VANCOUVER, B.C. - When fans and supporters of the VanDusen Botanical Garden cut the big cake Aug. 30 celebrating the garden's 30th year, they can be satisfied in the knowledge that they have helped to connect many people to plants.

We made our own "connection" with the garden recently during a family trip to Whistler, B.C. About two hours south of the skiing and mountain biking village that was our final destination, Vancouver is a bustling, exciting city that offers up numerous fine public gardens and nurseries for the plant explorer. We chose VanDusen because it was close to Granville Market, another visual and sensory treat with its fresh vegetable stands and specialty food booths, but we could have easily gone to the University of British Columbia's Botanical Garden or the Blodel Floral Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park.

The VanDusen Botanical Garden has been developed on what is now a 55-acre site. It was once owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway and leased by the Shaughnessy Golf Club from 1911 until 1960, when the golf club moved to a new location. The railway owners suggested a subdivision, which many residents and neighbors opposed. Instead, the VanDusen Botanical Garden Association formed in 1966 to assist the Vancouver Park Board with saving the site. In a stroke of ingenuity, the City of Vancouver, the government of British Columbia and the Vancouver Foundation, with a donation by W.J. VanDusen, joined together to purchase the land. Development started in 1971 and VanDusen Botanical Garden officially opened to the public Aug. 30, 1975.

Since then, VanDusen has become a modern botanical garden that's much more than a collection of someone's favorite plants. Its mission is to provide an opportunity for people to gain a greater understanding of the importance of plants to our lives, and the value of conserving the earth's biodiversity for future generations.

And, most likely, the garden will get even better. The VanDusen Garden Association and the Vancouver Park Board are conducting a $20 million campaign to build a 7,000 square foot Garden Pavilion.

VanDusen's staff prides itself on some very creative programing, including wellness walks, members-only bird watches, ice cream Sundays and cart tours for members and guests who can't otherwise get around the big garden. Children are treated to classes such as "Pond Peering" and insect investigations. The garden's plants are grouped by botanical relationship - such as the witch hazel garden or the perennial border, or by geographic origin, such as the Canadian Heritage Garden or the Sino-Himalayan garden. There are several self-guided tours, including an Art in the Garden excursion and nicely marked walking routes for visitors, ranging anywhere from 20 minutes to 1 to 2 hours. We took the "VanDusen High Points" tour and spent extra time in the wonderful perennial border and the Southern Hemisphere garden. We were rewarded with summer perennials at their peak and exciting exotics in the Southern Hemisphere garden, such as South African bulbs in bloom and lots of grasses.

Elsewhere, there were tons of imaginative plantings, including plant pairings featuring black and gold foliage together, or variegated plants in a group or just a big bed of three plants repeated over and over again - sort of a formal meadow with verbenas, daisies and red dianthus.

Deeply inspired and under the watchful eye of my husband, I bought about a dozen different types of seeds from a friendly volunteer who was part of the VanDusen Volunteer Seed Collectors, folks who raise money for garden activities. Each winter, they hold a Seedy Saturday to promote heritage seed that is grown organically. The VanDusen volunteers debut their best collected seeds then. You can buy seeds through the Web, many of which are available for purchase within a week or so of their harvest. The Web address is www.VanDusen.PlantExplorers.com

Upcoming VanDusen events include the 51st annual dahlia show, held at the garden Aug. 27-28 by the Vancouver Dahlia Society. The garden celebrates its 30th anniversary in August, a month-long affair featuring discounted admissions for 30-year-old visitors and their guests, special classes and tours and a party on, of course, Aug. 30. Another event of interest, the Vancouver Garden Show, is held in each year at the VanDusen Garden in June.

The VanDusen Garden is open daily, except for Christmas Day, at 5251 Oak St., at the corner of 37th Avenue and between Oak and Granville streets. Travel time by car or bus from downtown Vancouver or Vancouver International Airport is 10 minutes. Hours vary depending upon the season and admission is charged. You can learn more about the VanDusen Botanical Garden online at www.vandusengarden.org or by calling (604) 257-8666.

Cathy Peterson belongs to the Clatsop County Master Gardener Association. "In the Garden" runs weekly in Coast Weekend. Please send comments and gardening news to "In the Garden," The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or go online to peterson@pacifier.com

DALLAS - The third annual Fall Fling: A Gardening Festival takes place Saturday, Sept. 10, at Dallas High School.

Registration, which costs $20, ends Sept. 1 for the event, which is put on by the Polk County Master Gardeners. Admission covers door prizes, snacks throughout the day and a catered lunch. For $5 more, you can take part in a hands-on container building demonstration, which includes a take-home wooden container, soil and the plants to fill it. The three sessions feature kitchen herb gardens, bulbs and Mediterranean rock gardens. For information, call (503) 623-8395.

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