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De Vine Visions Hardy Plant Conference—Landscape Design on Vancouver Island, BC

By June 29, 2009No Comments
by Julie Moir Messervy
img_24242Abkhazi Garden, Victoria, BC photo: JMMDS

It’s always a treat to present to a knowledgeable group of plantspeople. They already know so much about gardening details around soils, pruning, and new plant introductions and combinations that my thoughts about landscape design only add to an already deep base of understanding. So it was with the 400-strong attendees at the Hardy Plant Conference held in beautiful Sidney, British Columbia June 19th-21st. This beautifully orchestrated weekend event included excellent speakers, lovely displays, and superb gardens to visit—so many that one couldn’t possibly see them all in the time allotted.

I was thrilled to see some old friends, including Virginia horticulturist and designer Cole Burrell and garden photographer Allan Mandell, and to make some new ones, especially Dr. Mary Toomey from Dublin, Ireland, who spoke to us about two of her many specialties—“Buttercups and their Garden Worthy Relatives—the Family Ranunculaceae” and “Clematis—the Best of the Bunch for all Seasons.” She’s a fabulous speaker—passionate, opinionated, and funny. Dan Heims, president of Terra Nova Nurseries, also spoke about “New Perennials from Around the World” and “These are a Few of my Favourite Things.” Perhaps best known for his new varieties of heucheras and heucherellas, he also showed many of his 500 other plant introductions in his talk.

Dr. Mary ToomeyDr. Mary Toomey photo: JMMDS

And then there were the gardens! My favorite public garden, Abkhazi Garden, is operated by The Land Conservancy (TLC) and curated by one of the conference organizers and new friend, Valerie Murray. This one-acre verdant stroll journey takes you behind a tall hornbeam hedge, along a winding path through a rhododendron forest (they grow so big in Victoria!), to a series of lovely open-air rooms built around the natural rock formations and filled with magnificent specimens, including Japanese maples, Deodar cedars, and weeping blue Atlas cedars, to name a few.

img_24252Abkhazi Garden, Victoria, BC photo: JMMDS

Nearby, the Government House gardens sit high on a hill with views out to the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Its rose garden and heather collection are both superb.

img_23812Government House, Victoria, BC Photo: JMMDS

And for all of us involved with the conference, sneak peeks into private gardens filled our afternoons with delight. While I couldn’t visit them all, a few that I did see stood out: a lovely hillside Japanese garden, a series of neighboring seaside gardens, and another new friend, potter extraordinaire Robin Hopper’s charming and personal landscape. My favorite part is his “Bridge over the River Koi” pictured below. You can visit his pottery studio and gardens by appointment-well worth the trip!

img_2474_2-copyThe River Koi. Choisin Pottery, Metchosin, BC Photo: JMMDS

And what garden lover can visit Vancouver Island without seeing its most famous landscape of all: Butchart Gardens with its 50 acres of floral displays? Not I! I’ve never seen so many begonias in my life, not enjoyed them more. But best was the rose garden surrounded by a sea of blue delphinium. Magic.

img_24922Butchart Gardens, near Victoria, BC Photo: JMMDS
img_2498_2Butchart Gardens, near Victoria, BC Photo: JMMDS

After our visit to Sidney, my husband Steve, and his sister Jolene, and brother-in-law Jeff, and I all drove up to Strathcona Provincial Park in central Vancouver Island to hike the fjords and rain forests there. Breathtaking waterfalls amidst towering conifers made our short trip absolutely worthwhile. Then back to lovely Victoria for a visit to the Royal BC Museum for a quick trip through their wonderful permanent galleries: the First Peoples Gallery, the Modern History Gallery, and the Natural History Gallery, all designed to give you a close-up sense of British Columbia history, culture, and environment. Treasures from the British Museum collection offer a chance to view “The World in One Gallery” with 300 superb pieces on display. It’s there until September 30th, so make sure to visit if you can.

img_2526-copyStrathcona Provincial Park, BC Photo: JMMDS
img_2299Steve, Julie, Jeff & Jolene, Black Ball Ferry Photo: JMMDS