From Cape Bonavista to Vancouver Island
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 email@example.com