Bloedel’s Titan arum: ‘Uncle Fester’

What a week!

On July 10, 2018, the Bloedel Conservatory became home to British Columbia’s first ever Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), more commonly called the Corpse flower. This name is inspired by the nasty smell of rotting meat given off by the flower to attract pollinating flies and beetles. By public vote, our Titan was nicknamed ‘Uncle Fester’.

Bloedel Titan best front cropped 180

Bloedel’s Titan arum ‘Uncle Fester’ fully open on July 16, 2018. Photo by V.Earle

And pollinators weren’t the only thing Uncle Fester was attracting! Over 17,000 people made it into the Conservatory over the week to see, smell and take a selfie with the plant – sometimes waiting over 4 hours to spend a couple of minutes with him!

The excitement really began Sunday evening, July 15 around 7pm, when Uncle Fester’s spathe (the frilly modified leaf), began to unfurl. He hit his stride and full smell by the next morning, beckoning every TV and radio crew in the Lower Mainland to come to get a whiff. The tall yellow spadix heats up internally to release a number of smelly compounds including dimethyl trisulfide (like limburger cheese dunked in sulphur), trimethylamine (rotting fish), isovaleric acid (sweaty socks) and phenol (like Chloraseptic). Uncle Fester reached a top temperature of 84 degrees Fahrenheit and smelled more like dead rats and rotten cabbage which seemed to come in waves.

Bloedel Titan temp.check _180

‘Uncle Fester’ getting his twice daily temperature check. Photo by V.Earle

Titan arums are rare and don’t flower often, regardless if they are in the wild or at a botanic garden. They are native to the island of Sumatra in Indonesia and often take between three to ten years to bloom. Technically they are the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world and listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss from palm oil plantations. An estimated 72% of Sumatra’s original rainforest has been lost and the scale of deforestation is continuing at an alarming rate, affecting not only Titan arums, but also Rhinoceros Hornbills – a bird that eats the plant’s fruits and distributes its seeds. A number of gardens around the world are now growing these amazing plants to help with conservation efforts.

Bloedel Titan bow back _180

‘Uncle Fester’ takes a bow after a job well done! Photo by V.Earle

For a young plant, our Titan arum really put on a show! It is only six years old, its corm (the underground tuber) weighs only 27 lbs, and it reached almost 6 feet in height. Typically corpse flowers don’t send up their first bloom until they reach between seven and ten years of age, with corms that can weigh nearly 200 lbs.

When the bloom is finished, the spathe twists around the toppled spadix and contracts so tightly it forms a huge water-tight bag. This creates a safe protected nursery for the small inner female flowers to become fruit/seeds. Very important in a wet, humid rainforest with lots of hungry animals!

Uncle Fester will stay at the Conservatory through Sunday and then will be moved back to the nursery for a good rest with lots of pampering. He will most likely send up a tall, 15-foot umbrella-like leaf every year to collect and store energy for his next bloom cycle. These plants are historically unpredictable, so this could be in 2-3 years, or it could take 10 years before we see Uncle Fester again! The Bloedel Conservatory is open regular hours, 10am – 8pm. Stop in for a last peek and say ‘farewell’.





©V.Earle Bloedel Titan arum cycle

Blooming phases of Bloedel’s Titan arum ‘Uncle Fester’, starting on Saturday, July 14, 2018 (upper left); Spathe begins to unfurl at 7pm, Sunday, July 15; Spathe fully open Monday, July 16 (lower left) and begins to close later that afternoon; Tall spadix begins to decay and tilt July 18 until it topples over at 11am, Thursday July 19. Photo sequence by V.Earle




When the Weather Outside is Frightful …

Shimmer Surprise cultivar

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), Shimmer Surprise cultivar. Photo by Vicky Earle

Plan a visit to the Bloedel Conservatory!

It’s a warm and lush tropical get away to relax, recharge and reinvigorate the whole family during the holidays! Plus, the antics of all the birds are sure to bring a smile to everyone’s face. Currently there are hundreds of poinsettias – over a dozen different cultivars – on display for the festive season!

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), Yellow Snow cultivar.

