Credit: Christina Symons

There’s more here than surf and sea – there’s botany! Nestled between rainforest and the open ocean, Tofino’s vantage at the edge of the Pacific Ocean on Vancouver Island is wild, wet and green.

While many of us eagerly navigate the winding highway to reach the sandy shores of Pacific Rim National Park and surfing hot spots, gardeners will also have a field day discovering Tofino’s unique botanical allure.

Established in 1997 by George Patterson, the 12-acre Tofino Botanical Gardens offers an eclectic set of established and native gardens open to the public.

With an innovative mandate to provide an introduction to local botanical, natural and cultural histories, the gardens’ boardwalk, forest and shoreline tours and educational cultivated gardens offer hours of study. Highlights include the kitchen garden, frog pond and children’s garden, tropical garden and comparative Chilean temperate rainforest garden.

A collection of large-scale garden art lends a playful component to the landscape. At the heart of the garden, an onsite cafe serves delicious organic and locally sourced meals while the adjacent Clayoquot Field Station provides comfortable and affordable accommodation for students, researchers and visitors.

There is also a fully equipped vacation rental home right in the Gardens, aptly called The Botanical House. Across the street from the botanical garden, Casa Vedova offers quaint private accommodation in a garden cottage and there are scores of delightful cottages, resorts and camping opportunities nearby.

While in Tofino, be sure to amble the many kilometres of trails throughout Pacific Rim National Park. Interpretive signage highlights native plants and explains the sensitive ecosystems of the rainforest.

Off the highway, stop by the Ordinary Corner Nursery (619 Tibbs Place Road) for locally made driftwood garden furniture, drought-tolerant plants and water-wise advice. Back in the village, don’t miss Gibson Gardens (200 Fourth Street), famous for its stunning collection of rhododendrons.

For those looking for even more adventure, book a guided tour to Cougar Annie’s Garden, a wild heritage site and home of the Boat Basin Foundation’s Temperate Rainforest Field Study Centre.

Botany 101

Why study botanical gardening within this natural environment? Tofino is the gateway to Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which adopts the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations philosophy “Hishuk ish ts’awalk,” or “everything is one” as a guiding principle.

Learning about natural and cultivated environments and how they connect is vital to promoting more sustainable community building and protection of the environment. Organizations such as the Tofino Botanical Gardens use education, special events and exhibits to enhance the relationship between humans, culture and nature.

In addition to the First Nations, early homesteaders, Japanese fishing families and hippy culture are also celebrated throughout Tofino and the gardens. Getting there: For BC ferry information or call 1-888-BC FERRY (1-888-223-3779) For Tofino info and accommodations 

BC writer and photographer Christina Symons, along with landscape designer John Gillespie, is the author of the gorgeous new book Everyday Eden: 100+ Fun, Green Projects for the Whole Family to Enjoy.