Delphiniums are gorgeous plants with beautiful flowers. One of my favourite places to see them is in the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver. The garden contains lovely plants and landscaping and some interesting public art. Exploring the area is always enjoyable. One of its attractions is the Departure sculpture by George Lundeen. The sculpture shows a closely-knit couple sitting on a bench before an event that involves a separation of some kind.
The VanDusen Botanical Garden is a major attraction in Vancouver, with good reason. It’s a fascinating place for a plant lover. Its fifty-five acres contain multiple specialist gardens, plants from different countries, a large lawn, small lakes, ponds, and a maze. The garden also contains a visitor centre with a cafe, a horticultural library, and a garden centre. The photo above shows one of the ponds with the visitor centre in the background.
There’s really no such thing as a typical scene at the garden because it contains so much variety. It’s named after Whitford Julian VanDusen (1889–1978), a local businessman and philanthropist. Plants and art are not the only attractions in the area. Birds, fish, turtles, insects, and other wildlife can be seen while exploring the garden. Themed events are held during the year, such as the Festival of Lights at Christmas time and the Sakura Days Japan Fair in the spring.
Much of the garden is wheelchair accessible. The garden’s website contains a downloadable map and has information about admission costs. It also has a handy bloom calendar that describes some highlights of a visit in different seasons. The VanDusen garden is open every day of the year except for Christmas Day.
Delphiniums belong to the buttercup family, or the Ranunculaceae. Like delphiniums, buttercups are poisonous. Delphinium flowers open in late spring or early summer where I live. I took the photos in this article (except for the close-up view of a flower spur) in June.
Multiple species of delphiniums exist. Many of them are perennials. They have beautiful blue, purple, or pink flowers borne in tall spikes that are technically known as racemes. In a raceme, the flowers are attached to a stem in a vertical row. The flowers appear at equal distances along the stem and are attached by stalks of an equal length. The flowers at the bottom open first and the ones at the top open last.
Delphiniums are a lovely sight when they’re in bloom. They are toxic for humans and animals, however, so care is needed when dealing with them. Each flower contains five coloured sepals and has a long, thin, and often curved spur at the back. The spur extends from the base of the top sepal.
The small flowers with their petals and reproductive organs are located inside the cups formed by the sepals. Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds visit the flowers and pollinate them. The leaves of the plant are palm-shaped and highly divided, as can be seen in the photo above.
The plant’s common name comes from the Ancient Greek word delphinion, which means dolphin. The shape of the flower with its curved spur may have reminded earlier people of a dolphin leaping out of the water. Some species in the genus Delphinium are known as larkspurs. This name is also used for Consolida ajacis and some other members of its genus. Like delphiniums, they belong to the Ranunculaceae family and bear flowers in tall spikes.
Delphiniums contain a poisonous substance known as delphinine, which is an alkaloid chemical. Symptoms of poisoning may include nausea, abdominal pain, low blood pressure, and a decreased heart rate. Cases of poisoning are more often reported for animals such as cows than humans. I think that the possible dangers of the plants should be kept in mind, however. Families with children or pets should be especially aware of the situation.
Though I visit the VanDusen garden mainly to look at the plants, I always stop to look at the art as I walk by it. I find the Departure sculpture quite moving, though I’m not happy about every part of it. The man’s fingers look too long to me, for example.
The man has a large bag that looks like a suitcase, which implies that he’s about to go on a journey. The woman is curled into his body as though she loves him deeply. Her arms are crossed over her chest and one hand is grabbing the man’s jacket. His head is leaning towards her and one of his arms is wrapped around her back.
George Lundeen (the sculptor) lives in Colorado, He says that the sculpture was based on a 1973 sketch that he made when he saw a couple at an Italian train station. The sketch is shown on his website. In the drawing, one person is leaning into another one as they sleep while sitting on a bench, but both people have their feet on the ground and they aren’t wrapped around each other.
As the idea for the sculpture progressed, Lundeen posed human models with the woman’s legs folded into her body on the seat and the posture of the pair modified. A clay model was created of the couple. The final rendition was in bronze.
The earliest version of the sculpture that I’ve seen dates from 1978. I don’t know when the VanDusen garden version was created. Interestingly, at least one of the other versions of the sculpture isn’t completely identical to the Vancouver one.
I don’t know whether the word “departure” means that the couple in the sculpture are about to go on a trip together or are about to separate. I suspect that the latter idea is true because only the man has a suitcase and the woman is grabbing him with a clenched fist as though she doesn’t want to lose him. I enjoy thinking about possible background stories when I look at statues. They often provide great scope for the imagination.
There are many other interesting plants besides delphiniums in the VanDusen garden and other interesting works of art to see besides Departure. I always enjoy my walks there. The visits shows me plants from different countries and ones that I could grow in my own garden but don’t. I always discover some species that I’ve never seen or heard of before. I enjoy looking at the sculptures as well as the rest of the landscaping. The VanDusen Botanical Garden is a treat for residents and visitors alike.