Garden Lover's Tour of Vancouver Island

Physician's Money Digest, February15 2005, Volume 12, Issue 3

From large and small, urban and isolated, towoodland estate and formal show gardens,Vancouver Island is a garden lover's dream. Atour of the landscape showcases the beauty ofthese temperate island gardens, all within close proximityto the ocean and forests.

Walk on the Flowery Side

For those who love to walk, the City of Victoria,known as the "garden city" of Canada, is an ideallocale. Butchart Gardens (250-652-4422; www.butchartgardens.com), open 365 days a year, is the mostfamous of the island gardens. There are rhododendronsin spring, roses in summer, fireworks in July andAugust, colorful autumn maples, and a spectacularannual Christmas light display.

Like Butchart Gardens, Victoria Butterfly Gardens(250-652-3822; www.butterflygardens.com) and theHorticulture Centre of the Pacific (250-479-6162;www.hcp.bc.ca) are located on the Saanich Peninsula. Astroll through the Butterfly Gardens is like being transportedto a tropical fantasy. Members of the 35 importedspecies of butterflies gracefully fly among tropicalplants and orchids in the covered garden.

The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific is an educationaldemonstration center featuring a broad collectionof the plants, shrubs, and trees that grow on VancouverIsland. Open daily for tours, special events and lecturesare often scheduled at the center and the wetlands areideal for bird watching.

Victoria also features a number of public gardensand parks, many of which are located in the heart oftown. Beacon Hill Park (www.beaconhillpark.ca), locatedoff Dallas Road, is a short distance from theProvincial Legislature Buildings. A walk here promisesan excursion through both formal gardens and wild-flower meadows. In addition, the Gary Oak meadowpark links to the gardens at St. Ann's Academy (250-953-8828; www.bcpcc.com/stanns), a former all-girlsschool that is surrounded by a mature, stately gardenwith historic orchard, herb, and perennial beds.

A few miles away is the lovely 1-acre AbkhaziGarden (250-598-8096; www.conservancy.bc.ca/abkhazi), a small heritage garden that features native Garryoaks, Japanese maples, and splendid rhododendrons setin a rocky outcrop. A gift shop and tearoom help financiallysupport the garden.

Located a short walk from Abkhazi Gardens is theGovernment House (250-387-2080; www.ltgov.bc.ca),an estate that is home to the lieutenant governor ofBritish Columbia, who is the queen's representative inthe province. The grounds, open from dawn to dusk, areeasily accessible and feature charming rose, perennial,and herb gardens.

Also worthy of a visit is Hatley Park Castle (250-391-2511; www.royalroads.ca), a national historic sitelocated on the campus of Royal Roads University. Theoceanfront estate was built in the early 1900s as thehome of James Dunsmuir, son of coal baron RobertDunsmuir. The grounds are open year-round andinclude rose and Italian gardens.

Take a Garden Journey

After your visit to Victoria, head north on the Trans-Canada highway to Qualicum Beach (250-752-6921;www.qualicumbeach.com), the junction for Highway 4to the West Coast ocean beaches. On the 2-hour trek,make time to stop along the way at some of the smallergardens, such as Hazelwood Herb Farm (250-245-8007;www.hazelwoodherbfarm.com) near Ladysmith. Pack alunch and enjoy the peaceful and fragrant surroundings.

Qualicum Beach boasts a pedestrian-friendly downtown,with numerous hanging baskets and floral displaysadorning the busy streets. Selected as a winner inthe international Communities in Bloom competition,Qualicum Beach provides an ideal showcase for the creativityof the town's numerous gardening enthusiasts.

The Milner Gardens and Woodland (250-752-6153;www.milnergardens.org), featuring a 70-acre jewel ofDouglas fir forest and heritage garden, is a must-see whileat Qualicum Beach. The oceanside historic estate featuresan old-growth Douglas fir forest as well as a 10-acrewoodland garden with approximately 450 rhododendronsand an undergrowth of native plants. Enjoy a magnificentview of the Strait of Georgia from the drawingroom or veranda while sipping afternoon tea.

After your visit to Qualicum Beach, head west onHighway 4 for the 21/2 hour drive to Tofino. While onthe West Coast, you will want to visit the spectacularocean beaches and Pacific Rim National Park forbeachcombing, fishing, whale watching, or relaxing.While in the area, a visit to Tofino Botanical Gardens(250-725-1220; www.tofinobotanicalgardens.com) isa must. The garden is set in a rainforest site and has aninteresting, quirky, and idiosyncratic side. The owner'ssense of whimsy is reflected in the juxtaposition ofsculpture, while a few surprises await with the inclusionof exotic and native plants.

Return to Qualicum Beach and then head north onHighway 19—or 19 A for the more leisurely oceansideroute. Here you will find the Filberg Heritage Lodge(250-339-2715; www.filbergfestival.com/lodge.html),located in the pretty coastal town of Comox. The parkis open from April until October and admission is free.

Northern Vancouver Island houses its share of viewing for the more adventurous. The mostnortherly garden on Vancouver Island isthe Bernt Ronning Garden (250-288-3724). Set aside half a day for the drivenorth to Port Hardy and then head westfor about 11/2 hours to Cape Scott Park.Located just past the town of Holberg,the final leg of the trip is a 10-minutewalk on a restored section of the pioneerSan Josef Wagon Road.

A sign on the right side of the roadmarks the garden entrance. Bernt Ronningwas a trapper, fisherman, and homesteaderwho settled in the area in 1910and planted exotic trees and shrubs. Oncealmost lost to the encroaching forest, thegrounds contain rhododendrons andtrees that survived years of abandonment.The garden is best known for a pair ofmonkey-puzzle trees that grow near theold house site.

The Nimpkish River, south of PortHardy, is the location of Bill and MarylynShepherd's garden. The 4-acre site has amultiseason theme built around perennials,annuals, shrubs, and trees. Take thetime to follow a unique forest trail to theNimpkish River, part of the largest riversystem on Vancouver Island. This trekwill certainly prove a memorable finale toyour garden island tour. For more information,call 800-HELLO-BC or visitwww.hellobc.com.