There is no “off season” or bad time to visit Milner Gardens and Woodland in Qualicum Beach. The historic 70 acre (28 ha) waterfront estate, created with the heart and eye of a true artist, has something to offer the general public at any time of the year. It is one of our very favourite Vancouver Island attractions for that reason. Designated as one of the 10 best public gardens in Canada, Milner Gardens and Woodland isn’t perhaps what many would expect.
The view from the great lawn at Milner Gardens and Woodland
Benches located throughout the property invite visitors to linger a while
It isn’t crammed full of splashy annuals and perennials in the manner of some show gardens. Rather, it is a beautifully designed, soothing oasis that combines old-growth forest, vast lawns, a classic old home and water views to create a tranquil environment that invites visitors to linger.
Created in large part by Veronica Milner and acquired by Vancouver Island University in 1996, the history of the Milner estate dates back to 1931 when businessman Ray Milner and his first wife Rina completed construction of the beautiful plantation-style house, and set to work on creating a 10 acre (4 ha) garden area. The remainder of the property was (and still is, to a great extent) left wild, with meandering paths winding through the ancient forest. These days the trails are well defined and maintained, and there are interpretive signs along the way. But the serenity and mystery of the forest continue to envelop guests; some of the woodland’s best moments are on dripping wet days when moist earth and forest floor combine to produce a heady fragrance that lifts the spirits and clears the senses.
Rina Milner sadly passed away, and Ray Milner remarried in 1954 and brought his new bride to his Vancouver Island sanctuary. An accomplished artist and an enthusiastic horticulturalist, Veronica Milner took the garden in hand and, during travels with her husband, amassed an impressive collection of plants that flourished in the west coast climate.
One of the 500 massive rhododendrons that burst into bloom each spring
More than 500 rhododendrons burst into colourful bloom each spring, and other perennials, pools, ponds and statuary complement the sweeping lawns and the expansive views of the Strait of Georgia. There is a massive and intriguing collection of unique and very beautiful trees that lend to the enduring beauty and ambiance of the place, and benches located throughout tempt visitors to sit a while and marvel at the delicate balancing act that has created so much integrated beauty.
High tea on the verandah at the Milner house, courtesy of a legion of volunteers
Although Vancouver Island University is now owner and operator of Milner Gardens, much of the work involved in putting on the facility’s many special events is done by a legion of dedicated volunteers.
One of the many intricate fairy houses hidden in the garden
Many of the heritage plants of the gardens are propagated on site and are available for purchase by the general public. There is a Shoots with Roots program for youngsters, complete with a charming children’s garden. The old pool house has been converted to an engaging gift shop full of quality items, and the former living room in the Milner house has been converted to the Camellia Tea Room, where visitors can enjoy a light lunch, a beverage or high tea either indoors or outside on the verandah. Gardening courses are offered on a regular basis, and there are many special events that draw thousands of patrons through the gates.
Dozens of fairies of the human variety appear at the gardens too, adding to the magic of the Summer solstice celebration
One of our favourite special events at the gardens is the Fairy Houses, which are revealed near the summer solstice each year. This summer 50 fairy houses charmed visitors young and old, and dozens of fairies of the human variety explored the gardens in search of the minuscule creations. It is a magical few days when the innocence and simple delights of childhood predominate. And who could resist fairy cakes and lemonade on the back terrace of the house following all the exploration?
Art and Photography in the Garden features a variety of artisans, backdropped by the beautiful Milner house
Summertime also brings the annual Art and Photography in the Garden fixture, when visitors can enjoy and purchase artistic creations from a wide variety of vendors. And, of course, there is the annual Milner Christmas Magic, chronicled elsewhere on this blog. Stretched over several weekends in December, the event features thousands of lights, Christmas story time for the kids, Santa and Mrs. Claus, hot chocolate in the tea room, perhaps a little Christmas shopping in the gift shop, the teddy bear count in the old gardeners’ cottage – just an all-out magical evening for anyone who is even slightly susceptible to enchantment.
Much of the inside of the beautiful Milner home is available for exploration, leaving visitors to imagine life in a slower and gentler era
As wonderful as the special events are, though, no one really needs an excuse to visit this wonderland of beauty and nature. With all that property, the lovely home and the seascape to explore, there is more than enough to do and enjoy on the quietest of days.