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), Yellow Snow cultivar. Photo by Vicky Earle

Poinsettias are right at home at the Conservatory. While they are the most popular of all Christmas houseplants, poinsettias are actually indigenous to the tropical climates of Mexico and Central America. The Aztecs called poinsettias “Cuetlaxochitl” (from cuitlatl, for residue, and xochitl, for flower). They used the plant for its medicinal properties to control fevers and the bracts (modified leaves) were used to make a reddish dye for fabrics. Legend has it that Montezuma, the last of the Aztec kings, had poinsettias brought into what now is Mexico City by caravans because this beautiful plant could not be grown at high altitudes. Today the poinsettia is known in Mexico and Guatemala as “La Flor de la Nochebuena” (Flower of the Holy Night, or Christmas Eve). In Chile and Peru, it is called the “Crown of the Andes”.

Winter Rose Red Poinsettia

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), Winter Rose Red cultivar. Photo by Vicky Earle

The botanical name Euphorbia pulcherrima (meaning ‘very beautiful’) was assigned to the poinsettia by the German botanist, Wilenow, because he was dazzled by its brilliant color. The poinsettia was introduced to North America in 1825 when the United States’ first ambassador to Mexico, Joel Robert Poinsett, sent several plants back to his home in Greenville, South Carolina. William Prescott, historian and horticulturist, renamed the plant ‘Poinsettia’ in honour of Poinsett.

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), Monet Twilight cultivar

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), Monet Twilight cultivar. Photo by Vicky Earle

The poinsettia grows in the wild as a shrub or small tree, typically reaching a height of 0.6–5 metres (2–16.5 feet). Typically, the plant has dark green leaves that measure 7–16 centimetres (2.8–6.3 in) in length. The colored bracts — which are most often flaming red but can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white, or marbled— are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colors, but they are actually leaves. The flowers of the poinsettia are unassuming and do not attract pollinators. They are grouped within small yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch, and are called cyathia.

Bloedel 45th Anniversary cake

Bloedel Conservatory 45th Anniversary Cake


Once again, we send a big thank you to all who came out on December 6th to celebrate Bloedel’s 45th Anniversary! It was a fantastic party with Hawaiian Dancers, rhythms of Soul Survivors Steel Drum Band, a Professional Face Painter, Sven and Jens the whimsical and talented Scandinavian Gnomes and of course hot chocolate and cake. The party would not have been possible without the backing and organization from the Vancouver Park Board, the support of the VanDusen Botanical Garden Association, Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary and all of the fantastic Bloedel staff and volunteers. Thank you to all. We look forward to many more years and exciting things to come!

Happy Holidays!


A Walk in the Tropics is back at Bloedel!

The tremendously popular Walk in the Tropics series is back at the Bloedel Conservatory! Come out and join expert speakers as they discuss a variety of topics while strolling through the lush tropical atmosphere under the dome atop Queen Elizabeth park. It’s like a mini vacation with an educational twist!

v.earle_red macaw.5x5

The first walk this season, ‘The Birds of Bloedel’, takes place on Wednesday, April 24th at 3:30. Education Director Janice Robson from the Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary will share intriguing facts about each species at the Conservatory – from the large exotic Macaws and parrots to the small finches and budgies. Janice will also discuss the care required, diet considerations and tips for keeping your own feathered companions healthy and happy.

Cost to attend each walk is $10 for VanDusen members and $15 for non-members, which includes admission to the Conservatory. Pre-registration is a must! Register online, by phone, in person or by fax. Visit the VanDusen Botanical Garden Adult Education Registration page for all registration information, forms and course brochure. 

Mark your calendars!  This is a terrific series that you won’t want to miss!

A Walk in the Tropics Spring/Summer Schedule

art beauty 4smThe Birds of Bloedel

Wednesday April 24
3:30 – 4:30 pm

Janice Robson will introduce you to the variety of bird species that live in the Bloedel Conservatory. She is a wealth of knowledge and will share interesting facts and stories about all the species under the dome as well as great tips for your own feathered friends.

dancing ladies croppedOrchids Throughout the World

Wednesday May 22
6:30 – 7:30 pm

What makes tropical orchids so unique from most other tropical plants? How do they differ from their orchid cousins in colder regions? Join Margaret Pratt, President of the Vancouver Orchid Society, in a discussion about epiphytism and adaptations that make certain orchids suited to tropical climes.

