The eye, heart and passion of an artist return visitors to a gentler era at Qualicum Beach’s Milner Gardens

Rhododendrons and benches at Milner Gardnes

Simple, uncomplicated beauty in a spectacular setting are the keys to the lovely ambiance at Milner Gardens and Woodland

It doesn’t matter where you look or wander, there is beauty everywhere at Milner Gardens in Qualicum Beach. Every time we visit my first reaction is, inevitably, ‘Oh my!’ Depending on the season there is always something different to see, with an ever-changing palette of exquisite loveliness.  It is impossible to be bored here which helps to explain, in part at least, why this 70-acre slice of heaven has been voted one of the 10 best public gardens in Canada.

Camellia Tea Room at Milner Gardens

The beautiful Camellia Tea Room, located in the house

            The historic estate and gardens have been described as everything from a woodland garden to an artist’s garden.  What it most definitely is not is one of those flashy, over-the-top show gardens full of colour crammed into every nook and cranny. In fact, 60 of the 70 acres is comprised of coastal Douglas fir old growth forest criss-crossed with well-defined paths that offer a peaceful and awe-inspiring introduction to the property.

Milner house

The Milner house, completed in 1931, harkens back to a gentler era

Once visitors have traversed either a forest path or the gravelled driveway to the bottom of the property they have access to spectacular oceanfront views, sweeping lawns, inspired natural gardenscapes and the unspeakably lovely Milner home, which was completed in 1931. Forget your cell phones and anything else modern or electronic (except your camera – a definite must!) – entering the historic home of Ray and Veronica Milner takes you back to a time when life was slower and more gracious. You can meander through much of the 6,500 square foot beauty and enjoy the old-world ambiance that the Milners created, taking in the scrapbooks that chronicle the visits of (amongst others) British royalty, the beautifully-appointed rooms, Veronica’s artwork – it’s a wonderful glimpse into another world and lifestyle.

Bench overlooking Georgia Strait

Rustic benches invite visitors to rest a while and enjoy the beauty that surrounds them

            The Camellia Tea Room, located in the house, offers light lunches and teas, gorgeous views of Georgia Strait and yet another respite from the modern world. A few tables on the covered verandah bring al fresco dining to a whole new level.

            While the 10 acres of gardens surrounding the house are more subtle than in-your-face show gardens crammed with annuals there is definitely much to see and enjoy, depending on when you visit. In addition to being a talented artist Veronica Milner was a dedicated collector of plant material. There are more than 500 rhododendrons that burst in to bloom each spring, and other interesting garden inhabitants add colour and texture through the rest of the year. Benches, water features, statuary, sweeping lawns and quiet pathways offer visitors a feast for the senses – it is very apparent that an artist’s heart and eye played a major role in the design here. There is a languid feel to the place that invites visitors to meander and marvel; it isn’t difficult to while away several hours enjoying all that the Milners created.

Tea on the verandah at Milner Gardens

Tea on the verandah – it doesn’t get much more vintage than that!

            There are many other great features on the property as well.  The old gardener’s cottage still stands, and the pool house has been converted to a gift shop.  There is a charming ‘Shoots with Roots’ children’s garden, and plants propagated from heritage stock on the estate are available for sale.

            Throughout the year there are also many special events, facilitated by an active volunteer force and Vancouver Island University, which since 1996 has overseen the maintenance and promotion of the property.

Sitting room in Milner house

The beautiful sitting room in the Milner house – memories of a genteel era

It’s hard to know what Veronica Milner, who was well-known locally for her extremely snobbish attitude, would think of the thousands of people who troop through her home and treasured gardens each year. But we have to be thankful that she had the foresight to gift the place to the community, and that we have the pleasure of visiting and enjoying the results of her vision and passion. This property is a true Vancouver Island jewel.

            Milner Gardens RhodiesFurther information on Milner Gardens and Woodland can be found at the website:

 http://www.viu.ca/milnergardens/

 Milner Gardens and Woodland is located at 2179 West Island Highway, Qualicum Beach

 Milner Gardens Arbor Walkway

wheelchair-mGPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.  49.3528352  Long. -124.4128444

N 49 21.170  W 124 24.771

Shirley

About Shirley

More years ago than I like to remember, I completed the Journalism program at Vancouver Community College and launched straight into a career as a newspaper reporter (thanks to my journalism professor Nick Russell and an opening at the venerable daily Alberni Valley Times.) My work as a news reporter/feature writer/columnist and ultimately, newspaper and magazine editor, took me to many interesting places and introduced me to hundreds of interesting characters over the years. I loved every minute of it, but burnout caught up with me while I was trying to juggle the simultaneous editing of five trade magazines, and for 27 years I abandoned my keyboard (on a professional basis, at least) and followed my heart in a variety of other careers. In 2010 I returned to the journalistic fold, thanks to the encouragement (nay – nagging!) of my husband. I feel no regret – only great joy to be back at the keyboard, and to be spending time interviewing interesting folks and discovering great places.
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