{ Posts Tagged ‘garden tours’ }

What to visit in Victoria

I’m home again, but before I return to reality (three weeks can really do a number on a yard, even with the neighbors watering), I must share some of my adventures with you.

Not able to give proper credit to all the beautiful spots, both public and private, we saw, I am focusing here on our visit to Victoria, Canada’s “Garden City.”

The quintessential Victoria garden has to be Butchart, right? I know lots of people who have visited and thought it well worth the price tag. One day, I’ll get there too, but this trip, I was not equipped with the time or the pocketbook to make it happen. Besides, I thought, why not ask around for some of the lesser known spots that are worth a look?

Here’s a short list; feel free to add to it, those who know the area better than I. All of these were recommended more than once.

Hatley Castle, the administrative home of Royal Roads University, has extensive gardens set in the midst of 600-some acres of heritage trees. The pride of the grounds are the Italian, Japanese, and Rose gardens, but really, it all looks pretty impressive with the dramatic backdrop of a real, bona fide Edwardian castle. (Some of the X-Men movies were filmed here, too. I know this because I’m a geek.) There’s a restored 1914 greenhouse, too. Admission is charged; tours are available.

Hatley Park Castle

The castle, a National Historic Site, showing just a hint of the grounds.

Beacon Hill Park, right in downtown Victoria, has 200 acres to explore, so plan to spend all day. It looks great year round. There are water, rock, and alpine gardens; perennial beds and displays of annuals. There’s a petting zoo and a playgrounds for the kids, and lots of ducks, peacocks, and herons. Admission is free; horse-drawn carriage rides are available.

Tucked away on the University of Victoria campus is Finnerty Gardens, a 6.5 acre gem. Highlighted are rhododendrons and azaleas, but a full spectrum of plants are on display, many with identifying signs. We’re told it’s at it’s best in spring, but we thought it was just wonderful in August. No admission; follow the ring road around to the southwest and park at the chapel. While you’re on campus, you may want to wander down into the Mystic Vale, a protected wilderness area to the southeast, full of Big Leaf Maple, firs, and ferns. It’s breathtaking.

gardens in fall

A pond in Finnerty gardens.

The girls enjoying the hydrangeas. I wish I could post them enjoying the bamboo and everything else, but I've already put in too many pictures.

Don’t miss the Government House gardens– I almost did. I heard about them before we left, but saw something online about “tours by appointment only,” so I put it out of my mind as too much trouble for this trip. But we drove right by it while leaving the Craigdarroch Castle (also wonderful, but not much for gardens) and the gates were wide open! We were already late to get to my brother’s house, so Chris dropped me off and I did the five minute walk (gasping, groaning, and drooling as I went). It is open to the public, dawn to dusk, but tours are available, by appointment. See how I got confused? If you get the chance, please visit them properly, for me.

A quick shot of the herb garden, as I hurried by... There's a sunken rose garden right behind me...

Through the Garden Gate: A peek at Swansea Village gardens

Tuesday morning, I discovered a gorgeous pocket of Toronto: Swansea Village. I’m not originally from the city and I live in the east end, so I wasn’t familiar with the streets that have homes perched above the shores of the Humber River and Grenadier Pond. That’s the beauty of the Toronto Botanical Garden’s annual “Through The Garden Gate” garden tour. You get to discover magical little neighbourhoods in the city and see how people style their yards (or how their gardeners style the yards depending on the home).

A dedicated group of volunteers and the Toronto Master Gardeners, led by co-chairs Carole Bairstow and Eleanor Ward, have worked throughout the past year to make this fundraising event possible. It takes place June 11 and 12.

I got to preview five of the homes that will be on the tour. On the tour bus, the inimitable Sonia Day, who writes a popular column for the Toronto Star, provided some colourful commentary about this quaint area that until 1954 was an independent village—and apparently many of those who live there still fancy it so. Speaking of colourful, Sonia will be displaying some of her paintings of Bloor Street Shops at tour headquarters, which is at Swansea Public School. For $10 you will be able to purchase a poster with some of the proceeds going to the Toronto Botanical Garden. Full details on tickets, prices and everything else you need to know can be found on the Toronto Botanical Garden website. Tickets sell out quickly, so be sure to get them soon if you plan to go.

Here’s a teaser of what you’ll see. But it’s only a small fraction of the gorgeous gardens that await!

Stunning views. Stepping into the backyard of 4 (top) and 19 (bottom) Woodland Heights is like entering cottage country. Both these homes feature gorgeous gardens sloping down toward Grenadier Pond.