holey philadendron smPlant Adaptations in the Tropics

Wednesday June 19
6:30 – 7:30 pm

Adaptations are specific features that allow plants to live in a variety of conditions around the world. Join this fascinating exploration of tropical specializations including types of bark, drip tips, prop and stilt roots, buttresses, epiphytes and how certain plants ward off predators. Instructor: Janet Canning, Capilano University

fiddlehead 2x3Healing Gardens

Wednesday July 17
6:30 – 7:30 pm

Join Dr. Aimeé Taylor, Horticultural Therapist, on a walk through the Bloedel Conservatory to discuss the healing and therapeutic benefits of spending time in green spaces. Discussion will include indoor plants for your home that provide clean air along with other benefits.

clyde great_smThe Birds of Bloedel

Wednesday August 21
6:30 – 7:30 pm

Jenny Tamas, Adoptions Director from the Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary, will introduce you to the variety of bird species that live in the Bloedel Conservatory. She will share interesting facts about each species, as well as the care required, diet considerations and tips for keeping your own feathered companions healthy and happy.

Butterflies at the Bloedel Conservatory?

Yes! Butterfly Orchids that is!

The Rare & Exotic Orchid Show is on NOW!

Yellow Butterfly Orchid (Psychopsis papilio Lindl. H.G.James)

Come in an see a variety of lady slippers (paphiopedilum and phragmipedium), dancing ladies (oncidium), and the stunning butterfly orchid (psychopsis). And don’t miss the tiny orchids! They are some of the most delicate and spectacular specimens nature has created! One even smells like chocolate mint!

The show runs from September 28th until October 8th, 2012.

Lady Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum).

Members of the VOS will be on hand everyday from 11am to 3pm to answer questions you may have about orchid identification, repotting and maintenance.  They will also be conducting free orchid talks scheduled for 11am, 12noon and 2pm. Listen in and learn about this very diverse family of plants, how they grow in nature and why orchids have become such popular (and addictive) plants worldwide!

Dancing Lady Orchids (Oncidium)

Bloedel Conservatory Hours:

September 18th – April 30th: 10am – 5pm

Regular admission applies

See you there!

Plant of the Month

Tea Tree (Leptospermum scoparium)

The Tea Tree, or Manuka Tree (Leptospermum scoparium), is now in blossom at the Bloedel Conservatory! These tiny unassuming flowers are quite extraordinary. Not only are they beautiful, they also have tremendous healing properties!

The Tea Tree is a shrub or small tree in the Myrtle (Myrtaceae family). It is native to New Zealand, but can also be found in Tasmania and southeast Australia. The Māori people discovered long ago that this plant is beneficial for a number of digestive and respiratory ailments. The word manuka is derived from the Māori language ‘mānuka’. The Manuka flower nectar contains a particular chemical that, when mixed with an enzyme from pollinating bees, produces Manuka Honey back at the beehive.

Honey (in general) was originally used for medical purposes due to its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, but was replaced by antibiotics and other forms of traditional medicine in the 1940s and 1950s. Recent studies have shown that wounds heal more rapidly with dressings that contained Manuka honey because of its high level of non-peroxide antibacterial components.

In January 2008 Professor Thomas Henle from the University of Dresden in Germany, identified methylglyoxal methylglyoxal (or MGO) as the active compound.1,2  This is now shown on products as MGO Manuka honey. What is unique about Manuka is that unlike prescription antibiotics, it is effective on a very wide range of bacterial and fungal infections. Research shows that Manuka does not damage cells, but actually stimulates the growth of cells to repair wounds!3

Manuka honey is also edible. It is darker and richer than clover honey and has a distinctive sweet taste. Manuka can be used for sore throats, indigestion, heartburn, peptic ulcers and other stomach/intestinal problems as well as to boost the immune system. Similar properties led the Māori of New Zealand to use parts of this plant as natural medicine. The Tohunga, or Maori medicine man, used the parts of the Manuka bush for treating fevers, colds, flu, stomach aches and as a sedative.4

Leptospermum scoparium flowers, photo Creative Commons

An interesting story was found in the journals of Captain Cook.5,6 Apparently, he used the leaves of these trees to make tea (and beer), and so named this tree: ‘Tea Tree’.  The name stuck! It was later found that it was effective against scurvy due to its high vitamin C content. There is another tree called a Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), from which the leaves are used to make Tea Tree oil. This is gaining popularity for its antiseptic, antibacterial, anti fungal and antiviral properties. It is believed Cook also used the leaves from this tree when he journeyed to Australia, and also dubbed the Melaleuca as the “Tea Tree”.

