Garden Philosophy at the Tofino Botanical Gardens

This 12-acre "living classroom" features sculptures, duck and frog ponds, old-growth forest and more

Credit: Carol Pope

The Tofino Botanical Gardens sprawls across 12 acres

Growing Food and Honouring the Earth at the Tofino Botanical Gardens

Run by a non-profit organization dedicated to “inspire conservations of the world’s temperate, coastal rainforests,” the Tofino Botanical Gardens are also a lot of good fun.

A 12-acre “living classroom,” on the waterfront in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the gardens move from forest to shoreline to mudflats, using a network of paths and boardwalks that lead past West Coast sculptures, duck and frog ponds, a children’s garden, pocket gardens embracing unique local plants, tropic zones, old-growth forest, bird blinds overlooking mud flats, a pioneer hut and more!

I was also delighted to see that the kitchen garden is even more extensive than it was during my previous visit a couple years ago. Edible gardens are my passion, and here’s what George Patterson of the Tofino Botanical Gardens tells us about growing food using experience learned over thousands of years.

George Patterson of Tofino Botanical Gardens Talks Gardening

“The Kitchen Garden is where it all starts. The very first ‘gardens’ were scratches in the ground wherever the agrarian impulse was first expressing itself. These gardens were practical, life-sustaining and created much of the basis of what we recognize as culture. To cultivate is to care for, to nurture, it is to stay in one place for a while. It is also to enter into a partnership with nature.

Kitchen gardens are usually placed on the south side of things (buildings, walls, windbreaks, rocks) in an effort to create a slightly warmer microclimate. Our decision to place our kitchen garden on the south side of the café is based on about 10-thousand years of experience. This part of the garden is protected from much of the wind by a deep buffer of forest.

On days when it is breezy and chilly in ‘downtown’ Tofino, this garden can be pleasantly warm.

Tofino Botanical Gardens

Salad greens thrive in Tofino’s cool, overcast climate (Image: Carol Pope)

Having positioned the garden to capture as much sunlight and warmth as possible, we looked at the ground and said ‘yuck.’ The native soils on the Esowista Peninsula are made up of dense clays overlaid with highly acidic organic materials made up from decomposing plant life. The thin layer of black peat between the root mat and the clay looks very rich but is not. The intense rainfall leaches most of the nutrition out of the soil.

We have had to use ‘made’ soils in most of our cultivated areas, especially the kitchen garden. We mix sharp sand with decomposed shrimp shells (from the processing plant in Ucluelet), with composted fish parts, and with compost from our own operations here at TBG. We also harvest eel grass that blows up onto the garden shore in storms and add it to the mix. I would love to have a donkey to help with this task. Being on the coast these marine based sources of nutrition are an important ingredient. We are still experimenting and learning.

Artichokes have been a pleasant surprise. Leeks, so far, have disappointed. Tofino’s cool, often overcast weather seems to be perfect for all types of salad greens. Culinary herbs, sage, thyme, tarragon, oregano, borage, lovage and more are all producing well. Rosemary and lavender, two plants that I associate with drier, warmer places, are doing very well.

Without a gardener, the forces of nature, the rain and the incredibly vigorous growth of the native plants would soon overwhelm this small field. By planting and tending it each year we are not so much defying nature as we are asking it a small indulgence.”