Other cities are presently considering outdoor flower and garden shows; Victoria, the City of Gardens, al-ready had one!

At top: an overall shot of the City of Victoria exhibit along with two of the ‘mystery shrub’, Sollya heterophylla; and four shots of Eryl Morton’s Gardens through the Ages, beginning with the Persian Garden, then the Monastery Garden, Eryl herself watering her Japanese Garden and the Apple and the Serpent. In the middle: the Gold Medal winning container designed by Aileen Headen, and the Silver Medal runner up, followed by John Derrick Jr.’s Gold Medal winning hanging basket, and his Elk Lake Garden Centre front entrance presentation. Author photos.

Below, two shots of Brentwood Bay Nurseries’ “Arid Arab” and one of the most intriguing plant labelling systems I’ve ever seen at a garden show--the concept of Peninsula Gravel Mart in their ‘Is that “GRASS” you’re growing’. Author photos.

The Victoria International Flower and Garden Show (or Festival) has an interesting past. It began in 1984 when Mrs. Betty Campbell ran a small show in the Conference Centre near The Fairmont Empress. It was later taken over by Mrs. Patricia Abella who operated it at Juan de Fuca Arena in the nearby ‘bedroom suburb’ of Colwood, for eight years. In 1997 the show was purchased by Victoria residents Lea and Ann Snyder. In 1999, Lea organized the first of his much larger shows on the grounds of Royal Roads University (Hatley Park), also in Colwood.

The 2001, 2002 and 2003 shows were also held at these grounds and the shows were wonderfully successful, in-creasing in size each year.

In late 2002 Lea and Ann Snyder decided that the show could grow and develop even faster if it was operated by a non-profit society. Such a society was formed (the Vancouver Island Flower & Garden Festival Society) with board members representing a number of aspects of the horticultural/gardening scene on Vancouver Island.

Following the 2003 show, a consensus formed among VIF&GFS Board members that the show, though successful at Royal Roads University, could be much more so if it was actually located within the City of Victoria. Sites were examined by Lea and I, and Topaz Park stood out as the absolute best venue due to its central location, avail-ability of public transit, lack of steep hills, some parking and relative close proximity to other satellite locations. This didn’t even take into account an enthusiastic parks department (landlord) headed by Michael Leskiw, whose co-operation and good will was most necessary.

Time did not allow for planning and production of a large show in 2004 so a mini-show was held. Meanwhile the VIF&GFS, along with show co-ordinator Lea Snyder, assisted by Jennifer Almeida and Lisa Koorbitoff, worked hard at the planning of a new and even larger show in 2005. The dates were July 28 - August 1, inaugurated by a special Opening Night Party on July 27, with Lieutenant Governor Iona Campagnolo in attendance.

The Vancouver Island Flower and Garden Show is a unique flower festival held outdoors in a municipality that is known as the Garden City of North America. While other flower shows are held indoors in or around March, and a very few are held outdoors in June, the Victoria Festival is held mid-summer--in late July at the time gardens are at their peak.

The festival is a multi-venue show with the main site, now Topaz Park, virtually in the centre of Victoria, but other venues (such as Mayfair Mall and Abkhazi Garden) are included to provide a much wider garden viewing and learning experience for visitors.

At the Wednesday Opening Night Party I was pleased to join with Lea Snyder in touring special guests, Lieutenant-Governor Iona Campagnolo and Mayor Alan Lowe around the various gardens and commercial exhibits. Both were interested in what we showed them as we did a walk-around prior to Her Honour making an address to the party guests. The Lieutenant-Governor is an avid gardener and she quite obviously enjoyed the walk, and her little chats with both garden designers/installers, and commercial exhibitors.

The winning and gold-medal winner was a unique garden by Eryl and Lynn Morton of Eryl Morton Garden Designs, Victoria. Eryl’s display, entitled “Gardens Through The Ages”, was actually a series of gardens designed to illustrate the theme of our Show, History of Gardens. In a circular presentation, three gardens melded from one into an-other. I started at the Persian Garden complete with a pool, fountains, large palms and banana trees. Walking around the display clockwise one next encountered the Monastery Garden, dominated by a huge Celtic cross and a Bronze nun. And since the display was covering Gardens Through The Ages, part of the Monastery Garden included a representation of the original Apple (complete with an apple tree loaded with gorgeous red fruit) and doll-like Serpent!

The final of the three gardens was the Japanese Garden with Pagoda, bubble fountain, lantern and typical bamboo fence. The three together was one of the finest theme presentations I’ve ever seen in any garden show--indoor or out. As the gold medal winner, Eryl and Lynn were presented with the David Lam (former B.C. Lieutenant Governor) Rose Bowl.

