Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Abkhazi Garden: return to the Garden that Love Built

When plant lovers think of Victoria, it's invariably Butchart Gardens that comes to mind. Very few horticultural institutions have achieved the kind of superstardom that Butchart Gardens has enjoyed for 70+ years. And it is a floral spectacle—one that rivals Disneyland in its pursuit of perfection. An unforgettable experience for many, but too impersonal, aseptic and artificial for others,

My favorite garden in Victoria is the opposite: intimate, personal and meaningful. Abkhazi Garden has heart and it has history. A labor of love created over a span of 40 years by a British expatriate who had grown up as a well-to-do socialite in Shanghai and the Prince of Abkhazia, forced to flee his homeland because of the Russian Revolution. The story of Peggy and Nicholas Abkhazi reads like a sprawling novel of revolution, war, imprisonment, love lost and finally found again. See my 2016 post for the short version.

Located in the leafy beachside suburb of Oak Bay, the Abkhazi Garden is now managed by The Land Conservancy and is open to the public year round (7 days a week in the summer, Wednesday through Sunday the rest of the year). At 1 acre, it's large enough to accommodate a variety of trees and shrubs without appearing crammed and yet compact enough to retain its private character instead of feeling like a public park.

When I first visited on April 10, 2016, the garden was a glorious riot of color. This year, spring is late (Victoria was under a blanket of snow just a month ago) and not a lot of shrubs were in bloom. Overall, the garden looked more like in late winter than spring. But it has such a solid backbone, it's beautiful even at the least photogenic time of year.

The garden isn't the only attraction. The Abkhazi's modest home is now a teahouse. Located on top of a rock outcropping at the highest point on the property, it features not only a beautiful view but also great food. We had Elevenses, a selection of savory and sweet nibbles served with your choice of tea. I felt very civilized, sitting on the terrace sipping tea out of china once owned by the Abkhazis.

Teahouse, originally the home of the Abkhazis

Our selection of Elevenses goodies

Now let's take a leisurely post-Elevenses walk through the garden:

One of several flowering cherries. Or is it plums?


Looking down onto the lower garden from the Teahouse terrace

The other side of the rock outcropping where the house is located






Arctostaphylos uva-ursi


Saxifraga sp.

Sempervivum sp.

Sempervivum sp.

Sedum spathulifolium

Sedum spathulifolium

Flowering hazel



More Arctostaphylos uva-ursi


The Summer House at the far end of the property. Built in 1946, it was the first structure on the property. It's quite small—more like a fancy shed.

Impeccably maintained bamboo



Stairs to the Teahouse terrace from the lower garden

Wonderfully twisted trunks

One of a few early-blooming rhododendrons

Garry oaks against the sky

Teahouse from the driveway

Garden gate from the outside

If I had only one day in Victoria and could visit only one garden, it would still be an easy choice for me: Abkhazi Garden.


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3 comments:

  1. It's great to see the architecture of the trees in the garden's "off" season. Thanks for the tour.

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  2. What a wonderful property in and of itself, with those rock outcroppings. That weeping conifer crawling down the stones--Lovely place. I would choose that over Buchart as well. Seems more peaceful.

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  3. So nice to see Abkhazi being cared for. It's fate has been up in the air several times with last minute reprieves. It is a truly lovely little garden. The curly tree stems are from a contorted hazel, Harry Lauder's Walking Stick.

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