When I can find it, the coastal route IS lovely (although mostly showcasing lovely homes and gardens, rather than dramatic scenery), but the route makes a number of less-than-obvious turns as it switches from road to road. Despite its designation as a scenic route, it is marked in only the most sporadic way. I find it impossible to drive the unfamiliar twisting roads while also consulting my map. I repeatedly lose the route.
I am no more successful on my quest to visit the Finnerty Gardens at the University of Victoria.
I actually find the gardens, but graduation is sometime today and parking – which appears difficult to locate at the best of times – seems impossible. I sit in my car along the one-way campus loop, contemplating the gardens. They look lovely. Should I make another loop and try to find a place to park?
Someone pulls up behind me and, rather than passing, he starts honking at me to move. The day is getting late, it is time to move along
I find the scenic coastal route again (almost by accident) and pass by what must be one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world as I wind through a wealthy neighborhood. Unfortunately, there are few places to stop to enjoy the rugged shoreline or the lovely houses (and gardens) along it.
Now, instead, I turn into the road construction that separates me from Abkhazi Garden.
Unlike Butchart, or even Finnerty Gardens, this is a tiny place – just a beautifully landscaped yard – in the midst of a modest residential area.
I pay my entry fee to a chilly, but still talkative, volunteer huddling in a shelter near the street and then enter the garden through a woodsy area that morphs into a forest of rhododendrons and azaleas. I’m going to like this.
Abkhazi Garden is the landscape Peggy and Nicholas Abkhazi created to surround their modest home. A widely-traveled pair set adrift in a tragic world (he an exiled Georgian prince who spent many years in Paris, she the orphaned daughter of British ex-pats in Shanghi who studied and traveled in Europe for many years, both were captured and held during the war – he in France, she in Shanghi), they eventually landed in this middleclass suburban neighborhood where they funneled much of their energy into creating this backyard oasis.
Peggy had loved to show-off her garden and often began her tours with a walk through the rhododendrons. I can see why. It makes for an impressive entry.
The rhododendrons lead into the open south lawn below the house. There are gorgeous plantings on all sides.
I’m particularly taken with a group of alliums that flows through the garden like a river.
All of the garden seems designed to frame specific plants and scenes. It is heavenly!
The plants themselves are interesting. There are a number of unfamiliar varieties mixed in with a few old favorites, but I’m particularly taken fond of the alpine plants that clamber over the rock outcroppings.
While it is not raining, the air is cold and damp, so I take a break inside the house, where tea is available in a little library and gift shop. It is a pleasant place to take refuge and enjoy the gardens framed in the large picture windows.
However, perhaps it was a mistake, as a short time later I leave the house to find an even darker, colder, and windier afternoon than the one I had escaped just a short time earlier. The gardens are no less beautiful, but photographing them is less pleasant and more difficult. Still, the gardens enchant.
I restart my tour at the steep rock outcroppings outside the back door of the house.
The first structure Peggy constructed was the summer house. Over the years, the surrounding gardens have developed to complement and frame this small structure as if it were a work of art.
But then, everything in this exquisite garden is a work of art.