A garden for ?botanists? on Vancouver Island

Drs. Roy and Janet Taylor bring a wealth of plant knowledge to their wonderful garden.

Credit: Snorri Gunnarsson

Clockwise from left: Interconnecting patios are bordered with low-profile, drought-tolerant shrubs and perennials | Named for a peak in the Swiss alps, Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’ blooms in late summer and early autumn | The Taylors’ conservatory links outer and inner living spaces  

Drs. Roy and Janet Taylor bring a wealth of plant knowledge to their exceptional Lantzville garden

For me, this is a special story about the garden of Drs. Roy and Janet Taylor in Lantzville, on Vancouver Island. Roy was director of the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden when I applied for a job there in fall of 1969. I was interviewed initially by the late garden supervisor, Ken Wilson, and then subsequently by Roy and was hired! Thus began my long career at UBC. 

In 1985 Roy became the director of Chicago Botanic Garden, relocating again to direct Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, California, from 1994 until his retirement in 1999. A botanist with a specialty in systematics (how plants evolve and are related), Roy married a fellow botanist who studied freshwater algae. His bond with Janet is rich in shared interests, including natural history, travel and gardening. 

In preparation for retirement, the Taylors bought a hectare in Lantzville in 1996. The lot had been logged, but a fringe of scrawny second-growth Douglas firs and a few arbutus skirted the site. The abundant and opportunistic seedling red alders that had sprung up since clear-cutting were removed. 

As luck would have it, 1997 was a good year for germination of the oft-recalcitrant arbutus. Hundreds of seedlings sprouted across the front (north side) of the lot, allowing Taylors to nurture and shape a personal grove of Arbutus menziesii, a signature plant of Vancouver Island. The local soils – rocky and well-drained – are exactly what this finicky species at the northern limit of its range requires. 

Dr. Roy Taylor in his Vancouver Island garden

The Taylors hired architects Kiyoshi and Eva Matsuzaki to design their one-level home, which was built in 1999. 

“We lived here a year before planning the back garden,” Janet notes. “The site sloped steeply toward the house. We watched where the water came from and where it went; an effective drainage system was key to keeping water away from the house.”

Roy adds, “Having lived in Southern California, we were interested in Mediterranean-style plants that would do well with limited summer water.”

Although many drought-tolerant plants suffer with heavy B.C. winter rains, Roy says that isn’t a problem in their garden. “Our soil is very stony – the water runs downhill and disappears. Of greater concern is sudden frost in fall or January.” 

Black-eyed susan vine (Thunbergia alata) climbs the trellis.

The back garden was designed and implemented by Comox landscape architect Judith Walker. A series of patios and retaining walls flows perfectly from the solarium that runs across the back of the house. Throughout the year, Taylors can eat meals just off their kitchen and look out over the garden, watching flora and fauna – including California quail and hummers. Wheelchair accessibility was a must, which also guarantees easy wheelbarrow access. 

Roy draws attention to the “dry streambed that runs diagonally through the whole garden. It collects water in downpours and channels it away from plant roots – and the house!”

Defining the upper main patio is a large southwest-style fireplace anchored by a heavy wooden trellis. “It provides places for many vines, including a handsome purple-leaf grape.”

The chimney displays a wrought-iron Kokopeli, the southwestern fertility deity, who presides over agriculture and represents the spirit of music. 

Tucked around the south-facing patios and into the rocks are a worldwide diversity of plants – as one would expect from the former director of three botanical gardens! This diversity is protected with a deer-proof perimeter fence and nourished with an annual mulch of Sea Soil.

Aster Ariel Aster ‘Ariel’

I visited the garden in fall, and the tree that caught my eye when entering was a magnificent specimen of Persian ironwood (Parrrotia persica). A pleasing tree at all times of the year, with its fawn-grey bark and spreading branches, in fall its leaves are a symphony of yellow, orange and deep purple. In the witchhazel family, it produces interesting clusters of tiny red flowers in late winter.

Heptacodium miconiodes, known as “seven-son flower,” is a Chinese shrubby tree with late-season interest, when its leaves take on a dark-green purplish hue, and its sweetly scented summer flowers develop into purple fruits. 

