How many beautiful gardens can one visit on one vacation?
I spent a whole day at the spectacular Butchart Gardens on Victoria Island, British Columbia, and a couple of hours at St. Ann's Academy heritage garden, and the lovely Empress Hotel rose garden is a nice place to watch the sunset over the harbor.
But I wanted more, and on the outskirts of Victoria, in a residential neighborhood, I found the perfect garden.
Smaller and more intimate, Abkhazi Garden offers a fine example of what you can do with a large lot full of rocks and trees, if you put your mind to it.
Now owned by The Land Conservancy of British Columbia, the property was bought in 1946 by Peggy Pemberton Carter, who recognized the possibilities of this last undeveloped lot in the neighborhood.
This independent-minded woman traveled from a prisoner-of-war camp in the country of Georgia to the West Coast of North America after World War II, using funds she had hidden in talcum powder during the war. She married Prince Abkhazi, a Russian fellow prisoner, when he joined her in Victoria, and they began to build their summer house and lay out the garden together.
Over the next 40 years, Prince and Princess Abkhazi designed, planted and maintained the property.
Peggy had lived in Shanghai before the war, and that influence plays out in the garden. Chinese gardens are essentially places of meditation — places to withdraw from worldly cares. That must have been very appealing to the Abkhazis after their experiences in POW camps.
Nothing in a Chinese garden is hurried or blatant. Paths are not just a way of getting from one point to another — instead, they are a way of exploring changing views that slowly shift as you walk through the garden.
As I made my way between massive, glaciated rock outcroppings and below mature native Garry oak trees, gorgeous views of the snow-covered Olympic Mountains and the Strait of San Juan de Fuca could be seen.
Each garden “room” utilized the natural lay of the land and had a welcoming bench for sitting and taking in the flowers. Lots of birds and butterflies were busy feeding and going about their daily activities.
Purple allium flowers the size of grapefruit caught my attention. Growing nearby, pale yellow Japanese iris bordered one of the paths. Fragrant dianthus, several varieties of campanula and euphorbia, lady's mantle and candelabra primula were all blooming, and the weeping Crimson Queen Japanese maples were pruned to perfection.
More than just a collection of plants, this garden flows with the natural contours and blends the house with its surroundings. It is a stunning example of West Coast design.
The plantings flow around the rock outcroppings, taking advantage of deeper pockets of soil for conifers, Japanese maples and rhododendrons. The original lily-of-the-valley beds still carpet a slope. Alpine plants are placed like little jewels around the boulders, and woodland plants border the undulating lawns.
A small waterfall flows into a pond where two large turtles sunned themselves on the rock edge, while a third rested on a water lily pad, its red ear markings picking up the dark pink color of the water lily flower.
A stand of stately white calla lilies emerged through a piece of driftwood near a resting spot.
The garden is magical. It’s one that you could imagine on your own property, if you had the next 40 years to plant and maintain it.
It would have been a terrible loss if the property had not been purchased in 2000 by The Land Conservancy. After the death of the Abkhazis, the land was slated to become a townhouse development.
This unique garden is truly a place of wonder. It is a place to meditate and to withdraw from worldly cares.
- Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at email@example.com, or visit www.jannelsonlandscapedesign.com to view past columns and pictures.