Posted on July 8, 2009
GIRLS’ GETAWAY: MILNER GARDENS AND WOODLAND
Tucked in amongst the towering trees on Qualicum Beach’s West Island Highway lies what I truly believe to be the crown jewel of the Oceanside region. Such a bestowment is rather fitting, considering the regal history of Milner Gardens and Woodland.
In 1937, Horatio “Ray” Milner purchased the 70-acre estate with his wife Rina. Both put such tender, loving care into the expansive gardens and surrounding woodland. Sadly, Rina passed away in 1952.
Two years later Ray married British Aristocrat Veronica who then cultivated her artist’s eye to turn the land into a horticulturist’s paradise. Importing unique flora from around the globe, Veronica and Ray transformed the gardens into a space that defines unique. Veronica was an incredibly talented painter and often specifically plotted and planned where particular items should grow in order to provide creative inspiration in the years to come.
A direct descendant of Sir Winston Churchill, Veronica had strong ties with the British Royal Family. Prior to her death in 1998, Mrs. Milner hosted the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip, Diana, Princess of Wales and Prince Charles at her home on the property.
Rumour has it that Prince Phillip once BBQ’d a steak for Queen Elizabeth II on the deck surrounding the garden’s pool. No longer used for swimming, it’s now a complimentary water feature adjacent to the gift shop.
Among Milner Gardens’ programs is Shoots With Roots, designed to instill a love and respect for nature in the children who participate through hands-on experience. Kids are encouraged to each take part in caring for the designated garden while exercising their artistic sides and inspiring critical thinking skills.
The blossoms on the Himalayan hydrangea grow to be the size of basketballs at their peak.
By the time Veronica passed away, much of the gardens had fallen into disrepair. Fortunately, in thanks to Vancouver Island University (formerly Malasapina University College) having acquired the property, Milner Gardens and Woodland have been fully restored to their former beauty.
Because maintaining the space is an enormous task, Milner Gardens relies on the support of the University, financial donations, admission fees and the work of volunteers to sustain itself. Once you can see the property for yourself, it is easy to understand the amount of work that goes into the gardens. The passion of Milner’s volunteers is evident in the countless hours of effort.
When she wasn’t wandering and enjoying her gardens, Veronica and her husband resided in their home overlooking the ocean. Today the house is used as both office space and a tea room in which visitors can fill their tummies with home-baked yummies, including traditional scones with jam made from the gardens’ berry bushes.
I was a tiny bit obsessed with the original wallpaper in the hallway.
As our tour wound to a close, Rebecca and I found ourselves on the front porch in the company of nursery grower Kim Hammond, treated to fresh croissants stuffed with egg salad and orange pekoe tea made in proper English style.
It’s clear to see how this space is so treasured by those who have experienced it. As the late afternoon sun and ocean breeze danced on our skin, I couldn’t help but wish I could spend every afternoon in that very spot. Parting is such sweet sorrow, and the same could not be more true of leaving Milner Gardens and Woodland. It’s a true treat for the soul.
Please take a few minutes to read Rebecca’s experience at Milner Gardens and Woodland here.
Milner Gardens and Woodland is primarily open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. betwee April and October with special events being held at certain times throughout the year, including Halloween and Christmas. Due to the delicate nature of the property, only certified guide dogs are permitted.
The gardens and woodland is located at 2179 West Island Highway in Qualicum Beach; look for the sign and interpretive centre. Summertime admission for adults is only $10, but consider an annual membership for only $25. You’ll be sure to want to experience this wonderland in each of the four seasons. For more information, please visit Milner Gardens’ website.