When I asked Lynn Morton where they got the beautiful props for the garden (Celtic cross etc.), he told me he and Eryl were at a Pacific Opera Victoria presentation of the Donizetti opera, Lucie de Lammermoor and admired the stage props which were arranged in a circular fashion so they could be used on a revolving stage. They purchased the set and stored the props for some months.

Interestingly, while at the show, exhibitor Galey Farms, who operate a Victoria area destination farm with corn maze and special Halloween display etc., purchased the props to use in their Halloween display each year! Talk about recycling!

The City of Victoria interpreted the theme History of Gardens in another way with their display “The Victorian Garden” and it was the hands-down silver-medal-winning garden. While Her Honour was touring it she asked about a particular shrub that none of us in the party could identify for her. It turned out to be a perennial/shrub/ twining/climber that is actually evergreen. One of our Board members, Bryce Fradley, identified it for me. It is called bluebell creeper (Sollya heterophylla)--a native of Western Australia that seems to be hardy possibly only in California, so likely not even here on Vancouver Island. It was named after British plant physiologist Richard Horsman Solly in 1830. Though not hardy, we learned that the City of Victoria is using it more or less as an annual in the crown prince of their parks system--Beacon Hill Park. Other parks departments may well follow Victoria’s ex-ample!

Of course, there were not just display gardens at our Show, in addition there were the smaller pocket gardens, containers, hanging baskets, flower arrangements (both commercial and amateur), window box gardens and of course commercial displays.

As has been the case for the past few years, the container entries were unique and unusual. The gold-medal winning chair was absolutely stunning!

John Derrick Jr. of Elk Lake Garden Centre (who also won the gold in the competition for the best individual hanging basket) did a major presentation at the Show’s entrance number one. It was an almost unending and continuous line of huge 16” moss baskets each a little different. It made for a dramatic entrance to say the least.

On the educational side, there was a speakers’ series in a nearby school’s auditorium and a demonstration series right on the grounds in a large tent. Speakers included David Tarrant, Brian Minter, Des Kennedy, Bill Granger and yours truly.

In my eyes, there were three other particularly noteworthy gardens. Right near the front of the show Robin Dening owner of Brentwood Bay Nurseries Ltd. and his staff, along with Lea Snyder, collaborated to produce “Arid Arab”. In their words: “Out of the desert rises a rare find, a lost Oasis where nature has managed to harness a remembrance of what was once lush and abundant land. A breath of Life in the ongoing arid struggle for survival carrying nomads on their ongoing trek to their destinations.”

There were many palm trees (Trachycarpus fortunei), fine specimens of at least four different lily of the Nile (Agapanthus), water lilies and hyacinth and numerous reeds and grasses as well as an old camel resting his weary limbs in a makeshift shelter, a mummy in the sand, and an old Arab trader watched from his modern tent.

The second was called the Odzala Garden, and was inspired by a National Geographic Special about the Odzala National Park in The Congo rainforest basin. “These clearings in the rainforest are made by elephants pulling down trees, uprooting shrubs and essentially planting desirable edibles through seeds in their excrement. They also create the ponds by digging in the mud to get at minerals and to have a place to bathe. The wondrous thing about these clearings is the wildlife they attract, from gorillas to deer and wild pigs. All of these animals benefit from the generations of labour performed by the elephants. This is a distinct ecosystem--a garden. Seasons ebb and flow and with them the floods that renew the land--land where the massive tread of the elephants give a light touch to the glory of nature.” The garden was designed and created by Perry Mickle of the Pacific Horticulture College at Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, on the outskirts of Victoria.

Finally Valerie Marcotte created the garden “Hortus Conclusus: In the Land of the Troubadours”. It was a depiction of an informal medieval garden, complete with wattle fences, harp and the sound of water. A small enclosed gar-den, of which Valerie said, “a delightful place to spend time if you lived in Europe in medieval times. It was often built as a smaller walled area within the larger orchard, it was a kind of inner retreat from the outer world.”

Valerie won the People’s Choice Award and gets to have the special People’s Choice Show Garden Trophy for a year.

Congratulations to all who participated!

Subsequent to this year’s show I noted differences among members of the Board of the Society, and resigned as both chairman and member in late 2005. A new chairman has been appointed, and the Board has apparently made the decision to hold the show only every other year, thus the next show is proposed for 2007. Having worked closely with such shows as that of the Garden Club of Toronto, Philadelphia Horticultural Society and the Chicago Horticultural Society, I feel strongly that in order to be successful, these shows must run annually, or potential attendees, both local and tourists, forget about you.

Regardless, I wish the folks in Victoria, particularly Lea and Anne Snyder, only the best for the future.