Wood from the Manuka tree is very strong and is often used to make handles for tools, while the sawdust delivers a delicious flavour when used to smoke meats and fish.6 One last interesting fact about this incredible tree is that New Zealand parakeets or Kakariki (Cyanoramphus) have been known to use the leaves and bark of Manuka tree to rid themselves of parasites. Apart from ingesting the material, they also chew it, mix it with preen gland oil and apply it to their feather.4,6

Be sure to stop by the Conservatory and see this amazing little tree in blossom for yourself!



1. Mavric, E., Wittmann, S., Barth, G., Henle, T., (2008). Identification and quantification of methylglyoxal as the dominant antibacterial constituent of Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) honeys from New Zealand. University Dresden, Germany 2008-01-21.

2. The University of Waikato, Department of Biological Sciences, (2006). Waikato Honey Research Unit.

3. Biotechnology Learning Lab, (2007). Mānuka honey for wounds.

4. Grace, T. (2011). Healing Manuka Honey.

5. (2011). Leptospermum scoparium. – cite_note-0

6. Shop New Zealand, (2010). Active Manuka Honey.

Beautiful Bananas!

Did you know that there are over 1,000 varieties of bananas in the world? Banana plants are not actually trees, but are the world’s largest herb! They are native to Indo-Malaysia and southeast Asia, but today can be found growing throughout tropical and sub-tropical climates around the world. There are 2 categories of bananas, those that you can eat immediately, often called “dessert bananas”, and those that need to be cooked called ‘plantains’.

“If sweet bananas are the dessert, then plantain bananas are the mashed potatoes”.1

Plantains are more starchy and lower in sugar than dessert bananas. They are used like a vegetable and in some countries are even preferred over potatoes or pasta. All bananas, regardless of type are in the genus Musa.

Bananas are fast growing plants. The plantains at the Bloedel Conservatory are approximately 18 months old. Once they flower and fruit, the plant dies, however new bananas sprout from underground rhizomes off the parent plant. Bananas shoot up leaves in a spiral arrangement reaching up to 30 feet in height. Leaves range in number from 6 to 20 or more and are fused at their bases to form a pseudostem or false trunk. The flower, sometimes referred to as a ‘bell’ or ‘heart’, grows from the end of the true stem. As the bud opens, each petal or bract lifts to reveal rows of yellow or cream coloured flowers. There are usually between 12-20 flowers per cluster. These are the flowers that develop into the edible fruits!

Plantains cannot be eaten raw, but can be eaten when they are green. They are usually boiled at this stage and then mashed like potatoes. Plantains are actually ripe when the skin becomes nearly black. They are delicious baked, grilled, sautéed, pan-fried or deep-fried. Check out these amazing recipes  including Caribbean Black Bean Salad with Sauteed Plantains, Sea Bass with Plantain Crust, and Cinnamon Raisin Ice Cream with Fried Plantains. Some grocery stores in Vancouver sell plantains, why not give them a try?

Birds like tanagers and touracos love to eat bananas too! In fact, bananas are the mainstay of their diets. Maybe you can spot the resident touraco at Bloedel! He loves to run along the high branches of the tall trees at the Conservatory. Touracos range in size from 15 to 25 inches in length (38 to 63.5 cm) and are spectacular in flight.

The Green-crested Touraco has vibrant red on the underside of his wings and tail, a prominent green crest on its head and a red wattle around each eye. Some species of Touracos are also called “Go-away” birds because their loud calls alert other game to run away when hunters are in the area. There are 19 different species of Touracos in the wild. They are part of a larger family that includes cuckoos and roadrunners. Touracos are native to Africa where they live in densely forested areas.

Bananas are very important economic plants for many cultures and are the fourth most important food in the world today2. They are used for food, beverages, medicines, flavorings, and fragrances. The leaves are used for shelter and cooking, while the fibre is used for paper, rope, cordage, fishing line and clothing.