Left: Seven-son flower is a late-blooming shrubby tree. Right: A purple-leaf grape (Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’) adds drama.

Roy admires the brilliant red fall colour of Itea japonica. Deciduous in colder climates, the Lantzville microclimate encourages its leaves to stay on throughout the winter.

Ceanothus gloriosus ‘Emily Brown’ is one of many dense, low-growing shrubs in the borders. Janet’s eyes light up as she remarks that these shrubs make ideal habitat for the quail that frequent the garden.

Stunning at this time are the bright purplish-blue flowers of Aster novi-belgii ‘Professor Anton Kippenberg’ with the truly orange-red glowing foliage of Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’. It looks as though it has a lantern inside it that illuminates the colours to their fullest. Add to this good old Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ – its pale yellow leaves form a perfect backdrop to its spent-yet-still-gorgeous flowerheads of pinkish brown.

Rosa ‘Kordana’

This fall tapestry includes a paperbark maple, with its delicately cinnamon-coloured peeling bark, and a characteristically mounding cutleaf Japanese maple, which takes on every shade of orange and crimson as fall progresses. 

An evergreen shrub that sparkles, Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ has year-round interest. Its variegated leaves of rich green and yellow really come alive during and after rain storms.

Oh, there is so much to tell you about – along the dry streambed are mounding hebes, which seem to form its banks. Hebe ochracea ‘James Stirling’ has a golden hue and from afar could be mistaken for a dwarf conifer. Providing brilliant colour contrast are the small, blue-green leaves of Hebe pinguifolia ‘Pagei’.

There is more! Behind the ornamental section of the garden is a well-organized, raised-bed area for growing vegetables and fruits, including the fall-bearing raspberry aptly named ‘Autumn Bliss’.

Autumn Bliss raspberryRoy shows off raspberry ‘Autumn Bliss’.

Following salal-lined steps to the highest point at the back of the property, one can sit in the Taylors’ “council ring.” This stone circle is based on ones they had seen in Chicago that were designed by prairie landscape architect Jens Jensen. Echoing traditional native designs, a council ring provides a place to discuss and rectify the problems of the world or – in this case – to look out over the beautiful landscape of Roy and Janet’s garden and way across the Straight of Georgia to the snowcapped mountains of the mainland.

My visit has been a celebration with friends and mentors in their retirement dream-come-true at “the hummingbird” – La Chuparosa.

David Tarrant is a well-known gardening expert, author, and host of Spring and Canadian Gardener, and remains a much-loved mentor to gardeners across our country. Check out his blog >

The following plants are hardy to the zone number indicated (view our climate zone chart):

Acer griseum (paperbark maple) – zone 4 • Acer palmatum Dissectum Group (cutleaf Japanese maple) – zone 6 • Arbutus menziesii – zone 7 • Aster × frikartii ‘Mönch’, A. ‘Ariel’ – zone 5 • Aster novi-belgii ‘Professor Anton Kippenberg’ – zone 3 • Centranthus ruber (Jupiter’s beard) – zone 5 • Ceanothus gloriosus ‘Emily Brown’ – zone 7 • Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ – zone 7 • Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ – zone 4 • Gaillardia ‘Oranges and Lemons’ (blanketflower) – zone 5 • Hebe ochracea ‘James Stirling’ – zone 9 • Hebe pinguifolia ‘Pagei’ – zone 6 • Heptacodium miconiodes (seven-son flower) – zone 5 • Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ (peegee hydrangea) – zone 3 • Itea japonica – zone 6 • Parrotia persica (Persian ironwood) – zone 4 • Pyracantha koidzumii ‘Government Red’ (Formosan firethorn) – zone 8 • Rosa ‘Kordana’ – zone 5 • Rubus idaeus ‘Autumn Bliss’ (raspberry) – zone 3 • Rudbeckia hirta ‘Autumn Mixture’ (black-eyed susan) – zone 4 • Styrax japonicus ‘Carillon’ (weeping Japanese snowbell tree) – zone 7 • Thunbergia alata (black-eyed susan vine) – annual • Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’ (purple-leaf grape) – zone 6