Botanic garden: a missed economic opportunity
As the Cowichan Valley searches for development opportunities that will bring income and employment there has been no discussion of establishing a botanic garden.
The year-round mild climate and the rural nature of our community attracts many visitors. There are about two million garden visitors a year and about 75 per cent go to the internationally famous Butchart Gardens. This still leaves a large number of visitors and Island residents who are visiting other gardens.
There are more than 25 gardens on the Island that welcome visitors and almost all bypass the Cowichan Valley in their tours. Every populated district on our Island has at least one botanic garden and the Victoria region has 10. If we had a botanic garden here we would benefit from tourism and additional economic benefits that would accrue to the valley. These include the employment in the garden itself and the business of supplying the garden with products and services. Most gardens become an attractive site for weddings, art shows and a café or restaurant. Depending on the space available, they can also be a site of horticultural conferences and meetings. The Island already attracts international meetings on topics such as rhododendrons and irises which bring considerable economic benefits. Recently, I have attended such meetings in Nanaimo, Victoria and Sidney, but not here in the Cowichan Valley as we do not have a location around which such meetings can be held.
Botanic gardens also have considerable social and educational benefits. Anyone who spends time in nature or a garden can attest to the role the experience plays in stress reduction. This is particularly a benefit for seniors who are confined to retirement homes or nursing homes. An outing to such a garden for tea and socializing can be a wonderful tonic in a mundane life.
All botanic gardens around the world are different because of their physical and environment situation and the management’s perspective on their role. They might be display gardens like Butchart Gardens, scientific, or educational. I think that the theme of a new botanic garden in the Valley should be the education of our children and interested adults, the training of future horticulturalists and helping the local gardeners. This latter group can be helped with advice, display beds and short workshops on specific topics. At the moment, one must travel to Qualicum Beach or Victoria to take such courses and workshops.
To begin with, one needs to find a suitable piece of land with reasonably easy public access and a potential source of water. The area can be anywhere from seven or eight up to 30 acres. The large acreage would allow for an arboretum to display native and introduced trees, fruit trees and the various ornamental trees and bushes that can adorn our gardens. Once the land has been obtained, the development would be gradual and expand year after year. It is not realized that most botanic gardens have few professional employees and a very large number of dedicated volunteers. Some gardens provide considerable training to volunteers on specific groups of plants which they look after throughout the garden under the guidance of the professional staff.
We have the expertise in the Cowichan Valley, the plants are readily available but we can only succeed if a suitable plot of land was available.
A botanic garden in the Cowichan Valley would be of considerable benefit to a wide segment of our population. What are we waiting for?
Ian E. Efford