butchart Gardens  on Vancouver Island, Little Mountain - the site of Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver - was once a quarry.  Formal gardens were planted in the quarry pits during the 1930's and an arboretum of both exotic and endemic trees was established on the site as well.  

The gardens have been extensively planted with spring bulbs, but my visit was a little too early in the season for me to see them in bloom.  The brightly coloured flowers will look particularly vibrant framed by the varied greens of trees and lawns but even without them I enjoyed my walk around the park. The many trees and shrubs, some in blossom and some with early flowers sheltering in the shade beneath them, provided an abundance of beautiful sights.

Here are some pictures from the park

I hope you get a chance to visit this place.  It's beautiful.

*If you're viewing this post on a desktop computer or a laptop, you should be able to click on any of the photos and be taken to a slide show where you can view the images in a larger format.