Come for a visit at the Conservatory to check out the beautiful banana blossoms and see if you can spot the elusive touraco! Now that the rains have come and the temperature has dropped, it’s our tropical warm ‘get away’ at the top of Vancouver.


1. Conjecture Corporation (2003 – 2011). What are Plantains? WiseGeek

2. Nelson, S., Ploetz, R., Kepler, A., (2006). Musa Species (banana and plantain), Musaceae (banana family). Species Profiles for Pacific Iland Agroforestry, ver. 2.2

3. Morton, J., (1987). Banana Musa x paridasiaca Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University – Description


October Orchid Show at Bloedel!

White miltonia (pansy) orchid. Photo Radina Jevdevic

Come one, Come all! 

The New Orchid Show is Here!

Come be dazzled by the beauty of these extraordinary blossoms! The Vancouver Orchid Society has put together an extraordinary display of orchids to share with you – a variety of lady slippers (paphiopedilum and phragmipedium),  dancing ladies (oncidium), vandas, odontoglossums and a stunning butterfly orchid (psychopsis).  The show runs from September 30th until October 10th, 2011.

Members of the VOS will be on hand everyday from 11am to 3pm to answer questions you may have about orchid identification, repotting and maintenance.  They will also be conducting free orchid tours scheduled for 11am, 12noon and 2pm every day. Listen in and learn about this very diverse family of plants, how they grow in nature and why orchids have become such popular (and addictive) plants worldwide. Members also promise to dispel any myths that these exotic plants are hard to grow!

And don’t forget to look for the tiny orchids. They are some of the most delicate and spectacular specimens nature has created! Some even smell like chocolate mint. Be sure to bring your camera and your curiosity! You are in for a treat!

Bloedel Conservatory Hours:

September 18th – April 30th: 10am – 5pm

Photo Radina Jevdevic

Royal Robe orchid. Photo by Radina Jevdevic

Laelia spectabilis praectans. Photo Radina Jevdevic

Dendrobium obtussisepalum. Photo by Radina Jevdevic

See You There!

A Carnivorous Garden?

What’s new at the dome? Wait until you see the new Carnivorous Garden, found on either end of the swinging bridge. These plants will intrigue you! New exotic Sundews: the Giant Elkhorn and the Cape Sundew from Africa, have their own techniques for feeding time!

The Sundew’s leaves are covered with red tentacles that exude sticky drops of mucilage. Sundews got their name because these drops glisten in the sun like dew! The sticky adhesive acts like flypaper that binds unsuspecting insects if they make the mistake of landing. This mucilage is also a digestive enzyme. When an inattentive insect lands, the leaf will slowly curl around the bug and digest it for dinner!

There are also different types of unusual Pitcher Plants. These pitfall traps lure insects with the sweet smell of nectar. Little do the bugs know, there are folded leaves deep inside the pitcher, which is filled with a pool of digestive enzymes. The top of the trap has a “lid”. This remains closed while the pitcher is maturing. As soon as the lid opens, the trap is ready! The smooth lip around the opening and the interior of the cup is waxy, so when an insect falls in, the wax flakes off and it can’t get back out!

While you’re on the bridge, be sure to gaze into the koi pond and find the new butterfly, kinginrin and ogon koi. “Angel”, the all white butterfly koi has long flowing fins and tail while the kinginrin is pearly lemon gold. The new ogon variety is fairly easy to spot with it’s silver metallic scales.

If you still haven’t seen the rare and beautiful orchids, fear not! There’s still time! The Vancouver Orchid Society Show is on through Mother’s Day, May 8. What a perfect place for the family to take Mom! Plus, the Conservatory is now open Summer Hours to give everyone more time to enjoy the show.

And before you go, take some time at the small bird feeding station. You might be lucky and spot the 2 new Cordon Bleu finches. These little fellows, native to Africa, are the newest addition to the Conservatory. Their sky blue colouring and red beaks give them unique look and their songs are sure to make Mom’s day!

Orchids, Orchids Everywhere!

