A Tour of the Garden

Peggy Abkhazi likened their garden to a Chinese scroll which, as it is unrolled before one, gradually reveals its sequence of views, mood and character.  Inspired by the site with its dominating rock and native Garry oak (Quercus garryana), Nicholas and Peggy Abkhazi responded to the unique opportunities and the challenges alike, creating a series of distinctive garden rooms or spaces which flow together, subtly drawing the visitor into the garden of little more than one acre. Please view our Garden Guide which describes the beautiful Abkhazi Garden.  Please view our Visiting Abkhazi Garden page to find our hours of operation.

The Rhododendron Woodland Garden

Peggy Abkhazi would meet her guests at the gate and begin her tour of the garden with a walk through the rhododendron woodland. Here the native Garry Oaks provide sheltering shade for a collection of species and hybrid rhododendrons that speak to the age of the garden.  Some of the plants were 50 years old when the Abkhazis planted them and are now towering trees with wonderfully sculptural trunks.  The rhododendrons begin flowering in January and continue with a succession of colourful blooms that last until June.  Woodland companions add another layer of interest to the plantings.  These include underplantings of wood anemone, Trillium, Arisaema and our native bleeding heart. The floor of the woodland is carpeted throughout the year with a succession of bloom which includes Eranthis, winter aconite, Erythronium, fawn lilies, camas and hardy cyclamen. Summer interest is provided with a collection of unique ferns and hostas, Tigridia, Primula, Galtonia and Cardiocrinum, the giant Himalayan lily.

The South Lawn

On leaving the shade of the rhododendron woodland one emerges onto the sunny south lawn.  This area had undergone many changes even in the Abkhazis’ lifetime.  Originally it was planned as a formal rose garden.  Based on a traditional European model its’ geometric plan featured a central stone circle and sundial, bordered with lilacs that were trained as standards.  This rigid style gradually gave way to a more naturalistic planting.  The formal garden was replaced with beds of spring flowering shrubs that softened the imposed geometry. Today a new path skirts the south lawn on the west side and carries the eye along and up to the natural rock formations that provide the solid foundation for the Abkhazis’ modest house.  A new mixed border has been planted with bold architectural plants to provide summer interest for visitors.  The original hornbeam hedge provides a dramatic dark backdrop to a collection of silver foliage plants that continue the grey colour scheme of the dominant rock at the north end of this area.  A fifty foot sweep of Agapanthus edges this border and provides a strong flowing line that is in keeping with the movement throughout the garden.  The plants in this border were chosen as much for foliage form and texture as for flower colour.  The ashes of both Nicholas and Peggy were spread at the base of the rock at the north end of the lawn with instructions from Peggy – to shed no tears for her, but to celebrate with a glass of champagne her reunion with her beloved Nicholas.

Following the path west from the south lawn notice the magnificent views over the rocks to the top corner of the property.  By carefully framing such long views the Abkhazis’ made their garden seem much larger than its one acre size. The distant views beckon you on to the next distinctive garden room. The western fence divides the garden from land originally belonging to the Abkhazis.  In February of 2001, TLC raised money to purchase this parcel of land and return it to the original garden.  New driveway access and staff parking have been installed and a new compost/utility area has been created behind the gates; when funds permit, new planting will be done and the fence will come down bringing an original and notable wisteria back into the garden where it belongs.

Yangtze River

Just beyond the remarkable recumbent Spanish fir tree is one of the Garden’s most memorable views.  Green lawn flows gently down the length of the property, calm and serene, edged by a heather lined path at the base of an immense rock outcropping.  Peggy likened this image to the Yangtze River near her former home in Shanghai. The path was one of the original design features and established early on her celebration of the rock and her desire to collaborate with the natural features of this site.  Along the path one can take detours to explore three ponds created from natural depressions in the rock.  The pools provide reflections of sky and nearby planting and also a home for families of resident mallard ducks.  The constant changes in elevation provide fresh and unexpected views over the landscape which slowly reveals itself a bit at a time.  Artfully shaped azaleas bear witness to Peggy Abkhazi’s observation that “with a garden like this you have to prune, prune, and prune…and I love to prune!”

The Summerhouse

The summerhouse was the first building constructed on the property.  Designed for Peggy by John Wade, a young Victoria architect, it was completed by the summer of 1946.  It provided shelter for the Abkhazis and a place to make a light meal while they developed the garden and planned their house.&nbps; The summerhouse is a focal point in the garden’s design.  Views from the small porch are some of the best in the garden.  It is a rare occurrence when a building and its surrounding landscape are designed as a single well-considered composition.  Abkhazi Garden is a superb example of artistic integration of house and garden.  Working from the original architect’s drawings, the summerhouse was completely restored in 2002 with the financial assistance of a generous donor.  Visitors can now fully appreciate this gem of modernist architecture perfectly placed in its glorious setting.

The East Path

Leaving the Summerhouse the journey continues up the slope to the top corner of the property.  The etched concrete path which began at the bottom of the “Yangtze River” in a clean and symmetrical form now follows the contours of the rock in a more organic free-flowing style.  The planting here also flows down and around the glaciated rock hugging it in a very natural way.  An original planting of lily-of-the-valley is contained between the curve of rock and path, mature conifers tumble down the rock face toward a hidden pool mimicking waterfalls, while ferns and native plants are encouraged to find footholds in the glacier carved stone.  The views from the top of the path reveal not only the Garden but encompass the wider landscape beyond, including the Sooke Hills, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains.  The path divides before reaching the garden shed, offering a choice of two ways to approach the house and terrace.  Continue straight on the path for the most direct way to the house with the most even pathways or turn right and take a more challenging route following the concrete path as it twists and picks its way over the steep rocky site.  Please watch your footing along this more intimate trail.

The House Terrace

The terrace is approached by a choice of steps or by walking over a new steel bridge.  In the spring of 2003, new safety rails and this bridge were built around the house to bring the site up to present building code standards.  The galvanized steel will dull with time and become a dark mottled grey.  The simple lines of the new rails echo the original elegantly curved stone steps.  New alpine troughs have also been added as a safety feature, but they are also proving to be a popular addition to the garden.  Their rough surfaces should encourage the growth of moss and lichen that are present on the rocks beneath them.  From the terrace visitors can visually retrace their steps and view the fully unfolded scroll of the Garden.  Natural rock outcropping meets set sandstone on this terrace in a seamless blend of the natural and the designed.  The house sits easily on the terrace perfectly sited for magnificent views of the garden, the city and the landscape beyond.