Hopefully the peonies will still be as showy for the garden tour! This one is at 19 Woodland Heights.

Interesting art, water features and sculpture. Clockwise from top left: 27 Woodland Heights, 19 Woodland Heights, 4 Woodland Heights and 14 Riverside Crescent.

A view from the deck at 4 Woodland Heights. I loved this boxwood knot garden with the stone bird bath in the centre. If you peek over the hedge, there is an herb garden.

14 Riverside Crescent: This is my dream. A little potting shed tucked away in the corner of my yard.

A visit to Nikka Yuko

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This fern leaf caragana made me rethink my general disdain for caraganas.

I checked something off my bucket list this week. Chris and I were in Lethbridge for the day, sans kids, and went to the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden. Now that I’ve been, I can’t believe I’ve put it off for ten years! “Beautiful” seems like an obvious description, as does “relaxing” and “inspiring.” But they are all true.

It’s a relatively small garden, but incorporates many views that unfold gradually as you walk through it, leaving the impression of a much larger space. All the traditional elements of Japanese design are used. All the structures and decorations were built in Kyoto, including a huge brass bell that Chris wanted to bring home. As for me, I wanted to bring home the crew of gardeners I met there.

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Chris enjoying the dry rock garden.

I found Jeff Quinlan first, pruning a creeping juniper. A graduate of Olds College (which has a great botanical garden in its own right), Jeff seemed about as serene working there as we were visiting. He says he is grateful to have such a place to come to every day, and hopes the garden continues to get the public support it needs to stay open.

He introduced me to Al White, who has tended this garden for 20 years. We chatted for a few minutes about Scots pines and Amur maples, two of the predominant trees in the garden (actual Japanese maples aren’t hardy enough for southern Alberta). It was really interesting to get Al’s perspective, as he has been able to see the garden evolve. It got overgrown in its early years (1960`s), as the Japanese experts advised a natural state and western keepers misinterpreted that advice as “leave it alone.” Al talked about the Japanese ideal being working with nature but with good helpings of shaping. It’s all about “enhancing what the tree is already offering you,” he says.

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Me trying to convince Chris that an Amur maple can look great multi-stemmed.

We only stayed about an hour, but it was a quiet, slow hour that offered me a lot of perspective on my “get-it-done” attitude. So Chris didn’t bring home a bell and I didn’t bring home a work crew, but I did bring home a gentle reminder not to fight nature, and to be patient and let my garden evolve. Pretty Zen, huh?

Knowing me, I’ll need another reminder in a few weeks. Guess I’ll just have to go back to Nikka Yuko and see the fall colors.

My Winnipeg: Part 1

After we arrived at Winnipeg's railway station smack in the centre of town, a $6 cab ride whisked Carol and me to the centrally located Delta hotel, which was hosting our stay. It has two swimming pools, a sauna and a large workout centre–I feel fitter already.

There's nothing like seeing somewhere new to you in the company of someone who knows it well and loves it dearly. On the first day of our visit, Dorothy Dobbie, president of Pegasus Publications, Inc., was that person for us in Winnipeg, and she is passionate about her hometown and lots of fun to boot. I'd never met Dorothy before (though Carol had) and although her magazines are competition for ours, in the small and (mostly) friendly gardening world that matters less than you might think. We took to each other immediately.

Much of my previous, vague knowledge of Winnipeg had centred around three words: “brutal winters” and “mosquitoes.” But my first impression was of a gracious, prosperous city with leafy streets, some lovely old buildings and a well-kept infrastructure (what a joy to ride along roads without potholes). There's plenty of new development, as well, particularly around the forks where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet. Cross the bridge and you're in St. Boniface, the French side of Winnipeg with a vibe all its own. Along that bridge, granite plaques tell the story of the historic Forks in English, French and Cree.

Being plant nuts, we spent a considerable amount of our day with Dorothy in Assiniboine Park, designed some 100 years ago by Frederic Law Olmsted, who also laid out Central Park in New York. It's home to a zoo and a conservatory, the gorgeous English Garden (which was thick with plants in bloom–I especially liked the tall, fantastic-looking golden spikes of a mullein called Verbascum Nigra) and the renowned Leo Mol sculpture garden. Fortified by a delicious lunch (Dorothy's treat), we also took in some interesting art exhibitions, supported the local economy (code phrase for shopping) then wrapped things up with a big East Indian buffet dinner (my treat). Along the way we toured some of the pretty and interesting residential neighbourhoods, with their varied mix of housing, while Dorothy filled us in with a running commentary about Winnipeg's lively cultural scene (which includes the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Manitoba Theatre Company, among others. Good naturedly, she informed us that her city was the centre of the universe for almost everything! You go, Dorothy.

