VIU Milner Gardens and Woodland


Woodland, House and Gardens

The garden is a sensuous delight. Old growth Douglas firs and cedars frame breathtaking views of the Strait of Georgia. The garden lawns slope gently to meet a precipitous bluff which plunges to the beach below. Beyond the strait, the Coast Range Mountains of the British Columbia mainland can be seen. To the north, Denman, Hornby, Lasqueti and Texada Islands are visible.

The gabled house includes features of a Ceylonese tea plantation house. For example, each bedroom has a bathroom with a screened door leading into the garden. Its covered veranda looks out on both garden and sea views and serves as an outdoor room. Wisteria vines with soft, plump flower clusters cling to the walls. It is believed that the house was started in 1928 and completed in 1931.

Bald eagles patrol the beach head and circle above their feeding grounds, their distinctive cries carrying across the forest. Blue herons fish the shore, while the dappled shade of the garden shelters songbirds. Purple finches and wrens nest in the camellias near the house. The garden features 500 varieties of rhododendrons, whose colours and textures grow against the majestic forest trees. Blue-green hostas, fragrant honeysuckle, and delicate lace-cape hydrangeas soothe the eye. The forest shelters wildlife.

The significance and complexity of the estate go beyond this aesthetic richness, however. The property is located within the coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone. These forests were dominated by towering Douglas fir, western red cedar, and Grand fir. Development and logging have taken their toll and very few old growth forests remain. The estate is one of a group of properties (totaling 140 acres) which comprise one of the last of such forests. As a result, the estate has a very high conservation value.

The garden lies on the sheltered eastern shore of Vancouver Island and is protected from severe weather conditions sweeping in from the Pacific Ocean by Mt. Arrowsmith to the west. It is further protected by the mild Japanese current. Summers are warm and winters are mild. January temperatures average from 8-12 C. while July temperatures average 23-25 C. The average annual rainfall is 140 cm. Freely draining, sandy soil is a result of retreating glaciers which covered the area thousands of years ago. This soil is covered by a thin layer of forest loam typical of the region and supports a wide range of plants.

Today the multi-layered forest canopy casts a dense shade over much of the garden area. The understory includes the extensive collection of rare rhododendrons as well as fine specimen trees. There are several formal areas with lawns and edge plants, a small orchard, berry and vegetable gardens. The garden includes specimens of Japanese maples, Davidia, Stewartia, beeches, laburnum, Katsura, dawn redwood, birches and Spanish chestnut.

Of the total 28 hectare (70 acre) Milner Garden and Woodland property, 4 hectares (10 acres) is developed garden, 24 hectares (60 acres) is forest. The property includes a swimming pool and pool house, tennis court and cottage.