Peach odontoglossum. Photo by Vicky Earle

What better way to kick off Spring? The Vancouver Orchid Society has been working hard to organize 3 orchid shows at the Bloedel Conservatory for 2011! There will soon be orchids everywhere under the dome.

On any given day at the Conservatory, you will see many graceful Moth Orchids (Phalaenopsis) as well as a number of Boat Orchids (or Cymbidiums). During the upcoming orchid shows however, be ready to see a multitude of rare and unusual beauties – all courtesy of members of the Vancouver Orchid Society.

Miltonia orchid. Photo by Radina Jevdevic

And that’s not all! There will be free tours every day of the show led by knowledgeable members of the VOS. Learn about this very diverse family of plants, how they grow in nature and why they have become such a popular plant worldwide. Did you know there are native orchids in British Columbia like the Rattlesnake, Fairy Slipper and Calypso orchids?  Members of the society will be on hand to share many interesting facts about these fascinating plants and to answer any questions you may have about repotting, purchasing or identifying your own orchids. They will also dispell myths you may have heard that orchids are difficult to grow!

White cattleya orchid. Photo by Vicky Earle

Show dates are:

April 29 – May 8

June 24 – July 4

September 30 – October 10

The Conservatory is open from 10am to 5pm every day, but will be changing to extended summer hours on May 1st to give you even more time to enjoy these incredible blossoms! Orchid tours will run at 11am, 12noon and 2pm.

Lycaste orchid. Photo by Radina Jevdevic

Due to ongoing construction, the best way to enter Queen Elizabeth Park is from the 33rd Avenue entrance just west of Ontario Street. Click here for more information regarding the detour.

Be sure to bring your camera!

See you there!

Cattleya maxima. Photo by Radina Jevdevic

6 Features of a Healing Garden

Dealing with Stress

Many of us consider daily stress just a typical part of life. But did you know that 75% of all doctor visits are stress related? Stress weakens the immune system and lowers its ability function properly. Medical research is seeing a direct link between stress and serious issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, peptic ulcers, chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety attacks, and chronic pain to name a few.

According to Smith, Jaffe–Gill, and Segal (2009), in Understanding StressThe body doesn’t distinguish between physical and psychological threats. When you’re stressed over a busy schedule, an argument with a friend, a traffic jam, or a mountain of bills, your body reacts just as strongly as if you were facing a life-or-death situation. If you have a lot of responsibilities and worries, your emergency stress response may be “on” most of the time. Long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body.

Nature Nurturing Health

Thankfully, there is good news. A growing body of research is showing the importance and benefits of nature and green spaces on health – specifically in this very important area of stress reduction. Being active in a garden promotes both physical and mental well-being, but you don’t need to get your hands dirty to reap the benefits of time spent in a garden! “Passive recreation” is just as beneficial. Roger Ulrich, a professor and director of the Center for Health Systems and Design at Texas A & M University, has stated, the term “healing garden” refers to actual features that consistently help us recover from stress and have other positive influences on the body.

Immediate benefits associated with shifting to a calm state are decreases in blood pressure and the lowering of stress hormone levels in the body. These are things that impact our moods and foster a sense of tranquility, serenity and peacefulness. Ulrich found that viewing natural scenes or elements fosters stress recovery by evoking positive feelings, reducing negative emotions, effectively holding attention / interest, and blocking or reducing stressful thoughts. They have a regenerative and energizing effect on the body. According to Eckerling (1996), a healing garden makes people feel safe, less stressed, more comfortable and even invigorated.

Engaging the Senses

A healing garden will engage the senses and the Bloedel Conservatory does just that. The most obvious of these is using our sense of sight, but smell, touch, taste and auditory input can all be present. When you first walk into any garden, stop for a moment, shut your eyes and just listen. What do you hear? Wind rustling the leaves, birds singing, or perhaps running water? Take a deep breath. This in itself will help tension fade away and is why practices like yoga, tai chi and meditation focus on breath awareness. As you start to walk through the Conservatory, don’t be afraid to touch the leaves and bark on trees. What does it feel like? Smooth, rough, textured? Maybe there is a flower nearby to smell? Be present in the moment and let any tension start to unwind.

