Personal blog of Derek and Margaret, now living in Dominica, W.I., founders of Ozone Zone – an Independent Canadian book publisher specializing in coffee table books of architectural treasures and lush gardens. We also promote fine artistic photography. This blog contains unofficial reports and comments from our various trips, photo sessions and jobs – an unofficial scrapbook of our travels, explorations and photo-related work. See “about” for more.

Posts tagged ‘gardens’

Abkhazi Garden – The Garden of Love. (Victoria, Canada)

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When we arrived at the entrance to Abkhazi Garden, we both stopped for a moment as if afraid to open the gate. The reason for our hesitation was clear enough for us: we wondered – is this garden still as beautiful as we remembered? Or perhaps it is now totally changed, or has fallen  into neglect? We had visited Abkhazi garden several times after it was saved from the developers. Our humble donation was only a tiny drop in an immensely successful and quite heroic public fund-raising campaign in 2000, which led to the acquisition of the garden by The Land Conservancy.

Unique benches look like they always been there as an important part of this garden.

Slowly, we stepped into the garden leaving the city street behind us. We found ourselves in a woodland, under towering old rhododendrons and native Garry Oaks underplanted with lush ferns and hostas. As we were slowly walking a winding path through the garden, all our fears completely disappeared. We noticed how splendid the garden looks, cared for not only with expertise and knowledge but also with love.

Beautifully created, this spot brings to mind large vase full of freshly cut flowers.

Love and passion are ever-present here, making it quite a magical place. It is “the garden that love built,” love between its creators: Peggy and Nickolas Abkhazi who shared the same passion for their new piece of paradise, a safe haven in their rather dramatic lives. After their death, it seems like that love was carried on by all the people whose hard work and dedication enable the garden to flourish.  One of the first were Christopher and Pamela Ball who continued to keep up this world-class garden for the next 10 years.

Fine bird bath at the first wide vista near entrance instantly adds to happy feel of the place.

When the land was submitted for rezoning, Cyril Hume, a garden historian led the fund-raising campaign and the garden restoration. All the head gardeners who came after him shared the same passion and devotion to the project. Today, the garden is in the capable hands of Jeff de Jong and a group of impressively skillful  volunteers. As a result, Abkhazi Garden is resplendently beautiful.

Jeff de Jong talks about the garden

“For me, gardening is a work of joy,” says Jeff. “What you love doing – it’s not work. It is for me a privilege and honour to take care of Abkhazi garden. Peggy and Nickolas are always on my mind. I ask myself: is it something that they would approve of? I recently planted Magnolia grandiflora knowing that Peggy loved it and had it in this garden. In order to honour the Abkhazis I thought it was the important plant to have. In this garden the challenge for me is to preserve its sense of history, and yet still progress and move forward.”

Ponds look like colorful jewels mounted in greenery of the garden.

We finished our garden tour inside Abkhazi house, built by John Wade in the style of simple modernism. Broad glass windows offer spectacular views of the Olympic Mountains, while connecting the interior to the exterior spaces. Perhaps the most striking feature of the house is that organic flow with the surrounding landscape, perfected in architectural designs of the tropics. 

While working on our book ”Tropical Homes of the Eastern Caribbean”, we were often fascinated by architects who mastered this skill of seamless integration of outside and inside spaces, like Oliver Messel, or Lane Pettigrew. Standing on a stone-paved patio, we marvelled at the brilliant layout of the garden complementing the natural landscape.

Peggy’s wish was that the garden was going to be seen by the next generation” comments  Jeff.  “Thanks to the Land Conservancy, it’s going to be seen by even more generations to come.”

Story by Margaret Gajek
Photography by Derek Galon

Another view at the ponds, where on a sunny day you can spot sun bathing turtles…

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Until next time, cheers!


Playfair Park – “Ghost Garden of Greater Victoria”

Playfair Park, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada - feast of rhodos.Not too many people know about this garden, perhaps only locals and admirers of rhododendrons go there. It is not even listed on Victoria Horticultural Society’ website list of Local Public Gardens (one would think that such a list should be the most complete and impartial) – and yet this forgotten, colourful and interesting spot is a real jewel hidden in a quiet residential area of Saanich.

