From Cape Bon­av­ista to Van­cou­ver Is­land

The Compass - - SOCIALS - John Nor­man John Nor­man gar­dens in Bon­av­ista

On a re­cent week­long trip to visit a good friend on Van­cou­ver Is­land, Bri­tish Columbia, I had the op­por­tu­nity to see how the “other side” of the coun­try gar­dens and in what they gar­den — a mild, wet and shady cli­mate of cool sum­mers and mild win­ters. In many ways coastal BC is sim­i­lar to our own coastal grow­ing cli­mates of Eastern New­found­land, but in other ways it is quite dif­fer­ent, very unique and far less windy.

Over the next few weeks I will de­scribe some of the unique fea­tures of BC gar­den­ing , some in­cred­i­ble BC towns and gar­dens and some of the largest trees you will ever en­counter. Our first big hor­ti­cul­tural stop on the is­land was in Co­mox Val­ley, on the edge of the small city of Courte­nay on the eastern coast of Van­cou­ver Is­land.

The Kitty Cole­man Wood­land Gar­dens in mid to late spring are a sight to be­hold for any gar­dener of any age! The gar­den net­work cov­er­ing some 24 acres of for­est is a pure act and cre­ation of love for gar­den­ing and na­ture, de­vel­oped by one man in an ef­fort to ful­fill a dream to share with all . Bryan Zim­mer­man’s Christ­mas Tree Farm and Santa’s Barn are well­known in the Co­mox Val­ley dur­ing the win­ter, so we heard, and he was the cre­ator of this spring and sum­mer­time re­treat. Zim­mer­man wanted to share his beau­ti­ful woods with the pub­lic as a re­sult.

Upon ar­riv­ing at the gar­den’s gate along a nar­row back high­way near the com­mu­nity of Merville we were greeted by a small sign mark­ing the gar­dens, with a gravel park­ing lot and small weath­ered grey barn along­side.

In­side the barn, a jar of money sat atop a lit­tle wooden desk, weath­ered from years of out­door use. A short note next to the jar reads “sug­gested do­na­tion of $8, or what­ever you can af­ford. Please take a map and en­joy my gar­den.”

I found this sur­pris­ing but talk­ing to lo­cals this type of pay­ment is com­mon. Very trust­ing peo­ple, those Bri­tish Columbians!

For years Zim­mer­man had stud­ied the in­ter­est­ing to­pog­ra­phy and unique lay­out of his land and slowly cre­ated a gift for the pub­lic, qui­etly, all by him­self along his lit­tle back road. Over a two- year pe­riod he be­gan to build his won­der­land dream, c learing the un­der­brush by hand, only to re­veal a for­est floor more beau­ti­ful than he had imag­ined.

Day by day, us­ing his back and an old wheel­bar­row, he laid over a mile of bark mulch paths me­an­der­ing through the woods. Un­will­ing to dis­turb plant and tree root sys­tems more than absolutely nec­es­sary he dragged all brush and de­bris out man­u­ally in­stead of or­der­ing in heavy equip­ment.

The true beauty of the gar­dens is that most of the for­est’s na­tive species have been left alone, with very few ar­eas dense with cul­ti­vated non-na­tives. There is how­ever one ma­jor ex­cep­tion to this na­tive species wood­land gar­den.

Zim­mer­man had planted, over many years, al­most 3,500 rhodo­den­dron va­ri­eties of all colours and sizes! Need­less to say I was taken aback by the over­whelm­ing sights, colour com­bi­na­tions, unique leaf styles and scales of some of the world’s largest and small­est Rho­dos.

While walk­ing through this park- like set­ting I felt at peace, sim­ply ab­sorb­ing as much of the tran­quil­ity as hu­manly pos­si­ble. In the up­per area of the prop­erty the owner took ad­van­tage of the land’s nat­u­ral con­tours, plac­ing in sev­eral small man­made ponds which now look as though they have been there in the for­est for cen­turies, a se­cret just wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered!

The seren­ity of the en­tire land­scape draws vis­i­tors along what seem to be, end­less soft cedar bark paths, lead­ing guests onto trails that ap­pear to sim­ply dis­ap­pear into the wood­lands. At this point I would sug­gest to any fu­ture vis­i­tor of the gar­dens to make sure you take a map! Youwill need your map.

Through­out the gar­dens are rus­tic, lo­cally hand-built benches that seem to sim­ply ap­pear from the sur­round­ing shrub­bery and blooms. Find one, sit, med­i­tate and lis­ten to the birds in this north­ern rain­for­est en­vi­ron­ment so rich in wildlife.

In the back­ground, the Kitty Cole­man Creek bab­bles flu­idly on its wind­ing peb­ble bed down to the Ge­or­gia Strait. While you sit, look at the col­lec­tions of moss and lichen grow­ing over ev­ery­thing in this hu­mid en­vi­ron­ment (wear wa­ter proof shoes if you re­ally want to re­lax and be com­fort­able).

Af­ter a few hours of sit­ting, hik- ing, and slowly wan­der­ing we find our­selves back at the small weath­ered barn and park­ing lot. As we ap­proach the car an ea­gle f lies over­head and it be­gins to rain for the tenth time that day. Like a dream I sit in the car to ac­cli­ma­tize my­self and pre­pare to set my lit­tle rent-a-car on course for the next hor­ti­cul­tural ad­ven­ture.

Af­ter spend­ing an af­ter­noon in th e woods and with Bri­tish Columbia’s fa­vorite shrub, the Rhodo­den­dron, I feel like per­haps climb­ing a tree; a very, very tall tree!

If you have any gar­den­ing ques­tions or would like to tell me about one of your gar­den­ing ex­pe­ri­ences or trip to unique hor­ti­cul­tural sites email john­nor­man21@hot­

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