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Government House Gardens of British Columbia
by Joy Flint of Victoria, British Columbia

Government House Gardens: The Challenge
Statement by The Honorable David C. Lam, Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia:

“The purpose of improving and enhancing the grounds and gardens at Government House is to create a relaxing spot and cozy place for people to experience and children to play in. In essence; to have a tranquil location for the citizens of British Columbia and visitors to our province to enjoy. The challenge is to the People of British Columbia to come together and use their imagination and creative skills to build and maintain a beautiful and vital link with nature on a unique and special property held in trust for them”   March 1991.

The Friends of the Government House Gardens Society was formed in 1992. The society and the provincial government work together to support the Lieutenant Governor’s vision for the gardens (a unique situation in Canada).  The Lieutenant Governor did not stop with just a proclamation but also donated a wonderful rose garden that has attracted countless visitors from near and far. It is a fitting centerpiece for the surrounding gardens.

Having had a major setback healthwise in March 1991, it was almost kismet for me respond to “The Challenge” with a photo presentation of Tall Bearded and species irises. Initially they were seeking plants to refurbish the existing gardens. Then came the formation of “The Friends” who would establish the framework of plantings and maintenance. It took dedication and foresight by the nucleus of a handful of skilled gardeners to get things in perspective and motion, and for progress to ensue. 

The photo presentation was accepted in 1992 and the first shipment of mainly Tall Bearded were readied and transported for potting over the winter so they could be correlated and space allotted.

Spring of 1993. The plants were all in good shape, so were planted in a propagating bed. It was an illuminating experience, as all the volunteers involved were really interested, concerned and anxious to learn, which reinforced my desire for a successful venture for all of us. At this time Dr. Lam asked that an iris garden be planted.

In 1994 Victoria was bubbling over with anticipation and preparation to host the Commonwealth Games and 59 countries were sending representatives. Nearer the gardens, the Queen would be in residence and would open the games. The bottom line was that the garden must be planted by the end of July. The beds were dug and in their nakedness, looked most formidable.

The site of the garden was ideal – full sun and a gentle slope with good drainage. It was well composted, as it had previously been the vegetable garden for “The House” and had been grassed over for many years. The pH value was neutral. 

The Iris Gardens were comprised of two beds. First is a 550 square foot triangular shape, which to me represents the three standards and three falls. 110 clumps of Blue and White Tall Beardeds, with the blends and darkest at the back, are the principal plantings.  They are bordered by Doe’s Ear and London Pride. In the center is a Star Magnolia and in spring Iris Reticulata dot the border. Between the rows are blue and white pansies. In summer, after iris bloom we have been trying White Ivy Geraniums and Blue Lobelia trailing from pots on cedar posts. They seem workable and adaptable to seasonal change.

I had nightmares for a bit prior to the first bloom. With all the moves I wondered if colors other than Blue and White would surface. Only the very last one planted proved a problem, it was a red plicata and was quickly removed. It seemed like a small miracle.

The second garden is 2450 square feet, beginning with a striking natural rock outcrop that adds architectural interest. If you have a good imagination, this garden is shaped like a leaf with over 500 dwarf irises planted as veins to divide the area into fourteen sections (best seen by helicopter!) We are trying very hard to make this a four-season garden that features irises: 

Featured Plants:
Tall Bearded English
Medians Hertitage
Standard Dwarfs Pallidas
Miniature Dwarfs Perennials
Miniature Tall Heuchera
Novelties Schizostylus
Spurias Peonies
Cristatas Day Lilies
Siberians Asiatic Lilies
Setosas Daturas Lilies
Forrestii Bulbs
Douglasiana Nerines
Unguicularis Crinums
Japonica Tulips
Danfordia Crocus
Dutch Cyclamen

Adding and subtracting plants because of gale force winds, torrential rains and a few simple things, like needing more shade, has been a process of testing—for both the plants and us.
Dr. David Lam retired after more than 7 years of service. His Honor Garde Gardom assumed the reins as Lieutenant Governor. Again we have been blessed by a successor who carries the tradition of caring for the aims of “The Friends”.

The Government House Iris Garden was officially opened on June 1, 1996. Barring cataclysms, it will join the other existing gardens in perpetuity. It was two years old July 25, 1996. If Victoria is on your horizon, we welcome you to stroll through the Government House grounds – open sunup to sundown each day, and located in the heart of the city at 1401 Rockland Avenue. There is no admission charge except for prearranged tours. 
The area immediately around “The House” and the lawns are maintained by contract gardeners, but all the following gardens are cared for by volunteers:

Government House Garden Listing:
Iris Garden
Cut Flower Garden
English Country Garden
Pool Garden
Rockland Borders I and II Gardens
Rose Gardens
Herb Garden
Nursery Garden
Rock and Alpine Garden
Native Plant and Woodlands Garden

I hope any or all of the above pique your curiosity so that if you are up this way you will visit this beautiful, tranquil thirty-acre site. Iris bloom time is normally May to June.