by Vanessa Gardner Nagel, APLD, NCIDQ
author of Understanding Garden Design
Whenever I have an opportunity to see amazing gardens I think how delightful it is that I belong to a group of landscape design professionals with whom I can share my view of the gardens. This week my travels took me to Victoria, the Butchart Gardens, and the Abkhazi Garden.
It’s been at least 11 years since I’ve visited the Butchart Gardens. My last trip was in late summer and our views were primarily of large swathes of vividly colored annuals, not dissimilar to Longwood Gardens. However, each year at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show I was seeing that their interest was beginning to lean towards more perennials, so my visit this week anticipated some big changes. I was also told about the Abkhazi Garden by a fellow gardener in the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon, who has a marvelous garden herself. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see one more garden while we visitedVictoria.
Our first stop took us to the Butchart Gardens, about 20 minutes north ofVictoria. The tulips were in bloom adding to the glory of the rhododendrons and azaleas that were also blooming. Adjacent to the sunken garden (which is probably the most famous part of the entire garden) there appears to be a new bog garden. It contained many new plants, that in 2-3 years will fill in, but the largest plants were native skunk cabbage. They were not yet in bloom but the leaves appeared to be at least 30 inches tall! There was also a lovely perennial border on one side of the sunken garden, but many of the perennials were still coming up. The theme of annual or bulb color still predominated. While it was certainly an amazing site, I prefer less dependence on annual color. One area, a courtyard with bulbs and fountain, turned me off. The curbs surrounding the water fountain were all painted white. I think the intention was to integrate more white into the garden to tie the arbor to the garden, but the white curbs positively glared! One other issue that glared – the lighting. There were so many fixtures and too many of them were large lights looming above the flowers inside the flower beds. It seems to be they could achieve high-quality results with less obtrusive fixtures.
above: the sunken garden; below: drifts of tulips
above: glaring white curbs; below: entirely too well seen light fixtures
The next day we visited the Abkhazi Garden which is closer to downtown Victoria. A private garden of about one acre (in comparison to the 55 acres of the Butchart), it was rescued by The Garden Conservancy in a period of four days from a developer’s destruction equipment. This was a labor of love on a site of solid granite. Huge masses of granite outcrop unified the garden which was planted in soil between the rocks. This is a plant lover’s garden. There is no grand entry; in fact the entry was obscure and could have been more generous and easier to identify. Enormous old rhododendrons created a canopy under which many ferns, hostas, mayapples, and other shade tolerant perennials thrived. Well-sited conifers acted as accent points at the end of a path or a bend in a flower border. Deciduous azaleas were in bloom and their outrageous colors were everywhere, unifying the garden. A pond garden was graced by ducks and turtles sunning on rocks. Very mature trees acted as the overall structure of the garden. I loved the use of bulbs, too. Planted more as Mother Nature might have planted them, it held more charm than the massed bulb planting at the Butchart. I know there are those people that love huge masses of bulbs and it’s not that I don’t enjoy it. I just think the addition of smaller drifts of bulbs to great plant combinations much more appealing.
above: clever use of tree peony structure to support tall stems of Angelica gigas
below: clever plantings among the granite outcrops