This small garden had really grand and unusual beginnings. It was planned long ago as part of a national arboretum in Canada – an ambitious project envisioned by Adam Szczawinski, Polish-born botanist who saved Thetis Lake from development. Szczawinski was a curator of botany at the Royal BC Museum, creator of an extensive BC plant collection housed at the museum’s herbarium, and at the University of Victoria. In 1956 he brought together a group of about ten people to form The Arboretum Society of the Pacific Norhwest. There was an official plan to set up a series of small areas in Victoria to display specific plants. Playfair Park was chosen as a first site for display of rhododendrons. However, after general election in Canada, it was decided by the new government that the best place for a national arboretum has to be Ottawa. Despite this disappointing news, a group of enthusiastic volunteers decided to complete work on the park.

The other end of Playfair park is full of mixed, attractive plants blooming all summer long.

What remains there today is still a glorious and beautiful display. The Camphor tree is one of the most spectacular in the garden, recognizable also by amazingly aromatic leaves. All the rhodos were planted under Garry Oak trees for protection from sun and wind. Today, some of the rhodos are up to majestic 8 meters tall, creating an impressive and colourful display. We walked under their arching branches looking at the magical carpet under our feet, made by their spent bloom.

What was once a dream about the arboretum it is now a splendid garden, as much worth a visit as other famous gardens of Victoria which do charge an entry fee. Beautiful, free to visit – but not on lists of Victoria fine gardens and sadly forgotten – a ghost garden, full of real beauty.

Thank you for reading, and as always – if you like it, please share – let others know about this beautiful garden.

Once more our blog brought us to our home town – Victoria, Canada. We are working on more posts from here, as well as a few posts from abroad. Stay tuned!
Until next time, cheers!
Derek and Margaret.

Playfair park can be accessed both from Quadra Rd. and Blenkinsop, with free parking near Union St.

More info about Adam Szczawinski

Post written by Margaret Gajek, author of our books Exotic Gardens of the Eastern Caribbean, and Tropical Homes of the Eastern Caribbean, photos by me – Derek Galon.

Milner Garden and Forest, Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada

We wanted to visit Milner Gardens on Vancouver Island for quite a while, but as it is advertised to have hundreds of rhododendrons – we waited for late spring to see it in its full glory. The whole estate on its 70 acres of land was created around 1930 by an influential family of General Noel Money. At the heart of the estate stands an attractively designed house, built in style of old Ceylon colonial buildings.  (This fine house instantly reminded us of Castle Grant and Sunbury Plantation House in Barbados – places we presented in our book Tropical Homes of the Eastern Caribbean).

Soon after the house was finished, the whole estate was sold to Ray Milner of Edmonton as a summer house. When in mid-fifties Ray married Lady Veronica FitzGerald – a British aristocrat from very influential family – the works on their large garden begun. Lady Veronica knew many fine British and Irish gardeners including Sir Frederick Moore, developer of gardens at Mount Usher. Using his works as inspiration, she created her Wild Garden secluded in an old forest growth, and overseeing calm waters of Qualicum Beach area.

It surely was very impressive and grand garden concept.  The winding road comes through wild forest to suddenly enter colorful area of blooming trees and bushes, and then leads to open space with a picturesque house overlooking wide ocean shore. Lady Veronica – and artist and painter – used her garden as inspiration for her works, opening it often to host other artists. The garden also remembers many prestigious guests, including several members of British Royal Family. Wishing to preserve the beauty of her garden for future generations, before her death Veronica generously ceded it to Vancouver Island University with intention of opening it to general public.

Now it is open to visitors by a rather steep $10 admission, advertised as Ancient Forest and Garden – perhaps to attract more paying guests. While the forest surely is old and beautiful, it is located in generally forested area and just a short drive from the famous Cathedral Grove, where one can see much more impressive and older forest for no admission fee.  Similar forest can be also seen on many hikes on Vancouver Island – but forest or no forest – we were eager to see the garden. So, we went through the shadowed path winding between old trees, and in some five minutes arrived at the garden gate.  It really lives up to its name of Wild Garden, as it blends with forest quite significantly.  We enjoyed some beautiful, old rhododendrons growing between huge trees, including some rare and impressive big-leafed species. Garden path passed little pond and descended slowly towards the house covered with wisteria.

