It’s hard to know what makes a garden special. As an enthusiastic amateur with a recreational love of gardening, I rely on how a garden makes me feel. They say that when memory fades, you may not remember the exact details of a conversation or experience, but you will likely remember how it made you feel. I figure it’s the same with a good garden. Some are perhaps perfect in their layout, structure and specimen selection, like for instance Butchart Gardens. A sort of Cirque de Soleil of gardens, Butchart is a stunning spectacle of horticultural drama. But what makes it truly memorable is sharing this experience as I have done with my mom on numerous occasions for our annual Mother’s Day get away. We stroll the myriad of pathways surrounded by the hum of foreign languages and oceans of colour and variety that leave us gobsmacked. What I remember most from these visits is the joy of sharing it with Mom, both us awestruck with the Butchart spectacle, giddy and giggling at the Disney Land level of floral entertainment and the army like organization required to pull it off.
Tucked seamlessly, almost secretly into a residential neighbourhood, Victoria’s Abkhazi Garden is the antithesis of Butchart Gardens. The story of the garden is as important as the garden itself and spans the heartache of two world wars, includes a deposed Russian prince, POW camps and culminates in late-bloomer lovers coming together to build this garden. Inexplicably, their story quietly reveals itself in the towering rhododendrons, the grove of scented azaleas and the gnarled cypress curling down the rock out crops. Not a single tulip spectacle to be seen, but my senses are mesmerized and my heart is full.
Vancouver’s VanDusen Gardens found its way into my heart during a difficult time in life. My friend, her daughter and I took to meeting there regularly to stroll, connect and bask in the acres of orchestrated beauty. Our meandering conversation could easily float between the stunning rhythm of blossoms and texture to gently untangling life’s agonizing heartaches. Initiated when life was hard, my friend and I continue this ritual in various gardens with same restorative affect.
Here on Bowen Island the van Berckels’ garden grows its own kind of stupendous wonderful. Their garden’s botanical bliss is created in part by a Tuscan style sloped landscape where the eye follows the strength and promise of their orchard, punctuated here and there with various garden outbursts to finally settle on the ponds below that nurture their own aquatic flora and fauna. It all tumbles together with a kind of old-world charm and west coast wildness that leaves me inspired, restored and somehow curious. Even in the dead of winter the van Berckel’s garden hums with enchantment as I’ve experienced during their annual winter solstice celebration where revelers stand in the orchard sipping homemade spiked cider to pay tribute to the Goddess of the Harvest. There is a magic in this garden, a sense of freedom and playful possibility that is rare and I adore.
I settle in my own garden digging, dreaming, or best of all, not thinking at all. I kneel in the dirt with a singular focus of helping something grow and this brings me an unrivaled sense of peace that is especially appreciated this Spring 2020.