Photos from left: Verbascum nigrum in the English Garden; Dorothy Dobbie and Carol Cowan; a sculpture in the Leo Mol sculpture garden.

All aboard!

We're on our way at last on The Canadian, a historic, gleaming silver train. At first glance, my roomette seems impossibly tiny, but I soon figure out it's designed to maximize every square inch of space. The Murphy bed folds down neatly and is very comfy–a little nest from which you can look out the window (I brought a pillow from home so it's extra cozy). The little sink even has a separate tap with drinking water. There's a basket filled with toiletries and towels, like at a hotel. And although the car has a toilet (with a solid, box-like lid on which you can stash some stuff), I decide I'd rather use the big public bathroom a bit farther down. Nearby, there's a separate shower room as well.

You could spend the trip sitting in your roomette and looking out the window, but unless you're anti-social or have a communicable disease, I reckon exploring is way more fun. So Carol and I dump our bags and head for an observation car, which has a second story with a glass-domed ceiling and panoramic views (there were four of these on our train, and they're popular, though so far people seem good about not hogging the seats).

En route we pass a dining car, which looks like it could be a setting in an Agatha Christie novel. Elegant, etched-glass panels book-ended a space with tables set with pink and white linens and fresh flowers.

Following a “welcome aboard” champagne reception, it's lunchtime. I choose the vegetable soup, a pulled pork sandwich with barbecue sauce and coleslaw on a tasty bun along with salad and a chocolate-coconut brownie, washed down with a pot of tea. Yummy. And then I head off to “read my book” (translation: have a little snooze, which I never seem to have time for at home).

Along with Canadians, we have already met a number of folks from England and Scotland and a tour group from Germany. The train seems pleasantly full of travellers, including families with children, and most are making the trek to Vancouver.

The staff is amazingly friendly and hospitable. Faith, the lovely young woman who is in charge of our car, bends over backwards to make us feel at home–you can tell she's proud of “her” train. When we hit Sudbury, she urges me to look out and see how once-sterile land has been reclaimed and is now dotted by healthy young trees. I figure it must be her hometown, but I'm wrong. She's from Winnipeg.

Some things we've observed: if you're used to rushing around on a tight schedule, you have to consciously slow down when you travel by train and get into its slower rhythm. And just like on a plane, there's no smoking on board, so if you need a regular nicotine fix, it can be a l-o-n-g haul between stops, as Carol discovers. Although there's an activity centre with lots of board games and regularly scheduled movies and stuff, I'm glad I have a bag filled with books, but I wish I would have brought some music.

That evening, the train makes a few quick stops in the middle of nowhere to pick up passengers, some of them who board with canoes (apparently, you just need to give VIA 48 hours notice and they'll make unscheduled stops to pick you up–how Canadian is THAT?). The rain glistens on the windows, and once in awhile there's a flash of lightning. Everwhere I look there are gleaming lakes and stands of birch, spruce, pines and tamarack, punctuated from time to time by a lone cabin, or a small settlement of a few homes. I don't see any people or animals. We are deep, deep into northern Ontario and it's vast.

Clickety-clack!

It's 10 p.m. on holiday Monday, and I'm still busily packing for my big train trip to Jasper, Alberta, so this will have to be a quick note. I leave tomorrow morning at 9 for ten days, along with my friend and colleague Carol Cowan, who is our back page columnist for the magazine and also does PR work to promote the Via Rail Garden Route, which is what this trip is all about.

I love the train–it's my favourite way to travel. Our journey will also take us to stops in Winnipeg and Edmonton. We'll be disembarking for a few days in all three places to visit botanical gardens, points of interest as well as some Communities in Bloom award winners.

So what do I take with me when I'm traipsing around gardens for a day rain or shine? A small green knapsack I bought some years ago at a National Trust shop in England, in which I stash a hat with a wide brim, a plastic bag with small containers of bug repellent and suntan lotion, my water bottle, a mini-umbrella, a package of tissues, a black nylon windbreaker, a little cotton scarf to tie around my neck if it's a sweaty day, a small notebook, ballpoint pens and pencils and of course, my trusty camera. With this stuff, I'm good to go. The other key thing is footwear: in summer, it's generally sturdy, washable Teva-type sandals that have rubber soles with excellent traction. Not glamorous, but comfy–vital when you're on your feet from morning to night.

Hasta la vista, amigos, I'll keep you posted!