With the best Vancouver weather yet, we returned to North Vancouver and took the aerial tram to the top of Grouse Mountain. Grouse Mountain is one of the View from the tram major selling points for young and new Vancouverians, because it is fifteen minutes from downtown, allowing a person to work all day, then ski in the evening. In fact, the advertising says "Ski in the morning, golf in the afternoon."
We arrived in late morning, along with skiers and snowboarders, young and old, and lots of tourists. The Swiss-made aerial tram is rated for 100 people plus driver; it runs every fifteen minutes. The ascent seems almost vertical. Going up we faced the mountainside, forested with snow visible between the evergreens; going down we observed the city and many bodies of fresh and salt water. At the chalet, chair lifts take skiers and snowboarders to the short but serviceable slopes, 1100 meters above sea level.
The snow level was still almost ten feet deep, meaning that all that rain and hail that has fallen in the lowlands is coming down as snow on the mountain tops. The air was well above freezing, though, and the bright sun was surely Sleigh ride starting melting it away. A group started off on a tractor-drawn sleigh ride (they used to have horses).
After watching a five-minute video with the history of Grouse Mountain, we trooped into a small theater for a fifteen-minute movie, Born to Fly, which provides an eagle's eye view of greater Vancouver's attractions. We enjoyed them both, and came away feeling that we've done a thorough job of sightseeing, because we recognized so many of the scenes. After the film we spent a few minutes looking out over the city, and a few more watching the skiers and snowboarders, old and young, then boarded the tramway for the trip down.
The next day was a good day for a drive, so we went all the way to Chilliwack to see the Minter Gardens. These are display gardens, as opposed to botanical gardens. They are carefully manicured, with lots of trimmed hedges and topiary, and plenty of flowers. This time of year was for daffodils everywhere, magnolias and lots of early spring bedding flowers. Although a few tulips were up, the big display of tulips will be in about a week from now. Then the bulbs will be dug up for another year and summer flowers planted in the Topiary spirals same beds.
Minter Gardens was only built in 1977, and makes the most of a fairly small piece of land near the freeway. The snow-topped coast mountains make a dramatic backdrop for the gardens. The freeway traffic was visible from some points along our walk -- it tended to break the magical spell of the gardens.
We walked high on the hill overlooking the central bowl, then past the "English Cottage," one of several follies built on the property. A huge blue ceramic peacock has a floral tail draped along a hillside. The rose garden was just getting started, but the hedges and topiary around the formal garden were lovely.
We navigated a small but pleasant maze, passed Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (too cute) and came to a lovely man-made brook, cascading down the hill with several nice falls, through a large planting of rhododendron. The whole garden was so well-crafted that each step along the walk provided new and Formal garden pleasing views.
On the hilltop was a basket garden, an aviary, and a Wedding Chapel -- another folly. The grassy knoll was probably used as a setting for some real summer weddings.
The Chinese garden included an art form new to us: Penjing. This is the use of interesting rocks in miniature landscapes. A picture found in a Chinese grave from about 600 A.D. shows a woman holding a penjing display, thus establishing its antiquity. At first glance it seems similar to bonsai except that living plants are not used. Instead, the rocks, carefully selected for their interesting cracks and holes, and sawn flat to rest on the one-by-three-feet display boards, are put in place and very small models of figures or bridges or houses are added to make a kind of narrative.
Warmed by the Humboldt Current, the Vancouver area has mild winters and plenty of rain -- ideal conditions for gardens. We still haven't been to Vancouver Island, where there are more parks and gardens, but we've certainly enjoyed all we've seen so far.