When we asked Dr. Aimée Taylor, Vancouver Horticultural Therapist, if the Bloedel Conservatory qualified as a healing garden, she responded that evidence based research has shown that we gain positive effects on our emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, and social well being from being exposed to nature or horticultural activities. “A healing garden should be accessible to all, have beneficial effects on people using the garden, and provide a place of retreat and respite from daily life. Yes, Bloedel can be considered a healing garden!”

So, What are 6 Features of a Healing Garden?

1. Flowers

In a study at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Dr. Haviland-Jones has found that nature provides us with a simple way to improve emotional health – this would be flowers of course! “The presence of flowers triggers happy emotions, heightens feelings of life satisfaction and affects social behaviour in a positive manner far beyond what is normally believed.” They found that flowers have an immediate impact on happiness and a long-term positive effect on moods.

2. Lush vegetation

Ulrich has found that viewing vegetation as opposed to urban scenes, changes our brain waves from beta waves (13 to 60 pulses/sec.) to a slower alpha wave (7 to 13 pulses/sec) that are associated with being “wakefully relaxed”. Being in “beta” is considered the norm for most people while in their everyday waking state. We emit beta waves when we are consciously alert, or when we feel agitated, tense or afraid. Alpha waves, however, are associated with states of mental and physical relaxation, and our brains drop into “alpha” during the first levels of meditation. Creativity, inspiration and intuition are often heightened by being in an “alpha state”.

3. Spatial openness

One of the first things you notice when you enter the Conservatory is the feeling of space. This in itself is relaxing. Its domed design is based on the geodesic principle that utilizes a structural space-frame to support the roof. This enables the large interior volume to be free of internal supporting columns. The added benefit of Bloedel is that it is an Indoor Nature Facility that can be enjoyed all year, rain or shine!

4. Calm or slowing moving water

The sound of gently moving water has an inherent calming effect on our systems and we feel a natural affinity to it. It adds dimension and harmony to our surroundings. “The sound of running water, apparently, is a genetic memory that sends off resonances deep within our limbic brain stem which also controls such basic actions as our breathing and hunger” (James Kilkelly).  The sound of moving water is very relaxing and it has been found to enhance concentration. Interestingly, running water in Feng Shui is felt to strengthen good fortune.

5. Large trees

Have you ever felt refreshed after walking through a forest? This is called ‘forest bathing’ and physiological tests in Japan confirm positive therapeutic effects of this activity on stress hormones, brain wave activity, pulse and blood pressure. Studies in Tokyo have shown increased immune function after 2 hour walks in the forest. There is no shortage of large trees at Bloedel. In fact, a number of these were the first to be planted in the dome in 1969 and now reach over 60 feet in height. The Benjamin and India Figs, the Dragon trees, and Brazilian Jelly Palm are just a few of the stunning trees you will see and walk among.

6. Unthreatening wildlife

With over 100 free-flying birds and the antics of exotic parrots and macaws (not to mention the colourful Japanese Koi lazily swimming in the pond), one of them will surely bring a smile to your face! Wildlife distracts us from stress and negative thoughts about issues in our lives, even if only temporarily. It is impossible to think of two things simultaneously! Find a quiet spot at the conservatory and sit for a few minutes. Notice what’s around you. Take a deep breath. You won’t wait long before you start to notice the free flying birds busy with their day: building a nest, looking for food, chasing each other around the vast space. The secretive and exotic Touraco may even make an appearance and capture your interest!

Visiting the Bloedel Conservatory will give you a boost regardless of the weather outside. Bring a book, a sketchpad, your camera, or simply come and sit on a bench. It will soothe your senses and re-energize your day!



Smith, Jaffe–Gill, and Segal (2009), Understanding Stress: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Effects.

Haviland-Jones, Jeanette (2005). Emotional Impact of Flowers Study. Rutgers: Flowers Improve Emotional Health

University of Minnesota, Sustainable Urban Land Information Series (2006). Healing Gardens.

Brain Waves

Kilkelly, James (2006), Water Works … the Benefits of Water Features.

Japan for Sustainability. (2010) Physiological Tests Confirm Therapeutic Effects of ‘Forest Bathing’.

Q and Morimoto, et al. (2007). Forest bathing enhances human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. Apr-Jun;20(2 Suppl 2):3-8. Department of Hygiene and Public Health, Nippon Medical School, Tokyo.

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