"Most of the cultivated trees in Canadian gardens are too young to have reached this size," says head gardener David Rutherford, one of five gardeners who maintain the grounds. "And when you wander through the old-growth cedars and firs in the forest, it's awe-inspiring to think they were growing there when Elizabeth I was on the throne."
The formal Italian garden is sited below the castle terrace. It contains original urns, stone benches and statues depicting the four seasons, as well as a central pavilion and a vine-covered gazebo. A spectacular 90-year-old Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) partly covers a stone pavilion at the far entrance, a popular spot for wedding photographs. Along with clipped evergreens, there are climbing roses, clematis, phlox, delphiniums, a boxwood hedge and a Mexican flannel bush (Fremontodendron mexi-canum), which produces waxy, yellow, eight-centimetre flowers for six months of the year. "They aren't traditional Italian plants," explains Rutherford, "because that's not what the Dunsmuirs planted here."
The view from the Italian garden is stunning: the original croquet lawn, now surrounded by a classic English flower border, is backed by Esquimalt Lagoon, which has been a bird sanctuary since 1920, with open ocean beyond.
A short walk past spectacular, large copper beeches (Fagus sylvatica 'Cuprea') and a huge horse chestnut is the almost one-hectare Japanese garden, which was built in several stages by a gardener from Japan. It features many classic Asian elements, including a large pavilion, twisting paths (to discourage evil spirits), several lakes, lanterns, stone groupings and a waterwheel. An island in one of the lakes was designed to resemble a tortoise and is inhabited by crane statues; both tortoises and cranes are symbols of longevity.