Tucked away at the edge of the rainforest that rims the Pacific coast shore on Vancouver Island near Tofino is a wonderfully diverse gardenscape. Established in 1997, the 12-acre Tofino Botanical Gardens is the brainchild of its director, George Patterson, a transplanted landscape designer and nurseryman from the Boston area. Although originally a private garden, TBG is now open to the public and operates as a non-profit foundation. TBG is bordered on the south by a forest reserve. The shoreline, which can be viewed from various vantage points around the garden’s property, looks onto thousands of acres of protected migratory shorebird habitat. Beyond that are the Browning Passage and Meares Island, which has been declared a Tribal Park by the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. Also surrounding TBG are 850,000 acres of the Clayoquot Biosphere Reserve.
“I was familiar with the Tofino area before I moved here,” explains Patterson. “This is where my former wife was born, so we would come back on occasion. I just fell in love with it.”
The property had been slated for development, which is why Patterson bought it. He owned the land for eight years before he started his botanical garden. Time spent volunteering at Wilson Botanical Gardens in Costa Rica prepared him in part for what lay ahead. Says Patterson: “The Wilson Gardens are also next to a rainforest, so there are some similarities.”
The main botanical collection at TBG focuses on the native plants of Clayoquot Sound. “About 60 species are found on the site,” says Patterson. “We’re also developing small pocket gardens along the paths that will offer some insights into comparative botany,” he adds. “Temperate rainforest plants from Chile, New Zealand, Japan and elsewhere have been sited next to natives that have something in common with the imported specimens. They may be from different families but have the same leaf shape.” This is known as convergent evolution, where plants that live in similar habitats resemble each other even though they are not related. For example, native evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) looks an awful lot like the Chilean guava (Ugni molinae).
A kilometre of pathways connects 24 different areas, each constructed on a theme. There is a Kitchen Garden, for instance, where the chef from the garden’s restaurant finds plenty of culinary inspiration. In addition to vegetables, herbs such as thyme, tarragon and borage grow in abundance, while espaliered grape vines climb on the adjacent fence. “That garden was designed by one of our volunteers, the pastry chef at C Restaurant in Vancouver,” says Patterson. A local herbalist put together the Medicinal Herb Garden, which brims over with lush plantings of sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) and marshmallow (Althaea officinalis).