Vancouver Island Gardens

At the Tofino Botanical Gardens, boardwalks move visitors through five hectares of garden, forest and shoreline, while granite rocks line the soft, cedar-bark paths of the Kitty Coleman Woodland Gardens in Courtenay, guiding visitors through the woodland wonderland that is home to more than 3,000 rhododendrons.

The formal walkways of Butchart Gardens cater to a million-plus visitors a year, while the intimate paths of the Abkhazi Garden reveal the private world of the Georgian prince and his Shanghai-born princess.

At the Tofino Botanical Gardens, boardwalks move visitors through five hectares of garden, forest and shoreline, while granite rocks line the soft, cedar-bark paths of the Kitty Coleman Woodland Gardens in Courtenay, guiding visitors through the woodland wonderland that is home to more than 3,000 rhododendrons. VIGA members are a diverse group of garden-related facilities including public gardens, educational facilities and special nurseries. Established two years ago, the Association is committed to providing the garden tourist with exciting horticultural experiences all over the Island, from Port Hardy in the north, to Victoria in the south and Tofino on the west coast.

Check with each facility for opening times and admission rates. Several of these gardens are not open year-round, and some only on weekends. Allow plenty of time to visit and enjoy the beauty of the Island at a leisurely pace. Port Hardy Ronning’s Garden Ronning’s Garden still reflects the spirit of its founder Bernt Ronning, who planted seeds and cuttings from around the world on his two-hectare site at the head of Holberg Inlet. After his death in 1963, the rainforest encroached on the plantings until Ron and Julia Moe bought the land in the 1980s and restored the garden. Twin monkey-puzzle trees, planted in the early 1900s, are one of the striking features of the garden. They were one of the first pairs to produce viable seeds in B.C. and the Moes propagate the seeds and supply a limited number of plants to nurseries.

The garden is 65 km west of Port Hardy on the gravel road to Cape Scott Provincial Park. 250-288-3724 Port McNeill Shephard’s Garden Bill and Marilyn Shephard’s one-and-a-half-hectare family garden of flowers, gardens and forest is located near Port McNeill. Here, bulbs and flowering shrubs combine for an early display of colour. Each season, as the Shephards find new plants that will overwinter in the northern Island climate, they are added to the perennial collections, and there are always plenty of blooms to enter in the North Island Fall Fair in September. 250-956-4709 Campbell River Mystic Woods Nursery Mystic Woods Nursery is a work in progress with its constantly growing and expanding display gardens.

Starting this spring, the seven-year-old nursery will concentrate on rare and unusual perennials, grasses, herbs, trees and shrubs. A demonstration herb and medicinal plant garden is also being developed, while children enjoy the play area, visiting the horses and feeding the fish in the display ponds. Some unusual plants to look out for include: White snakebark maple (Acer tegmentosum), Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa) and silk-tassel bush (Garrya elliptica). 250-286-1340

Courtenay Kitty Coleman Woodland Gardens Created by Bryan Zimmerman, this 9.6-hectare garden showcases around 3,000 rhododendrons in a natural woodland setting. Ferns flourish alongside the rhodos and other flora such as the broadleaf starflower, bleeding hearts and the nodding white flowers of the fawn lily. Peak bloom time is from March to the end of June. 250-338-6901

Comox Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park The Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park in Comox is known for its stately trees, which include oaks, London planes, blue atlas and deodar cedars, several pine species, weeping ash, Camperdown elm, copper beeches and many others. Shrubs include hundreds of rhododendrons, some from the famous Greig collection of hybrids. In spring, thousands of annuals are planted in beds near the lodge, resulting in a gorgeous, colourful display all summer and through early fall. The extensive herb garden is maintained by members of the Comox Valley Horticultural Society. 250-339-4754

Hornby Island Old Rose Nursery Tony and Carol Quin established Old Rose Nursery on Hornby Island more than 15 years ago and their collection now includes more than 1,000 varieties of roses. The rose display garden – open from June through mid-August – was extended in 2002/03 and new English, floribunda and climbing roses now complement the heritage roses, rugosas, Explorer and many other varieties already flourishing in this island cottage garden. 250-335-2603

Qualicum Beach Milner Gardens and Woodland This garden gem, owned and developed by Ray and Veronica Milner, was acquired in 1996 by Malaspina University-College, with the goal to maintain the garden in perpetuity for the community’s benefit. The 28-hectare property has a developed garden of four hectares and includes formal lawns, beds and borders, a small orchard and vegetable gardens, plus an on-site gift shop. The woodland garden has several hundred rhododendrons, many from distinguished rhodo hybridizers Ted and Mary Greig. 250-752-6153 Port Alberni Dashwood Gardens Garden lovers visiting Stamp Falls Provincial Park will enjoy a visit to nearby Dashwood Gardens. This family-run nursery on a 1.6-hectare site specializes in shade and woodland plants. The property is at its best in April when there are thousands of daffodils and other bulbs in bloom. 250-723-5736 Email:

Tofino Tofino Botanical Gardens A specimen of the oldest living tree in the world, the alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides) flourishes in the five-hectare Tofino Botanical Gardens. Also fascinating is the giant Himalayan lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum) with its large, waxy leaves. In late spring it produces flower spikes up to four metres tall that bloom in July. The creamy-white, trumpet-shaped flowers are highly scented – particularly noticeable in the evening. The garden also features a comparative botany display showing some of the similarities and differences in plants from the Chilean coastal temperate rainforest, which shares a similar climate to Clayoquot Sound, but a very different evolutionary history. 250-725-1220