Scented azaleas and magnolia trees surround the beautiful colonial house welcoming us with typical colonial style impressive, wide stairs. It now serves as a special venue and a tea house. The view from the front of the house is truly magnificent. Wide ocean shore is visible over juicy-green lawn. Narrow paths and nooks surround the lawn creating charming hiding spots for enjoyment of visitors.

However, despite undisputed charm we couldn’t stop to feel a sense of neglect to this place, that hard to describe impression that “the days of glory are over”. Many little details suggested skimpy maintenance, some trees and rhodos seemed overgrown and in need of trimming.  Many spots would do with some weeding.  Despite several gates to “keep deer away” we noticed deer grazing just at the house between magnolia trees – which is the heart of the whole garden.  One can argue that a wild garden should be left alone and live its own life. Of course – it is right, but to some extent. And, if it feels like in need of maintenance – it often simply is. We hope our $10 per head will be put to good use, and the garden will be well preserved for future generations as it should. Still a beautiful place to visit, but would Lady Veronica FitsGerald-Milner approve its keeping?  We can only guess…

Garden’s Web site:

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Barton & Leier Gallery and Garden – Yellowpoint, Ladysmith, BC, Canada

When traveling – be it close to home or far away – we are always on lookout for interesting gardens. This time we were going for a weekend trip up Vancouver Island, here in British Columbia, Canada.
We wanted to see Milner Gardens in Qualicum Beach, advertised as very extensive and interesting, with hundreds of rhododendrons and other attractive plants. That will be theme of my next post, but today I want to share with you impressions from another garden we visited on this trip – a small jewel near Ladysmith, between Victoria and Nanaimo.

We found information about this unique place on-line. Created and cared for by couple of successful Canadian artists Nixie Barton and Grant Leier over last 18 years, it is simply extraordinary. It is also where their studio and gallery shop are located. So, we decided to stop for a short visit.
Well, this place did not disappoint, and our visit was much longer than expected. We were kindly allowed to enter and photograph even private parts of this unique garden, and our visual feast begun. From the very first moment, you sense really good and happy vibrations surrounding this garden. Creators had to feel really free and happy to come up with so many unusual ideas, making this place a visual orgy stimulating your mind. Not only it was cleverly planned with many unexpected vistas opening at every corner and angle, but the slightly crazy and untamed style of decoration proves to you at every point that really anything is possible in this place.
The flamboyant, artistic expression, and use of most eccentric props for decoration brought to mind another amazing garden – the famous Hunte’s Garden in Barbados, where the Maestro Hunte did let his imagination loose, and every step on his garden’s path opens new unexpected possibilities bringing new flavours. (You can find more on Hunte’s Garden in our recent coffee table book Exotic Gardens of the Eastern Caribbean).
Indeed, we felt a similar way of creative thinking here, at Barton & Leier Garden.

Only a free spirit, someone who lets one’s imagination fly high can come up with such colorful, inspirational and amazing space. From little décor pieces like a dozen of tiny elephants nailed onto a wooden rail, or a purple hippo immersed in garden pond, through impressive green painted human heads, and faces mounted in surprising locations – to a real yellow school bus – the garden is full of lively surprises impacting you on every step. Even the door to artists’ studio is decorated so extensively that it is hard to find an inch of bare space on it.
Once you enjoyed all amazing surprises in the garden full of scents, rich bloom and extravagant decor, you can enter the gallery – which feels like total continuation of the festive feel of outdoors. Really fine paintings created with great artistry and taste, colorful collages and other art work are offered for sale together with attractive and unusual trinkets, as well as with garden décor pieces you just saw outside the gallery.

We were sad to hear this slightly surreal masterpiece of garden and gallery enjoys its last season here , as the gallery and studio will be moved to Nanaimo. Well, at least we had the chance to see it at its final eighteenth season of activity.

If you have time – try to go there until it is still open. You may find here just the right piece of art for your home, and the garden’s sheer brilliance will surely cheer you up!

Barton and Leier Gallery Web site link.

More photographs we took when visiting this fun place.

Thank you for stopping by. As always, if you like it – click “share’ or “like” button. and, check us soon for more posts. Cheers!

All photographs copyright Derek Galon, Ozone Zone Books – no usage without written authorization please.

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