Hatley Castle, on the grounds of Hatley Park Royal Roads University in Colwood, Vancouver Island, BC
Once upon a time on a beautiful summers’ day my fantasy of walking in a perfect garden came true. I entered an Italian style garden through a wisteria covered stone loggia (covered corridor). Pink roses climbed the loggia columns adding a bright color accent. A lawn formed a promenade to walk through the garden, with flower beds symmetrical in both color and shape surrounding the lawn. In each corner of the lawn stood a large floral urn. Boxwood hedges shaped the lines of the garden. A stone wall provided pattern and texture behind the flowers.
A repetition of blue, yellow and white flowers were anchored by a foundation of dark green kale, chartreuse sweet potato vine, heads of cabbages and backed by yet to open sunflowers. This ribbon of colors framed the garden like a masterpiece painting. Flora, the Roman goddess of spring and Ceres, the goddess of harvest, stood watch along the wall.
My eye was delighted by the color scheme and the repetition of plants throughout the entire garden.The use of deep green ruffled kale, the perfect heads of cabbages, lobelia, calendula, white and yellow daisies, cerinthe (bell shaped purple-blue blossoms) and blue salvias, were all blooming to perfection. It is rare to use so many vegetables specifically for beauty in a mix of summer annuals. The four giant stone urns were works of art in their own right; detailed with beads, fluting, ribbons and flowers.
Looking down from the terrace, a croquet lawn edged with perennials brightened by red crocosmia and orange lilies were reached by walking down a grand staircase. This was a garden designed with style and favored by time and nearly perfect growing conditions. Every view was perfection. This beautiful garden surrounds the Hatley Castle. Visiting there was like walking in a fairy tale.
Hatley Castle was built in the Scottish baronial style in 1908 on a hill overlooking the Strait of Juan du Fuca by coal baron, railway mogul turned politician James Dunsmuir. The location on Vancouver Island provides ideal temperatures, moisture and good soil for gardens to flourish. The castle and surrounding land was originally a self contained, self sustaining farming enterprise.
In 1912, the Dunsmuirs hired the American landscape artists Brett and Hall of Boston to develop the grounds. Their design was for a classic Edwardian park. “The plan organized the estate into four distinct landscape zones, progressing from a series of nine formal gardens.” (www.hatleycastle.com) The Dunsmuirs saw the garden as an extension of the home. Their guests would stroll in the Italian garden which adjoined the main floor of the building. The sculptures, ornate urns and beautiful architecture created a seamless connection to the castle. The croquet lawn was the scene of picnics, parties and sporting activity. The gardens, both beautiful and productive, were cared for by 100 gardeners. Today, 565 acres remain of the estate and the Italian Japanese, and Rose gardens are the showcase areas of the property.
The Dunsmuir family including eight children lived in the castle until 1937. The family history and the role of the castle in Vancouver is a fascinating story. During 1940 plans were made to relocate England’s King George VI, his wife Queen Elizabeth, and their two daughters, princesses Elizabeth and Margaret to Hatley to protect them during the war. The plans changed as the Royal family’s presence in England signaled solidarity in the war effort. Still today, the castle and the grounds are truly that grand. It’s evident from the moment you approach the front door by way of the grand staircase, flanked by fluted urns filled with tiny pink and white daisies atop each tier and ending with two bigger than life stone lions guarding the entrance.
Victoria on Vancouver Island, BC is a very popular destination for travelers and gardeners are especially drawn to visit. Today Hatley Castle is Royal Roads University and these spectacular gardens are easily missed given all the wonderful things there are to see in Victoria. But this is a destination not to be missed. If you’ve ever imagined walking into Buckingham Palace and exploring the gardens inside the grand gates and you don’t think that is likely to happen then you can get a sense of grandeur at Hatley Castle and Gardens.