Ladysmith Hazelwood Herb Farm Hazelwood Herb Farm, 13 km south of Nanaimo, features over 500 varieties of plants considered at some time in history to be herbs. Many are planted in the formal garden, designed to echo the 18th-century herb gardens of Europe. Culinary and medicinal herbs are grown in the 15 metre by 1.2 metre raised beds of the production garden. These farm-grown herbs are used to make the products sold in the on-site gift shop, including jellies, mustards, bath and aroma-therapy products, and even catnip mice and flea collars for the four-legged members of the family. In addition to the large selection of nursery-propagated herbs, visitors enjoy seeing mature herb plants and the more unusual varieties grown by Richard White and Jacynthe Dugas. 250-245-8007

Lake Cowichan Mayo Creek Gardens Mayo Creek Gardens covers just over a hectare on a north-facing slope and boasts a harmonious blend of native plants and hundreds of rhododendrons. This three-season display garden and nursery specializes in rhodos, perennials and native plants. 250-749-6291 Email:

Duncan Providence Farm In spring, Providence Farm bustles with energy and new growth. The lambs bounce in the fields; seniors and allotment gardeners apply their winter garden plans to the freshly compost-fed, tilled beds; and the memorial flower gardens, berry fields and market gardens smell fresh and green. Therapeutic Riding participants, accompanied by their side-walkers, enjoy the meandering trails through the fields and forested lands throughout Providence. Aside from touring schoolchildren and the various weddings and music festivals booked here, there are new products to be discovered in the quaint and charming General Store. Providence welcomes visitors year round. 250-746-4204

Brentwood Bay Butchart Gardens The renowned Butchart Gardens offer a year-round destination for garden lovers. By the first day of spring, the results of the fall planting efforts are evident throughout. There is the fresh green growth of thousands of tulips waiting to bloom and daffodils are already nodding their heads in the late March breezes. Crocuses, delicate irises and anemones are blooming along the pathways and in the rockeries. As the warmth of the sun increases in April, the forget-me-nots and English daisies, planted over the bulbs last October, are showing their colours. Toll free 1-866-652-4422 Brentwood Bay Lodge & Spa The new Brentwood Bay Lodge & Spa, which opens on May 1, will be a luxury traveller’s haven providing exemplary service and accommodations, soft-adventure and outdoor activities, leading-edge technology and a spectacular oceanfront location close to Victoria. This new oceanfront resort, set on a pristine inlet in the seaside village of Brentwood Bay, is a close neighbour of The Butchart Gardens and has developed a getaway package especially for garden-lovers. All 33 OceanSuites have king beds, fireplaces, private patios, luxurious furnishings and spa-like bathrooms with jetted tubs and body massage showers. 250-544-2079 Victoria Butterfly Gardens Exquisite orchids, carnivorous plants, foods of the world display, a biological pest control station and more are just the backdrop for the star attractions: 2,000 butterflies flying freely in this indoor tropical garden. South African Turocos and other birds will entertain you at this site just five minutes to Butchart Gardens. 250-652-3822

Victoria Abkhazi Garden The Abkhazi Garden is a heritage home and garden created by Prince Nicholas and Princess Peggy Abkhazi in 1946. This one-acre garden has dramatic rocky outcroppings, Garry oaks and lovely vistas. While the main flush of flowers peaks in late spring/early summer, the garden is so well designed to fit its unique site that it is of interest all year round. The garden is as much about form, texture and use of space as it is about flower colour. 250-598-8096 Finnerty Gardens Finnerty Gardens, part of the University of Victoria campus, was established in 1974. The 1.6-hectare garden boasts around 3,000 trees and shrubs and more than 200 rhododendron species. April and May are peak bloom times, however the gardens are a source of beauty and tranquillity year round. 250-721-7014 Hatley Castle – Royal Roads The Royal Roads grounds include an Italian Garden, a Japanese Garden, a Rose Garden, croquet lawn, lakes and streams, and 180 hectares of forest. The first major flowering of the season is of the Shirotae cherries bordering the lake in the Japanese Garden during the last two weeks of April with the double pink Kanzans following soon afterward. In early May the 100-year-old wisteria on the loggia in the Italian Garden scents the entire garden with its mauve racemes. By mid-May the azaleas and ‘Pink Pearl’ rhododendrons are blooming and astilbes line one side of the lake in the Japanese Garden. The Rose Garden is at its best in early June, but there is plenty to see in these gardens at any time of the year. Glendale Gardens & Woodlands One of Victoria’s most beautiful and least known public gardens is the Glendale Gardens & Woodlands – a two-hectare garden in Conservation Park. The natural setting of the park with its walking trails and bird-viewing stations complements the gardens maintained by volunteers. The Doris Page Winter Garden is at its prime during February and March; particularly attractive are the grasses and colourful stems of willow and dogwood and the fragrant, flowering shrubs and trees such as witch hazel and viburnum. Masses of snowdrops and winter aconites are followed by anemones and cyclamen. To the west of the Winter Garden is the popular Japanese-style Takata garden and the new Zen Garden. 250-479-6162