In the middle of a 70-acre old growth forest we met up with Kim Hammond who works in the nursery at the Milner Gardens and Woodland. Kim guided Keira and I around the grounds as we continued our Girls Getaway over on Vancouver Island.
The history of the gardens and woodland is extremely fascinating, although experiencing what has being built up over the years with the help of a small army of passionate volunteers is even more astounding.
Ray Milner owned the vacation estate and worked on the garden with his first wife Rita until her passing in 1952. Veronica became Ray’s wife in 1954 and continued the work on the gardens. A descendant of the Dukes of Marlborough, Veronica Milner was related to Sir Winston Churchill as well as Diana, Princess of Wales. With an artistic eye and some impressive connections (Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip were guests of the estate) she helped transform and preserve the land. In the late 1990s, Veronica wanted to ensure her home would live on as a gardens and woodland so in 1996 it was trusted to Vancouver Island University where it would be maintained in perpetuity “for education and the communityâ€™s benefit in Ray Milnerâ€™s memory”. Veronica herself passed away in 1998.
To say the land is beautiful is an understatement. When you first pull into the parking lot off the highway you’ll see nothing but towering Redwoods, Cedars, and Douglas Firs alongside the interpretive centre. After a self-guided stroll through the forest you’ll come to the garden entrance.
The Milner gardens are not really show gardens as they are to be enjoyed leisurely for their natural wonder. They’re home to many native Island plants as well as some truly unique flora from around the globe.
On top of holiday decorations and displays, they also host gardening workshops for kids, garden clubs, work parties, private events, and they have a store on site (in the old pool house) that sells all sorts of goodies from local artisans. Just a ways away, inside the main house, there is a lovely tea room and paintings by local artists adorn almost every wall.
Sitting out on the porch in front of the lawn, flanked by Dogwood trees, I peered off into the distance, out over the cliffs, and watched as the white-capped waves approached the shore. I suddenly longed to call this wondrous place home even though it would be an impossibility. I don’t think it was the lovely scenery, the china tea cups, or the yummy egg salad sandwich on a fresh croissant either (although they were all enjoyable). It was more so that I felt what I can only assume was but an ounce of the pride and love Veronica had for the land – if even for those few minutes. It’s something I felt emanating from every employee and volunteer we encountered that day as well.
We were treated to tea and lunch prepared on site by staff and dedicated volunteers and since we had to leave before we could enjoy dessert we were also given some delicious scones (with homemade jam) for the road.
Coming up in August, Milner will have a BC Day Picnic, and Jazz in the Garden on August 16th. They also sell plants from their nursery and will host a Fall Plant Sale in late September. Admission is $10 for adults however they offer an annual membership for $25, which is by far the best deal since you’ll definitely want to check out the estate each season.