One of my favourite West Coast public gardens is located in the municipality of Saanich, on the outskirts of Victoria, British Columbia. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific (HCP) is all about plants—period. It doesn't boast a luxurious restaurant, chi-chi gift shop or multimedia visitor centre. But for just $11, you can enter this magical horticultural realm any day except Christmas and lose yourself among its 40 hectares, 2.4 of which are divided into 24 demonstration and teaching gardens with more than 10,000 varieties of plants on display.
The staff here is small, but an army of students work under the watchful eye of head gardener Michael Dowling. The students help to maintain the gardens, part of the HCP's 10-month-long accredited diploma course in landscape maintenance. Volunteers and members of various garden clubs and groups—including the Victoria Horticultural Society, the Dahlia Society of Victoria, the North America Heather Society, the Lily Society of Victoria, the Victoria Rhododendron Society and the Takata Society of Victoria—take care of the rest.
I was particularly impressed by the work of the Hardy Plant Group, which has designed big, bold and unexpected mixed borders in three 700-square-metre beds. Landscape designer Diane Pierce, who teaches at the HCP and is one of the leading member/gardeners of the group, describes the beds this way:
"Billows of colour surge on the hillside, like great waves at sea. Reds, oranges, corals and yellows merge into softer yellows and creams. Further down the slope, the hot colours become more gentle-whites, blues, mauves and pinks.
"The borders are unified by deep purple and silvery grey foliage. 'Forest Pansy' Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'), 'Diablo' ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diablo'), Rosa glauca, purple-brown cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing') and purple spurge (Euphorbia dulcis 'Chameleon') are set off by silvery sea orache (Atriplex halimus) and artemisias, which reflect light on even the dullest day.