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David Douglas Botanical Garden plan unveiled

The sign along University Way announcing the future expansion of the David Douglas Botanical Garden has been up since last summer. As far as Linda Naess is concerned, that future is now. All she needs is $2.
06 Botanical garden maze
A maze is included in the Phase 2 plan for the David Douglas Botanical Garden, to be located at UNBC.

The sign along University Way announcing the future expansion of the David Douglas Botanical Garden has been up since last summer.

As far as Linda Naess is concerned, that future is now. All she needs is $2.7 million to realize that dream and construction could begin tomorrow.

Plans for the next three phases of the garden project were unveiled Monday night at the city council meeting, but for now the  president of David Douglas Botanical Society is focused on raising the money needed to complete Phase 2 of the botanical garden.

 “It’s a huge undertaking and our gardeners are ready to plant this spring, unfortunately the land isn’t ready, but they’re ready to go, that’s how excited we are,” said Naess. “The sign created a lot of awareness. It’s going to take money, so we’re looking for donors and we’re going for grants and we’ll fund-raise among our members.

“It’s good for us because we love gardening and it’s good for the university and they’re very keen about it - and we’ve talked to President (Daniel) Weeks about it - because it will bring the community to the university. It also supplies a place of well-being for people.”

Some of the features of the Phase 2 expansion include theme gardens which would include a wide walkway with arches, a lookout station, tree house, a green wall made of living plants, sculptures, gazebos, and a maze constructed of hedge shrubs. During the spring runoff, Shane Creek runs through the site and large trees provide an indigenous forest feature on the south side of the property. A First Nations Garden which would include water and fire features, a medicinal garden, smudging pavilion and indigenous art  is also included in the plan, as is a 3,000 square-foot visitor information centre.

A research garden to test fruits and vegetables suited to northern climates is also in the Phase 2 plan as well as community garden for UNBC students, with potential for a solar-heated greenhouse. Ornamental and seasonal lighting will bring people to the garden at night and to celebrate special events like Halloween and Christmas, similar to the decorative holiday displays at Connaught Hill Park and the Central B.C. Railway and Forestry Museum.

Phases 3 and 4 would develop ornamental theme gardens, a marsh wetlands and pond, fed by Shane Creek; selective clearing of the forest to allow planting of shade-tolerant plants; and expansion of the research gardens. The visitor centre would be expanded to include banquet facilities, a solarium and a café.

Jay Lazzarin, a retired landscape architect and David Douglas Society member, in his presentation to council offered a glimpse of what the completed four-phase $5.9 million botanical garden will look like, illustrated by a conceptual drone video flyover of the 23-acre site, on land UNBC donated the society, just west of the Charles Jago Northern Sport Centre. The society will consult stakeholders such as the city and UNBC and will survey user groups for their input on what they would like to see in the garden. For tourists and residents there’s huge potential to make the botanical garden and attractive draw.

 “We believe that David Douglas Botanical Garden will inspire visitors and enhance the quality of life in our community and the garden will become a treasured source of pride,” Lazzarin said. “We’d like to incorporate features that will make the garden as interactive as possible, to get repeat use. As the garden matures and grows we hope it’s going to be one feature on the list that all visitors will have to see. ”

Coun. Susan Scott said one of the healthiest aspects of being a student at UNBC is the location, which offers extensive access to recreational trails in the area, and she said the garden will only enhance that experience.

“The creativity that’s coming through this and the inclusion of First Nations and the ornamental garden, that could be so fascinating to explore,” said Scott. “It’s organic to the life of the university and to the health of our community. I  think it will really help tourism. That could be a year-round attraction.”

Construction of Phase 1 of the garden project, between the two east parking lots of the university , started in 2002 and was completed in 2018. The society raised $1.1 million for the 2.6-acre project, a series of display gardens with a bridge and waterfall  feature linked by a walkway which leads to the Rotary pavilion. The garden is a warm-weather-months gathering place, used to attract the lunchtime crowd at UNBC, for wedding/graduation backdrops, and to host the society’s annual plant sale, which has helped inspire gardening enthusiasts.

Coun. Brian Skakun said the city will do what it can to steer the society the right way to access grant money and influence those who have that authority.

Unlike the initial garden which was built and is maintained by volunteers, Lazzarin said Phase 2 will require full-time paid employees to operate the visitor centre, maintain the grounds  and care for the scientific research plots.

Among the possible revenue sources discussed Monday were  benches, commemorative plaques and paving stones engraved with sponsor names along pathways which lead to ornamental display gardens, rental of conference rooms, wedding receptions and the potential revenue from operating of a zipline through the surrounding forest, which could complement an aerial cable walkway set high in the trees.

“We’ve talked about a zipline, it’s a possibility because there’s old growth trees through there,” said Naess. “You want it interactive and you want it to be a place where people will come and do things and can bring their kids. Not everybody wants to look at the beautiful flowers.”

The society is targeting Phase 2 as a two-year project to be completed in 2022. Construction of Phase 3, projected to cost $1.74 million, is slated for completion between 2024-2026. Phase 4, at $1.29 million, will require another two years, to be finished in 2028.

“I think it can be part of the parcel that we deliver to try to attract events to the city and the botanical garden is part of that,” said Mayor Lyn Hall. “It puts Prince George on a different level when we’re promoting the city. It’s an element of the city we need to have.”

The society, which formed in 1991, plans to step up its campaign to sell annual memberships to the public through its website, Membership dues are $35 (family), $25 (seniors) and $20 (students).